From satellite TV to contraband texts, media has played a critical role for Palestinians in Israel.
Flip through some of the eight hundred or so Arabic satellite television stations available today, and you’ll find many programs that would look quite familiar to American audiences. On the popular MBC 1 station, you can watch Good Morning Arabs and Arab Idol, both of which are produced and hosted in Arabic, but have formats nearly identical to those of their American counterparts. Programming on MBC 4 would look even more familiar, with popular American shows like Project Runway and CBS’s The Talk broadcast in English with Arabic subtitles. The programs’ sidestepping of political sensitivities and frequent product placement exemplify the commercialized, corporatized global media that has come to the Arab world in recent decades.
But there is another type of global media, one with a longer and more interesting history. Long before satellite television and the internet became the primary modes of communication and entertainment in the region, written texts, especially books, newspapers, and journals, were being hand-copied, printed, sold, mailed, and smuggled across geographic and political divides. Far from being commercialized entertainment, this written media was utilized by political organizers and intellectuals to subvert official state narratives, challenge government policies, and connect otherwise isolated peoples to one another.