International Media Seminar Explore Challenges, Opportunities for Journalists Telling Human Stories from Occupied Palestinian Territory

seminar2019The 2019 International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East was organized in Ankara on 11-12 September 2019, with journalists, academics, diplomats and senior Government officials examining the crucial role of media and online activists in amplifying the voices of  Palestinians more than 50 years into the occupation.

Organized by the United Nations Department of Global Communications and Turkey’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Seminar’s first day featured two panel discussions focused, respectively, on the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the challenges facing reporters tasked with covering it.

Seda Pumpyanskaya, Director of the Strategic Communications Division in the Department of Global Communications, spoke on behalf of Under-Secretary-General Melissa Fleming, noting that the twenty-sixth Media Seminar stands as a reminder of the ongoing suffering of Palestinians .  Underlining the Department’s commitment to sensitizing public opinion on the issue, as well as promoting dialogue and understanding, she said the two-day event will ask participants to reflect on the latest trends, practices and media narratives relating to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Aydan Karamanoğlu, Deputy Director General in Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in opening remarks that the Seminar will provide a chance to consider the long-standing conflict from a new perspective.  Recalling that the diverse people of the Middle East and North Africa have lived and flourished together for centuries, embracing their differences as a source of strength, he said today’s reality strays dramatically from that history.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, in a message read out by Ms. Pumpyanskaya, that the goal of a peaceful and just solution to the Palestinian question — which can only be possible with two States living in peace and security — remains elusive.  The political, economic and humanitarian crises in the Occupied Palestinian Territory have reached alarming proportions, he emphasized, noting that nearly 2 million Palestinians in Gaza live under severe movement and access restrictions, mired in increasing poverty and unemployment and with limited access to health, education, water and electricity.  While the international community must act with speed and determination to address those needs, no amount of humanitarian or economic support will resolve the conflict, he said, stressing that the United Nations stands committed to supporting Palestinians and Israelis in ending the conflict on the basis of international law, relevant resolutions and previous agreements.

Cheikh Niang (Senegal), Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, expressed alarm over the acceleration of Israel’s settlement construction and attacks against unarmed Palestinians.  Also voicing concern over escalating violence against journalists in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said statistics from the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms show that attacks against Palestinian media workers rose by 60 per cent in 2018 to 584 violations of media freedoms.  Even amid those conditions, members of the media continue their work.  “You, the journalists, can contribute in many ways to creating a better future for the Palestinian people, including by giving voice to the voiceless,” he stressed, adding: “Your job is not an easy one.”

The Seminar concluded on 12 September  with robust discussions on topics ranging from better ways to report on women in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to social media’s role in supporting Palestinian activism — or spreading harmful misinformation — in a rapidly changing world.

Aydan Karamanoğlu, Deputy Director‑General in Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in closing remarks that speakers throughout the two-day Seminar contributed to a lively and substantive debate.  “All of you have put a human face on the conflict,” he said, noting that diplomats — whose job it is to discuss global issues for many hours — sometimes lose sight of the fact that their conversations reflect real lives on the ground.  Urging participants to continue their crucial work, he said the Seminar itself played a small role in raising global awareness of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Seda Pumpyanskaya, Director of the Strategic Communications Division in the United Nations Department of Global Communications, said participants tackled important questions through interactive dialogue and eye-opening personal stories.  While many of those questions could not be fully answered, “these two days helped us better understand that peace is the answer to all questions” during conversations that were both rich and intriguing, she said.