TV Guide: Gaza Edition

What are Palestinians watching?

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Farfur the Mouse

On Wednesday, Hamas pulled a program from its Gaza-based television channel that featured a Mickey Mouse look-alike calling on Palestinian children to fight Israel. What else do Palestinians in the occupied territories watch on the tube?

The same stuff that we watch. Palestinians get most of their news, sports, and entertainment from places like Dubai, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States. In fact, a lot more people in the territories are glued to American hits like Lost and American Idol than anything involving a militant cartoon character. Most Palestinians get their TV fix via satellite dishes, which can be had for as cheap as $200 and are common even in the refugee areas. (Service comes free once you’ve purchased the dish.) Those who can’t afford a dish can always plug in to programming from a private Palestinian station, of which there are about 30. (The Palestinian Authority also runs a news-and-entertainment station called Palestine TV.) Where you live in the territories determines which local channels you can pick up with your rabbit ears. The West Bank, for instance, has many more stations than the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians go to the TV for political news first and foremost, and that means Al Jazeera. (Al Arabiya, a popular Dubai-based station, provides a relatively progressive alternative.) The BBC also has a significant audience, as it has been broadcasting in Arabic for years. For news with a religious slant, there’s Hezbollah’s Al Manar station, where female news anchors cover their hair and wear no makeup. Palestinians can also get a different perspective on the news from Israeli television.

Housewives might tune in to Arabic soap operas or Arabic versions of Western daytime talk shows. There’s a version of The View from Dubai, as well as shows where women work out their problems with their husbands’ families in front of a studio audience. At night, families might settle down to watch an Egyptian soccer match, a miniseries about a father trying to find husbands for all his daughters, or an episode of Future Superstar—the Middle East’s version of American Idol. Arabic channels broadcast some shows from the West, and satellite feeds carry the movies and shows that we see in the United States.

It’s hard to travel from one part of the occupied territories to another, so Palestinians rely on local television to keep up with the news from neighboring areas. Hometown stations like Bethlehem TV also run blanket coverage of local suicide bombings from the moment of the blast to the end of the funeral.

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Explainer thanks Rasha AbuRamadan and Moutaz AbuRamadan.