When I met Islam Barbar in a Gaza restaurant in 2012, while on a human rights mission, I was impressed by her cheerful demeanor but taken aback by the sense of hopelessness she felt.
Barbar was publishing media reports, running her own media training center and was active in the field of women’s rights, but the one place she literally was dreaming to go to was the occupied West Bank.
Not only had she not visited other parts of Palestine, but at 26, she had never left the besieged Gaza Strip.
The report that the International Press Institute wrote after our visit stressed the need for freedom of movement between Gaza, and the West Bank and Israel.
I succeeded in getting Islam to Cairo in 2013 to attend the Aswatona community radio conference that I was involved in. The radio practitioners attending exchanged ideas on how to set up, manage and fund community-based stations.
A popular idea was to start with an online station and then to move into the FM sphere.
Energized by the potential of being involved in broadcasting, Barbar returned to Gaza and set her sight on creating a radio station that can focus on women’s issues.
Within a year she was able to secure a small grant from the UK-based Community Media Solutions, through Qarya Media Institute, a Palestinian NGO which also gave her technical support.
Nissagaza.com was launched on April 30, 2014, out of her Gaza city media center, with local women’s organizations and women activists and local leaders from all walks of life attending.
Barbar was most excited on launch day; the program started with a musical jingle that was created for the new women’s station by a male supporter.
She uses this story and the presence of men and women at her station to drive home the idea that gender issues are not exclusively women’s affairs.
Everyone knew that the war on Gaza was about to be over and it was clear Israel wanted to boost its negotiating hand.Daoud Kuttab
Barbar, who comes from a progressive family in the Jabalya area, north of Gaza, started to spend extensive hours in the studio/office.
Volunteers had to be trained, radio programs to be supervised and modest sponsorships to be found.
She felt she had to train the women in technical and journalistic skills, as well as raise their awareness.
Within months of going on air, the station was buzzing with people and ideas. In record time she and the station became known, plaques and certificates of appreciation adorned her office and studio.
Program ideas, calls for cooperation and partnership ideas started flowing.
Fourteen separate radio programs mostly produced and presented by volunteers were aired this summer during the Ramadan season.
While the broadcast was still online, she was pleasantly surprised to see the number of active listeners go up.
“Initially when a program reached 500 listeners I celebrated. Since then, our two leading programs, haki sabaia [girls talk] and dunia nisaa [the world of women] reached 2,000 listeners,” she said.
Reaction on social media was also exciting and uplifting.
The biggest complaint she was receiving came from listeners who wanted the station to broadcast on FM so that others can also enjoy the programming and the music she personally supervised.
Haki sabaia, which Barbar was presenting, included four young women who would talk about day-to-day issues of concern to younger Palestinians. Dunia Nisaa was geared to a slightly older generation and dealt with issues such as honour killing, violence at home and divorce.
During Ramadan, one popular episode tackled the nervousness men exhibit because of the long fasting hours.
Research about divorce had produced an interesting fact: khula’, the right of women to divorce their husbands, was apparently granted in Gaza, although few women knew that they had that right and fewer actually used it.
Nisaa Gaza never had a chance to inform the audience about this important discovery.
On Aug. 25, Barbar worked until 7 p.m. Before leaving, she supervised a medical program presented by a medical nutritionist who, along with two women announcers, tried to provide health tips to their radio audience.
She also followed up with one of her colleagues on the report that would be broadcast on dunia nisaa the following day, informing Gaza women that they have the right to khula (divorce) if they choose to use it.
War tainting attempts at progression
Back at home, Barbar followed the news that Palestinians in high tower buildings like the one she worked in had been evacuated following calls from the Israelis that their building is targeted.
Everyone knew that the war on Gaza was about to be over and it was clear Israel wanted to boost its negotiating hand.
Barbar was worried about the evacuation of her building, but figured that this was a precautionary move and that if anything, a specific office might be hit.
She was not worried; her radio station was not political and was unlikely to be the target.
It was not.
The entire 13-storey Basha Building that housed her station was the target.
At 4 a.m., Israel delivered high explosives that brought the entire structure down, turning it into rubble.
Barbar visited the site and tried in vain to find any of the remains of her dream. Not a microphone, not a paper and not any of the awards and plaques that were given to the young station were found.
She participated in a few protests, but for weeks was in depression. But her hopes have been revived when friends and colleagues met and started a crowd-funding effort using the indiegogo application in the hope of raising enough funds for her to go back on air.
This time, Barbar says her dream is to go directly to broadcasting on FM. In the meantime, her other dream, to visit the West Bank even for a few days, still lingers.
This article was first published in The Jordan Times on Oct. 1, 2014.
Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a newsweb site ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame street. You can read his blogs on DaoudKuttab.com and find him on Twitter @DaoudKuttab.