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A Perspective on Communication in Palestinian Society
An analysis of the communication patterns in any society can often provide insight into the underlying changes within a society, even before they surface or become apparent to the population as a whole. In the case of Palestinian society, several significant changes have occurred in its communication patterns following the signing of the Oslo agreement. This paper will focus on three of them.

External to Internal Focus

This first major change in the communication patterns of the Palestinian society appears to be a shift from an externally directed communication to an internally directed one. Instead of focusing primarily on communication with the public from the exterior, or the world community, Palestinian society now appears more concentrated on improving and strengthening communication within itself.
This shift is most obvious in the requests for training in communication. Up until the summer of 1993, training requests focused exclusively on externally directed communication activities, such as public relations, media relations, fund raising, and promotion and publicity. The training participants were public relations officers from the various Palestinian social, health, educational and political institutions who were interested in learning how to better present their respective institutions to the foreign media, funding agencies, and visitors.
The desire for such training was motivated by the prevailing economic and political conditions caused by the continued Israeli military occupation. From a Palestinian perspective, the most urgent and pressing communication need An analysis of the communication patterns in any society can often provide insight into the underlying changes within a society, even before they surface or become apparent to the population as a whole. In the case of Palestinian society, several significant changes have occurred in its communication patterns following the signing of the Oslo agreement. This paper will focus on three of them.

External to Internal Focus

This first major change in the communication patterns of the Palestinian society appears to be a shift from an externally directed communication to an internally directed one. Instead of focusing primarily on communication with the public from the exterior, or the world community, Palestinian society now appears more concentrated on improving and strengthening communication within itself.
This shift is most obvious in the requests for training in communication.
Up until the summer of 1993, training requests focused exclusively on externally directed communication activities, such as public relations, media relations, fund raising, and promotion and publicity. The training participants were public relations officers from the various Palestinian social, health, educational and political institutions who were interested in learning how to better present their respective institutions to the foreign media, funding agencies, and visitors.
The desire for such training was motivated by the prevailing economic and political conditions caused by the continued Israeli military occupation. From a Palestinian perspective, the most urgent and pressing communication need was that of presenting their plight to the international community. Thus, both the content and intent of all Palestinian communication were essentially political: End the Israeli military occupation in the Palestinian territories. Regardless of the sector to which a Palestinian institution pertained - health, education, social - its message was predominantly political, and the targeted audience external, or the international community. Such a focus was apparent in the communication patterns of both the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people. In fact, the Palestinian leadership initially established this pattern with its stated goal of bringing world attention to the Palestinian cause.
In recent years, however, there has been a gradual shift from this predominantly external, political focus to a more internal, social focus. Now, instead of public relations training, all the current requests are for training in basic communication skills, interpersonal communication, and organizational communication. This need for different communication skills reflects the political changes that have affected Palestinian society.
Firstly, the Oslo agreement and ongoing political negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships appear to have provided a vehicle for political expression, enabling the Palestinians to communicate their political message in a concrete and direct manner with the expectation of concrete, direct results. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has assumed the primary role in communication, while the Palestinian institutions are playing a secondary supporting role and have turned their focus inwardly to the various social, informational, or educational messages directed at the local Palestinian community.
Secondly, the new political reality has shifted from one focused exclusively on fighting political oppression to one of building a nation. This change has uncovered new communication problems and needs. It appears that with the attempt at a more stabilized political situation, the social repercussions of the years of occupation and political uncertainty are beginning to surface within Palestinian society.
During the long years of severe political repression, the communication "survival" skills often necessitated deliberate distrust, manipulation, and secrecy. On a very basic level, one did not know if a "friend" was a political patriot or a political informant. Thus, deliberate mistrust and misinformation were warranted. Additionally, if the primary political organization was banned - as was the case of the PLO - membership and communication activities demanded secrecy.
While such communication strategies might have been highly effective under political repression, they can be extremely counterproductive in building a social infrastructure. Nation-building, such as the Palestinians are engaged in now, demands large amounts of cooperation, coordination, and communication in order to complete tasks on a large scale, and to avoid duplication of efforts. The prerequisites for such cooperation include trust, openness, and direct communication of one's intent with the skills directly opposed to those developed under political repression. The demands of nation-building have, then, prompted the need for a less politicized and a more society-oriented type of communication.

Decentralized Communication to Coordinated Communication

The second major shift is that from an ad hoc, decentralized communication emanating from a multitude of different Palestinian institutions to a more coordinated message emanating from the various PNA institutions.
Prior to the establishment of the PNA, the primary sources of information for the foreign media, agencies, and individuals were the various Palestinian institutions. For example, a foreign researcher seeking information about health conditions in the West Bank would usually visit area hospitals, health institutions and clinics, or a physician who was willing to talk about the health situation.
During this time, Palestinian universities, as a readily identifiable source of information and expertise, played a very prominent communication role. The universities' public relations departments often spoke on behalf not only of the universities, but of the local community as well. Palestinian universities now play a much less prominent role, and the PNA institutions and ministries have emerged as a more coordinated and centralized source of information. Instead of relying on area hospitals for information on health, the foreign media and researchers may, now, begin their search at t he Palestinian Ministry of Health, and so on.
Efforts at "coordination" are also evident among the various sectors of Palestinian society. The Ministry of Higher Education, for example, is endeavoring to introduce and coordinate curricula at the university level, while the Ministry of Education is seeking to do the same at the elementary school level. Similarly, the Ministry of Youth and Sports has initiated efforts to coordinate the activities of the many Palestinian sports clubs. This focus on "coordination" serves to cultivate an even more centralized communication pattern, reinforcing the need for an enhanced internal, interpersonal communication.

Symbolic Image to a More Human Image

For the first time since the late Sixties, when the Israelis banned the PLO and barred many of its followers from the territories, the Palestinian people now have direct, continuous and daily contact with their leadership. For the image of the leadership, this has been a mixed blessing. In many ways, the arrival of the leadership on July 1, 1994, in Gaza marked the beginning of the new realities of day-to-day life. Prior to that, both parties held somewhat romantic images of each other and the communication between the two parties reflected those images - patient, forgiving, undemanding, loving, etc.
This type of cautious, controlled communication has a way of fostering and preserving symbolic images. For the Palestinian people, the leadership in exile was seen as the champion of the Palestinian cause on the international arena, with Chairman Yasser Arafat as the symbol of the Palestinian revolution. The Palestinians in the territories were seen as the heroic, steadfast people struggling against the brutality of Israeli occupation and repression. The "children of stones," or the Palestinian youth of the Intifada became, for the Palestinians in exile, the symbol of Palestinian resistance.
Furthermore, the absence of direct, uncontrolled contact also has a way of spawning exaggerated expectations in any human relationship. Because the communication is controlled, both parties are better able to hide their limitations from each other and feed their own positive symbolic image. Thus, when the Palestinian leadership arrived in Palestine, both its image and the people's expectations of it were exaggerated.
The change in the overly idealized image of the Palestinian leadership to a more realistic, human and flawed one was not only natural, but inevitable. Direct, continuous communication with the leadership has exposed the limitations inherent in any human enterprise, and the unfulfilled expectations have exposed the vulnerabilities of the people who held them and the leadership who struggled to meet them. As a result, the communication between the two parties has become less cautious, less controlled, more demanding and, at times, bitterly critical. While such communication is typical of the frustrated and the struggling, it is not a communication pattern that political entities can easily endure. Thus an added challenge facing the Palestinian leadership will not be to regain the luster of its former image, but to reconstruct a more viable and realistic image within the context of direct and continuous communication with the Palestinian people.

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