Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Freed Speech Palestinians Unload Gripes over Radio

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Freed Speech Palestinians Unload Gripes over Radio

Article excerpt

"Good Morning, Palestine" is on the air, and radio host Ibrahim Milhem is taking a call from a taxi driver in a West Bank village near Ramallah.

It seems the caller would like help winning a break on his local taxes. He's having trouble supporting his 21 children.

Milhem promises to intervene with the tax office but only if the caller can name all his offspring.

Fourteen. Fifteen. The caller can't recall the rest.

Milhem quips that he'll try to drum up some relief aid from a foreign government - if the taxi driver pledges not to remarry - and takes another call.

Welcome to Palestinian talk radio.

During the years of Israeli occupation, Palestinians struggled to find their own voice, straining to be heard over military restrictions on the media and on free speech. Now, six mornings a week, they can't stop talking. And what's on their lips is a litany of everyday gripes that are common worldwide: unpaved roads, power outages, uncollected trash, high rents and higher taxes.

The show is a window on the daily concerns of a people whom outsiders often see only in terms of fighting and revolution.

And the format is unprecedented in the Arab world. Milhem and his young staff hunt down the Palestinian official responsible for the particular problem and - live on the air - hold his feet to the fire.

"We have more freedom than anyone else in the Arab countries," Milhem said. "We suffered from Israeli restrictions under occupation, and now we want to be free from any other restrictions."

A caller recently complained that the Palestinian-run health clinic on the Allenby Bridge, connecting the West Bank and Jordan, was ill-equipped, even though thousands of travelers make this long, arduous border crossing every day.

Milhem called the regional health director, who denied the accusations. So Milhem tracked down a doctor assigned to the clinic. He declared, live on the air, that the health director was lying, and said the facility was stocked with nothing but aspirin. …

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