Following Arab News just became easier: this is how you can do it yourself

The October 7 massacre and the war that followed reminded us that we should get familiar with our enemies/neighbors, even if the reality is harsh; here are some websites, networks, journalists, social media celebrities, podcasts and books that can keep you updated

The influx of Israelis to Arabic news networks and social media was momentary and occurred in the most tragic circumstances to ever befall Israel. The only way to get information about the atrocities that took place in the settlements of the Western Negev on the morning of October 7 was by browsing the websites and Telegram, Tiktok, Twitter and Facebook accounts of Hamas and of Gaza residents who documented and echoed both the massacre and the kidnappings.
This encounter was obviously traumatic for Israelis due to the nature of the events, but also because this was a rare case where they met face-to-face and directly with the neighbor/enemy and their media without the filtering and editing of the Israeli press.
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תיעוד קשה: רגע חטיפתו של ירדן ביבס לעזה
תיעוד קשה: רגע חטיפתו של ירדן ביבס לעזה
Footage of Gazan civilians abducting Yarden Bibas
In today's era, this should not always be the case, because at a distance of a few keys away on a computer or mobile phone there is a large number of Arab media outlets in general and Palestinian media in particular, as well as diverse accounts on social networks; reading and viewing them can convey updated information on current events and can also show the gaps in information and narratives that have widened over the years between the average Israelis and the hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims who surround them. Even the language barrier is reduced to a minimum because many of the Arab media have editions in English, and many of the network celebrities - from Gaza to Riyadh - write, speak, and tweet in English, let alone the 'translate' button found at the bottom of the posts published on the majority of social platforms.
But given the abundance of options, how do we decide which one is better? How do we separate the wheat from the chaff and start following what is happening in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority and the Middle East in general? And how do we know which sources should be consumed, given the multitude of ideological, national, political and economic interests that affect the Arabic media just as they affect the media everywhere else?
Here are recommendations from experts in Arab culture and journalists who cover the Arab world, which may serve as a guide for beginners. Some of them, as expected, will not be easy for the average Israeli to read or watch, and some should be taken with more skepticism. But it seems that October 7 reminded us that the reality and the truth are better to know even if they are difficult to digest.

News agencies and Instagram / Einav Halabi

1) The official news agency of the Palestinian Authority is "WAFA" (in English - Loyalty), which is affiliated with the PLO organization and the Fatah movement, and reports on current events in the PA and its institutions, including news and information which occur in the territories, in Israel and the Middle East, in Arabic and English. On the one hand, in practice, it is PA President Mahmoud Abbas's mouthpiece and therefore the content should be treated accordingly (many Palestinians also treat it this way). On the other hand, it is an effective source of dry news and reflects how Israel is perceived by the PA.
2) In the Arab world, there are several well-known media networks and news agencies (see below), but recently they have a major competitor that may in the future join the A-list: the Arab World Press news agency, a service of The News Hub operating from Dubai, aspires to be the Reuters of the Arab world. One of its important leaps was last November, where it stood out in exclusive publications that turned out to be solid regarding the outline for the release of the Israeli hostages, which proved that it has unique sources and connections in Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
3) More than a decade ago, Isra al-Modallal was appointed the first female spokesperson in English for the Hamas government, among other things due to her being a fluent English speaker as she lived for a time in England with her family. Already at the age of 17, she started working as a reporter for the television network "Press TV" and later graduated from the Islamic University of Gaza with a degree in media studies. She produced several documentaries and engaged in welcoming foreign delegations to the Gaza Strip. Today she is no longer an official representative of Hamas, but rather echoes what is happening with the war in Gaza to the Western media. Her Instagram account (with 173 thousand followers) is active in Arabic and English.
4) Mahmoud Zaqout is a Gazan news photographer who documents the war and translates his stories into English. For Israeli surfers, this is an opportunity to see the war and its results through Palestinian eyes.
5) Hussein Al-Sheikh is the Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the PLO, the head of the General Authority of Civil Affairs of the Palestinian National Authority, and a member of Fatah's Central Committee. He has a seemingly unglamorous official Twitter account, with updates on what is happening in his office and in the Palestinian Authority in general, but he is the type of person who should be followed for two reasons: he is one of the most powerful figures in the PA, and most importantly - he is seen as Mahmoud Abbas's successor.
6) The singer Elissa is an unusual Lebanese superstar. Unlike many Arab artists who are afraid to talk about their political affiliation in general, let alone non-consensual opinions, she expresses a firm position against the ruling of Hezbollah organization in her country - which leads to compliments and appreciation, but also to sharp criticism and even threats to her life. In addition, she is not married and makes sure to speak out for the liberation of women from the shackles of patriarchal society. The film about her, "It's OK", streaming on Netflix, which unfortunately is not available in Israel, is an intimate look inside her life and made her famous in many countries around the world.
7) The Internet "marches on its stomach," and the Arab web is also flooded with chefs, cooks and recipes. Two renowned bloggers - who prepare Arab food and more - are popular also in my personal home kitchen: the Jordanian Chef Yasmin Nasir, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu London, who cooks in a unique method (there is also a translation into English). The second one is Abu Julia, a Palestinian originally from Gaza who currently lives in London and presents original and very delicious recipes.
Einav Halabi is the Palestinian affairs correspondent for Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth

Podcasts and media criticism / Smadar Perry

1) When dealing with the formal daily media of the Arab world, many of which have editions in English, it is useful to distinguish between those that are printed or produced in the capital cities of Middle Eastern countries - Cairo, Beirut, Amman, Rabat and in the UAE - and those that are published in London or Paris. The difference is clear: in Arab countries, there is hardly any freedom of opinion and expression or independent writing. In Egypt, for example, the president and his advisors personally appoint the editors of the major newspapers whose loyalty to the government is clear and binding. The same goes for Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. Whoever deviates from the official line will risk his job in the best case or will be sent to prison and "re-education" in the worst case.
In contrast, newspapers printed in Europe have almost complete freedom. The editor-in-chief is independent and can set the tone and the agenda. It is important to note that a significant part of the new Arab media in Europe has a clear Israeli fingerprint. The editor-in-chief receives an article or a piece of news that deals, surprisingly, with positive aspects about Israel or one that serves its interests, and from there the path to publication is short. In recent years we have seen this mainly through the newspaper "Elaf". It is recommended to find out who these media outlets are and to be especially careful of their exclusive information.
2) For those interested in broadening their horizons regarding the situation in the Middle East in terms of its national, political, and economic aspects, including in the context of Israel - it is recommended to listen to the excellent podcast Middle East PolicyCast on Middle East issues from the Washington Institute. There one can find chapters on a variety of countries and organizations - Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states. The institute is considered a renowned research center that includes experts on a wide array of issues, including Israel, who deal with a large variety of current issues.
3) Those who are curious and resistant to criticism and wish to expand their view of the Middle East also to more anecdotal areas, can listen to the Essential Middle East podcast (Apple Music, Spotify) on the Al Jazeera English Channel hosted by Sami Zeidan (who is not Israel's fan, however, he is considered the least venomous toward Israel on the Qatari network). Apparently without deep politics, and somewhat humoristic, Zeidane's episodes deal with issues such as "How obese is the Middle East," the question of racism against Muslims in the Middle East, and the chances of Arab film actors to integrate into Hollywood, where there is a clear Jewish dominance (and if you are already in the English Al Jazeera podcasts, you should also try The Inside Story Podcast. You may not like its content as Israelis, but they know how to make the news).
4) A bit of culture. The Undershirt Wearers is a book written by Nadia Tahauka Bushnak Circassian-Muslim Author from Kfar Kama (one of the two Circassian villages in Israel), which reminds us that getting to know the Middle East also means - and perhaps first of all - getting to know the minorities inside Israel. The plot deals with Donya, an Arab woman from the Galilee region, a student at the Faculty of Medicine in Jerusalem, who works as a waitress at a shopping mall in Jerusalem. Little by little she gets closer to the Jewish young women and men around her, whom she calls the undershirt wearers. On the one hand, she is fascinated by the free lifestyle, and on the other hand, the conservative society from which she came awaits her (The Undershirt Wearers was awarded last year the Brenner Prize, the Israeli literary prize, for debut novels).
Samdar Perry is an Arab world analyst for Yedioth Ahronoth and Ynet

Social media, Houthis, and the Quran / Lior Ben Ari

1) Apparently to get updated about what is happening in the Arab world one should follow the main media networks. However, viewing the largest and most eminent of them, the Qatari Al Jazeera (including the English edition), is quite problematic in our case since it is de facto a Hamas mouthpiece, as well as a sympathetic arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian axis.
It may be balanced though by following its ideological and commercial competitor, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya network based in Dubai, and to a large extent represents the interests of the kingdom and the "moderate Sunni axis", as commonly called in Israel.
An interesting figure on the channel that is worth following is the Lebanese journalist Layal Alekhtiar, who is known as an opponent of Hezbollah and whose Twitter account is a relatively unusual, and certainly brave, voice in the Middle East media (all you should do is click the "translate" button at the bottom of each tweet). Alekhtiar's statements have caused a stir in the past, the most recent one was when she interviewed Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee while addressing him as "IDF spokesman," a term that is considered unacceptable in the Arab world. In response, she faced a wave of criticism on social media in which she was accused of participating in the war in Gaza.
2) An interesting way to learn about the Arab world's mindset is, surprisingly, through the social pages of Israeli officials, including the Facebook page in Arabic of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Facebook page of the head of the Arab media division of the IDF Spokesperson's Unit Avichay Adraee and his personal X account, as well as the various platforms in Arabic and English of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).
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דובר מתפ"ש: "לחטוף, להתעלל ולרצוח ילדים, נשים וזקנים זה לא אנושי. אין לזה שום הצדקה"
דובר מתפ"ש: "לחטוף, להתעלל ולרצוח ילדים, נשים וזקנים זה לא אנושי. אין לזה שום הצדקה"
IDF's COGAT addressing Hamas
(Photo: COGAT)
These pages are followed by millions of Palestinian and Arab users from across the Middle East, and the interaction with them on these pages through the comments and the developing discourse is a lesson in how Israel is perceived by its neighbors. Also here, of course, there is a "translate" button for each post, designed for those who do not know Arabic. In addition, on the COGAT Facebook page in English, one can find information that is currently relevant to the war in the Gaza Strip.
3) Qatar has been a significant player in the Middle East for years, and even more so in recent months with the war in Gaza and the part it is taking in coordinating and mediating the negotiations on the hostage deals between Israel and Hamas. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs operates Facebook and Twitter accounts in English, which include updates on these important issues, as well as general publications by the Ministry's spokesperson, Majed Al-Ansari, who has become a major media figure in recent months.
4) Until October 7, most Israelis knew very little about the Houthi rebel organization in Yemen ("Ansar Allah"), but since it began firing missiles and UAVs at Eilat and attacking ships in the Red Sea, they are hard to ignore, making them compelling to follow. Hezam al-Asad, a member of the Houthis' political bureau maintains a Twitter account from which one can learn about the positions of the organization, and sometimes also get spoilers and hints (in Hebrew!) about shootings carried out by Houthis against Israel.
5) A bit of culture: As Israelis who are surrounded by hundreds of millions of Muslims and are in a continuous violent conflict with radical Islamic movements, it is worth getting familiar with the basic text: the Quran. It can be found in Hebrew, translated by the late Uri Rubin, an Israeli academic who researched Islam. We often hear sayings and messages that are supposedly based on the Quran which refer to Jews, Al-Aqsa, etc., but most often these are interpretations that do not necessarily correspond to the content of the Quran. Reading the source, rather than quotes from other people about the book, reveals that it has similarities with Judaism and the two religions are also similar in ethos.
Lior Ben Ari is the Arab affairs correspondent for Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth
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