Old Media: Unidirectional Television and Radio
The media have been intertwined in the Bedouin lifestyle for decades. However, the nature of old media dictated patterns of consumption of information and entertainment in which the locals were passive users, always on the receiving end. This is, of course, true of old media in general; however, with regard to the Bedouin community of Al-‘Arakeeb, its unique positioning on the margins of society, where it enjoys no infrastructure services, highlights the need for mediated information in the life of twentieth-century citizens of a Westernized society who wish to both integrate into and take part in society at large. It also highlights the inability of old media to serve as a tool for expression for marginalized groups. While as an unrecognized village Al-‘Arakeeb was never connected to the electrical grid, black-and-white television sets energized by car batteries were brought in to serve the residents and were the norm until 1999, when a generator-powered “big television” connected to a satellite dish was brought in. “We advanced in life, as they say,” one of the village’s old-timers, a Bedouin with a television, told us. However, the impact of television, a stationary medium with scarce content (in particular in Israel until the 1990s, when there was only one channel) may have been in community building, not in supporting expression. Indeed, when television was first introduced, communal television viewing in a central tent was the accepted way of consuming broadcast content. Israeli television used to air for many years an Egyptian movie on Friday evenings, and it became very popular with the villagers (as well as with the general population). While some of the residents were scared of the new technology, they got used to it over time as it became an integral part of their daily cycle, in a way unidirectionally shaping their schedule. It was turned on with a generator powering the village at 5 p.m. daily and shut off at 6:30 or 7 a.m. the next morning, when the generator was quieted down.
The use of the radio can also be described as weaving through the lifecycle; however, in this case, the existence of relatively more content (nothing we would call abundance at this point) contributed to a more nuanced experience. Villagers described how listening to the radio, powered by batteries, was woven into their daily rituals, with different types of content signaling different stages of the day. One told of his habit of waking up a few minutes before the 5 a.m. news so he could finish praying before the broadcast of Israeli radio in Arabic started. He continued to describe how his day was dotted with occasional newscasts in Hebrew and
Arabic from different Middle Eastern stations and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Another local described how he listened every hour on the hour to the news in Hebrew and every hour on the half hour to the news in Arabic. While being a passive listener on the receiving end, he developed a habit of critical news consumption, in a way through his polysemic interpretation, forming a world of meaning for himself. He perceived Hebrew Israeli radio, despite his bitterness toward the government, to be the most reliable source of news.
The unidirectional limited media also served the Bedouins as a window to the world. An ‘Arakeebian who had never graduated high school described how he learned to speak Hebrew from watching TV as a child and was first introduced to Jewish Israelis by watching it. He described his television experience as a learning experience about the country and the world. “To know what is happening in Tel Aviv I don’t have to be in Tel Aviv,” he told us. “What happens in the Knesset I see it at home... You grow up with the whole world inside your tent.” Prior to demolition, another villager mentioned that he was an avid viewer of Al Jazeera’s satellite news service, which many villagers praised for its journalistic integrity and reliability.