For about 15 years from the mid-1930s onwards, Jewish and Arab journalists based in Tel Aviv and Jaffa worked together – somewhat in secret – to report the news.
A 1994 article in the Tel Aviv University journal Kesher, by Gabriel Zifroni, former Israeli journalist and head of Israel’s national theatre, Habima, tells the story of one arrangement between two newspapers. (Photograph above: Gabriel Zifroni, by Zvi Oron)
Zifroni, a Lithuanian immigrant who died in June last year, was a reporter at the time for the Hebrew Do’ar Hayom newspaper and the weekly Hazit Ha’am (a right-wing, revisionist publication). He developed a working relationship with Sheikh Muhammad, a journalist at the anti-British and anti-Jewish Jamah al-Islamiyah in Jaffa. The editor-in-chief of the publication was Sheikh Suleiman al-Farouqi.
It all began in 1933, according to Zifroni’s article. Jamah al-Islamiyah did not have a printer, and Zifroni put the publication in touch with a Jewish press, which started printing the newspaper.
Two years later, in 1935, a new daily al-Difa’ was founded in Jaffa, and al-Farouqi’s staff moved there. At around that time, Zifroni went to work at the Tel Aviv-based Hebrew daily Haboker as a reporter.
Al-Difa’, Arabic for “the Defence,” was a Muslim-owned daily, which became one of the most popular Arabic newspapers in Palestine. According to historian Mustafa Kabha, it was hostile to Zionism, but maintained that the British were the main enemies, and not the Jews. Haboker, Hebrew for “the morning,” was a right-wing Zionist publication, associated with the General Zionists.
(The masthead of the Jaffa-based al-Difa’ newspaper, 9th November, 1938)
According to Zifroni, he was invited to the offices of al-Difa’, where it was proposed that the two newspapers join forces to cover the country together by car. This would save time and money on translations from Hebrew to Arabic, and vice-versa, and enable the two dailies to break stories earlier than their competitors.
Following this gentleman’s agreement, the newspapers were in daily – sometimes hourly – telephone contact, exchanging information on both local and international news, Zifroni recalled. This was no mean feat, particularly during the period of the 1936 to 39 Arab Revolt, when strike organisers forbade contact between Arab and Jewish newspapers, and businesses in general.
On a few occasions in 1938, Zifroni wrote, he travelled with al-Difa’ reporter Rivni Kamel to Amman, where they met with the Emir Abdullah of Jordan. The Emir, Zifroni said, was pleased to see evidence of cooperation amid worsening hostility between Arabs and Jews in Palestine.
The arrangement continued until 1948, when the editors of al-Difa’ left the country because of the war.
Kabha has collected testimony that supports Zifroni’s version of events, which he includes in his 2007 book on the Palestinian press. Muhammad al-Shanti, the cousin of the editor of al-Difa’ Ibrahim al-Shanti, was employed during the Arab Strike as a newspaper messenger. He recalls having to rent a Jewish truck to deliver the newspaper, as Arab drivers were on strike at the time, and hiding among the bundles of newspapers as the truck made its way through Jewish neighbourhoods to reach al-Difa’s distributors throughout Palestine.
(Yosef Tamir and his family at the door of Ha-Boker newspaper’s office in Petah Tikva in 1946. Yosef Tamir was a journalist at Haboker and later an Israeli Knesset member. Image from Former MK Yosef Tamir’s image collection.)