Abeer Kilaney – Providing Local News for Palestinians

Gama TV, a Nablus-based partner of Aswatona, is primarily run by station director Abeer Kilaney. She also serves as the president of the West Bank-wide Sada TV network and is a coordinator for Miftah, an NGO based in Jerusalem that promotes transparency, accountability, and the uninhibited flow of information in Palestinian society. In addition, she is a mother of six. I spoke with Abeer in January, and asked her to tell me a little bit about her background and daily life.

Although she was born in Burqa, a small village outside the northern West Bank city of Nablus, Abeer spent her early years in Jordan due to the outbreak of the 1967 war. After the fall of the West Bank, many of the homes in the surrounding villages were visited by Israeli soldiers, who were informed that they had one hour to gather their belongings and leave. Though she was quite young at the time, Abeer recalls “feeling a sadness that we were leaving our home.”

Life in Jordan offered more opportunity for many Palestinians, who fled the West Bank by the thousands. It was here that Abeer spent most of her childhood and had access to good schooling, which was considered mandatory by her father, who was himself a schoolteacher. It was he who constantly told her that “the most important thing in life is that you learn something new every day.”

Some eleven years later, Abeer felt it necessary to return to her village. She recalls being very disappointed in what it had become of it, realizing “there was nothing there for me, or anyone.” No electricity, no water, and, needless to say, very little opportunity could be found. Subsequently, she decided it was best to continue with her studies, and opted to obtain her B.A. in psychology from Najah University in Nablus.

Soon thereafter, an incident in the Gaza Strip sparked a massive flare up in what was to become the first intifadah. The mass uprising against the Israeli military occupation left more than two thousand dead, and even more wounded and arrested. The conflict paralyzed life in the West Bank, as schools closed and all freedom of movement was restricted.

One day, Abeer heard a knock on the door where an Israeli soldier waited to inform her that his unit had been ordered to take residence on the roof of her home for surveillance of Nablus. For three years, two dozen soldiers resided there, often entering her home to use the bathroom, shower, and get food.

It was during this period that Abeer recalls sitting with her husband, Rimah, and realizing that it was unfortunate that the only source of information available to Palestinians was through satellite television channels, primarily out of Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Recognizing the great need for local television, and with the help and support of Rimah, Gama TV was born. Operating out of their bedroom, the two began putting together programs that were made for and by the community of Nablus, freely discussing the most pertinent issues that affected them.

Though the subsequent years saw the continued success of Gama TV, there are several obstacles that continually challenge the station. On May 22nd, 2007, the Israeli Defense Forces, operating on unsubstantiated evidence that Abeer was running a Hamas-funded television station, raided Gama TV and confiscated a majority of the production equipment and computers. Though the claim was never confirmed, and the station has cleared US government background checks, the equipment has not been returned to this day.  Abeer remembers the first time she saw the wreckage in the station. “I felt like I lost a part of myself”, she recalls.

When asked how she is able to continue running a television station under the circumstances that the occupation has produced, Abeer stated that it is imperative to be both strong and flexible. Every evening, when compiling a list of the following day’s activities and meetings she creates an additional list-‘Plan B’ in case clashes, curfews, or checkpoints force her to alter her schedule.

Abeer extends her gratitude to the Internews Network Aswatona project, noting that its support has “eased some of the difficulties of what happened in the raid” and “has added to the station’s ability to operate professionally and produce quality television.”

When asked about her inspiration, what drives her to wakeup early every morning to be a wife, a mother, an NGO coordinator, a Network President, and the director of a TV station, Abeer responded, “It is my husband. And the idea that through the station’s programs I can hope that we can all continue learning something new every day.”