Lubna Al Turki’s radio programs focus on talented Palestinian youth who are trying to make a change in their society. (PHOTO COURTESY SOCIAL MEDIA).
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June/July 2023, pp. 18-19
By Hasan Aga
IN THE CITY OF HEBRON, Palestine, the door of a well-lit, air-conditioned meeting room opens and Lubna Al Turki strides in. Tall and slim, covered in modest yet stylish clothing and a hijab, she walks with a sense of purpose and extends her arm to shake my hand and that of my male colleague.
Usually this wouldn’t be an action worth mentioning. However, in this ultra-conservative city it is rare to find a female who shakes the hand of a man who isn’t a relative, demonstrating a level of confidence and authority not found in most Hebron women. A warm smile and an apology for being late; one of her radio programs was due to go on air soon.
A well-known radio personality, TV presenter and journalist, Al Turki takes a seat and tells us she will do her best to answer all our questions. She began her career in 2009 as a TV presenter, and after a few years she decided she wanted a new challenge.
Transitioning to radio, she began working for the ever popular Al Hurriya News Agency Radio with her first program, one of three which are still on the air today, delving into self-care, psychology and social issues. A popular segment of this program led to the creation of a radio show on Palestinian youth. To this day it is the most listened to radio program on the air in Palestine.
“This is for children, students, university students and young professionals, everyone is welcome. The focus is on Palestinian talent, to help build their confidence, to encourage them to continue working hard on their talent. They feel immense pride after coming on my show. All their family and friends hear them and it motivates them to not give up and keep going. Since 2011 the program has brought exposure to the great talent of Palestinian youth. Alhamdullilah, this is my best achievement on the radio.”
Having spoken to many young people in Palestine myself, I found many of them to be as frustrated with the Palestinian culture and society as they were with the Israeli occupation itself. Many conveyed their frustrations about how some of their traditions, customs and the mindset of people stopped them from progressing in the way they wanted. With Al Turki regularly engaging with the youth, I wanted to know whether she agreed with them and how change could be effected.
“Because I deal with the youth in general, I know their issues. The biggest challenge to them is that they want to change their society, its mentality and they want to participate in the responsibility of changing their society. This is what I always hear when we talk. They say they want to be like me because I work hard for myself so they also want to work hard on themselves,” Al Turki said.
“Nobody wants the situation to remain as it is. The youth of this city and this country don’t want to live the lives of their fathers and mothers and grandfathers. They are desperate for change but every change needs time. They are frustrated because they don’t have the opportunity to be in the decision-making process. The ones who are in control of that process don’t want to let that power go. So it’s a combination of things holding back the Palestinian youth, but it is this youth that will grow up and be the change they want to see. It will change, but it will take time.”
I asked her whether she thinks it’s fair to say that being conservative is what is holding Palestine back. She thought about it for a moment. “It’s about balance, we need to be more open-minded in a positive way, so that we can look after our society, build organizations, have activities for our youth so that they can experience participation in every level of society, this is what I think is needed, not conservatism to this level.”
Her mission is a noble and much needed one. Only the Palestinian youth know what it’s like dealing with the traumas which come from living under an occupation among settlers and the need for individuals like Al Turki, who aim to bring positivity, hope and optimism back into their society. At what cost? Journalists the world over are aware of the acute danger that comes with the nature of their job, so I ask: in a place such as Palestine how difficult is it to speak out, do you have to be careful about what you say, are there topics you can’t discuss?
She smiles. “Of course. My radio station has been demolished five times by Israeli soldiers because we speak about the occupation, about what they do on a daily basis, what happens in the old city, how the settlers attack, how they continue to build illegal settlements and take more of our land, and then we get raided. They confiscate everything, all our equipment, our computers, even down to our coffee cups they have taken. The second time they destroyed our station it was Eid, the fourth time they took everything and closed us down for six months.”
I asked if Israeli authorities had ever arrested anyone at the station. “No,” she answered, “however they did threaten us saying they would arrest everyone if we were to say the words ‘occupation’ or ‘Israel’ again…that was the fifth time and along with taking all our equipment and computers they demolished the entire station, ripped down all the walls and broke everything.”
I was shocked. “How can they do that? You are journalists, are you not protected by any legislation, nationally or internationally? Are there no agencies you can turn to?”
“We went to the International Criminal Court and were not surprised it led to nothing. Palestinian journalists have no rights. We went to our Minister of Information but again, nothing. The Israeli government just denied they ever did it and we’ve never received anything in compensation. Our radio station is quite popular in Palestine, so the people know when we’re off the air. Even President Mahmoud Abbas made a statement saying he will help us because we make an important contribution to society but then, silence. No help, no justice. This is the life of a journalist in Palestine.”
So have these repeated shutdowns of your radio station made an impact? “Unfortunately yes. We have reduced the amount of attention we give to these issues, every time our radio station has been closed we have reopened it ourselves, without any help or assistance, financial or otherwise. It has all come from our own pockets and our end goal is to continue to be operational. There is no point if we are shutdown permanently, though I’m sure some people would want that.”
Throughout the interview Al Turki has spoken with a dignified air of defiance. She accepts the multitude of issues she faces as a journalist and as a Palestinian, but it doesn’t seem to faze her one bit. It is clear that she believes in what she’s doing, and her hard work is clearly paying off, given that every person I spoke to in Hebron about her not only knew her but held her in very high esteem, especially young women who view her as a role model.
She ended the interview the way she ends her radio shows—with a plea for mutual respect and for unity. “I have just one message, since 2009 until today. Please just respect and love each other. We don’t want war, we don’t want problems, and if you cannot love each other, then at the very least respect one another. We must be united, we must act in the way we hope for our futures to be.”