CAIRO: Ramzi Khoury has a busy day ahead of him. Yesterday was also busy. Tomorrow will be too.
Khoury is the director of “Sleepless in Gaza & Jerusalem, a video diary project creating a half-hour of footage of everyday life in Palestine. Every day, Khoury and his team follow four Palestinian women around with their cameras. When evening comes, they rush to the studio, edit hours of footage into a half-hour broadcast, and upload it to YouTube as soon as possible.
“It’s extremely busy on a daily basis, Khoury told Daily News Egypt. “I wake up very early. we finish at two, or three, or four am.
The video project follows the lives of two women in Gaza: a student named Donna Maria Mattas, and Nagham Mohana, a journalist. It also follows two women in East Jerusalem: Ashira Ramadan, also a journalist, and Ala’ Khayo Mkari, an aid worker for Caritas.
Khoury and his team’s footage, which is available on YouTube under the username “Sleepless in Gaza, aims to be “neither rant nor rhetoric, producer S. Abdallah Schleifer said in a press release. “It is rather an opportunity for all of us, who do not live in Gaza, occupied Arab Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, to grasp how these four young Palestinian women live out their lives.
Schleifer, who is also a journalism professor at the American University in Cairo, told Daily News Egypt he hopes the project will help the press move past “if it bleeds, it leads Palestine coverage.
“When we cover conflict. [and] you could argue siege is a form of protracted conflict. our coverage of conflict distorts the nature of the conflict we’re covering, he said.
Schleifer used the United Kingdom as an example.
“We see at least 10 stories out of the UK everyday, he said. Even if one story is about a shooting “all the other stories remind us England is doing normally.
“[However] general coverage is a luxury that is given to countries of power, Schleifer added. “In the West, all they know of Palestine is this catastrophe coverage.
“We only see people as caricatures, he said. “It’s only when bombs are going off or bullets are flying that we journalists cover [Palestine].
Schleifer sees “Sleepless in Gaza & Jerusalem as a first step in changing this paradigm.
“We’re not film, we’re a video diary, he said. “We deal with the problems of occupation. but in a realistic context.
The video project, which is funded by anonymous backers, has its own YouTube channel with 340 subscribers. It also has a Facebook page supported by 1,196 fans, as of March 9.
Khoury said the project is a first for media coverage of Palestine.
“For the first time there is no script, no writers, and no agenda, he said. Instead, the cameras will let the four women’s lives speak for themselves.
“The girls are the backbone of the series, Khoury said. Through their lives, the series hopes to examine Palestinian life in all its facets.
“It’s three months, he said. “In three months we should tackle every aspect of Palestinian life.
The four women were selected as part of a six week audition process, Schleifer said. The team was looking for women whose lives would touch on all aspects of Palestinian life.
“You’ve got to bump into every single aspect of life in full, Khoury said. “These women have to be very active.
Khoury said he’s very glad two of the women are journalists.
“Because of their work, we get access to a huge amount of material, he said.
Another requirement was that each woman had to speak English.
“We’re hoping the content reaches as many people as possible, Khoury said. “This is why we did it in English.
Khoury and his team make sure every episode can be picked up by broadcast stations, or other media, if desired.
“We have to make sure it fits the criteria required by all media, he said. “Many times we have 40 minutes of interesting material and we have to cut it down.
Khoury said that while they originally intended to reach out to a Western audience, they’ve also discovered a great deal of interest in the Arab world, including Egypt.
“We’re discovering Arabs didn’t have any idea. now they’re interested too, Khoury said. “They thought Palestinians are crazy people who want to destroy Israel.
“Now we’re trying to translate the episodes into Arabic, he said.
Khoury said working in Palestine offers its own set of challenges.
“We are under occupation, he said. “Now the situation in Jerusalem is especially tense.
For example, Khoury’s team had to hire a new camera crew in East Jerusalem, after Israeli blockades prevented Khoury from getting his cameramen inside the city.
“In Jerusalem, a camera is always under suspicion and scrutiny, Khoury told Palestine Note. Gaza’s also problematic. “The strip is under siege and living conditions are terrible. The [cast] and crew suffer along with the remaining population.
“This is occupation doing its daily business, he said.
However, Khoury said response from Israeli media has been mostly positive.
“We have been bombarded by interest from the Israeli media, he said.
The crew plans the series to last until May’s end. They produce a new episode every day, resting Fridays.
However, if something newsworthy happens on their day of rest, Khoury said they’ll go out and film that too.