Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wataniya's Failure to Launch: The Story Behind the Story

About a month ago, I returned from Israel and the West Bank, where I conducted interviews for the article I was planning about mobile phone controversies in the region. A couple of days into the trip, I stumbled on an aspect of this story that I had glossed over initially: Wataniya’s repeated delays in starting up its mobile operation.

I discovered that Wataniya had not received its airwave frequencies from the Israeli government, despite a contract brokered with the help of Tony Blair that seemed to state clearly that the company would receive these frequencies in increments, starting in January, 2009.

I also learned that much of Wataniya’s crucial equipment remained stuck in customs, which was also delaying the company’s launch and costing it millions of dollars, according to the company.

This “failure to launch” quickly became the new subject of my story and Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, became my target publication. On Thursday, July 2 this article, entitled “Palestinians still waiting for better cell phone service, but is it Israel's fault?” was published in the Marker, a Hebrew magazine of Haaretz. The English version of the article is now available online.

Prior to my arrival, I had arranged an interview with Abdel Malik Jaber, the outgoing CEO of Paltel Group. I doubted many other high-level officials would be willing to meet with a student journalist, and I planned to focus my story on civilians and mobile phone shopkeepers who were more likely to speak with me.

However, I found that by literally knocking on the doors of ministries and companies and by asking other journalists for the mobile numbers of important officials, I was able to gain access to a number of important players in this controversy, including three CEOs and two high-level ministry officials in Israel and Palestine.

I also found that my American citizenship and Arabic proficiency was a competitive advantage. Unlike Israeli or Palestinian journalists, I could travel freely between Israel and Palestine and gain a certain level of trust and respect in both places. My status as an American freelancer traveling to the region solely to write this story also seemed to make people think I was more knowledgeable, experienced and important than in fact I was.

This was the first truly investigative article that I’ve pursued, and it proved to be an exhilarating adventure. I think it’s an important story, particularly because of its impact on Palestinian civilians seeking quality, low-cost phone service, dependable employment and a more prosperous future for their families.

I will post portions of my interviews here, as well as details and background information that could not appear in the Haaretz article due to space constraints. I’d also be thrilled to answer any questions from readers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the West Bank as an indication of what Gaza citizens could enjoy— if only Hamas chose to abandon terrorism.
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