March Feature - Aref Hijjawi


March-Feature-Aref-HijjawiAref Hijjawi at MDC seminar on Al Jazeera's coverage of Palestine, May 2011Aref Hijjawi (1956) is originally from Nablus and recently returned to Palestine from working six years with Al Jazeera in Qatar. Throughout his 56 years Hijjawi has gathered experiences from around the world  and is mainly known from his work with leading international media houses - and as the former Head of the Media Development Center. But in truth, Hijjawi’s biggest passion has always been to teach.

I was born a teacher. I have all the bad and good things teachers have – talkative, oversimplifying things, adapting arguments to a way pupils can understand. All skills that happen to fit well with journalism too,” says Hijjawi.

Entering journalism - learning by doing
Leaving Nablus at the age of 18 to study engineering in Syria, it was the first time Hijjawi left the comfort of his home. But quickly he discovered that he was in the wrong field and came back to Palestine where he enrolled at Birzeit Universit, though much against the will of the teenage boy.

My grandfather asked me why I didn’t want to go to university and I answered ’because I want to learn’, and that has been my life experience,” says Hijjawi who believes strongly in learning by doing – and this was also how he got into the field of journalism.

I worked for a news paper in Jerusalem doing any kind of job and even sleeping there. I was being asked to listen to news on the radio and write them down but as it is with young people I had no modesty and told my boss that ’I was no copier’. He gave me a stack of materials and told me to make a news piece. I still remember the topic being president Assad’s trip to Moscow and my headline was: ’The president of Syria Hafez Al-Assad will be going to Moscow’, my editor crossed it out and wrote – ’Assad goes to Moscow’ – that was quite a lesson,” says Hijjawi.

BBC-correspondent and Head of MDC but teaching remains the true passion
In 1988 Hijjawi was hired by BBC in Londons and for the first time entered a radio station. Initally hired as a translator, Hijjaw left after 11 years during which he spend the last five as Head of Programs for the Arabic channel. As the MDC was established in 1996 - then under the name ’the Media Center’ – Hijjawi conducted several trainings here. And when asked to be Head of the Radio Unit in 2000 Hijjawi accepted and returned to his home country with his family.

Hijjawa remained BBC’s correspondent while in 2003 also becoming  the Head of the center, which changed its name to the ’Media Institute’. But in 2006 the possibility of new adventures abroad brought him to Doha, Qatar, as Al Jazeera’s Head of Programs.

Back to teaching – and back to the MDC
In spite of Hijjawi’s prestigious positions in some of the world’s biggest news stations, Hijjawi also found time to teach and write books on teaching journalism and Arabic grammar.

I like to teach journalism – you can’t get out of your skin. For me teaching is a game. You will never catch the ears of your students by being tough – you have to be interesting. I think this helped me in my media career,” says Hijjawi who believes that his main strength is the ability to make information interesting.

In February Hijjawi returned to his Ramallah and is currently working with the MDC as a trainer in ’radio production’ in the new project ’Village Voices’. Here he is applying his conviction in the importance of practical learning and building an interesting language through writing.

Nomatter what I teach, I always teach writing. Because people in Arabic countries often write awfully. Since they write in standard Arabic and not their colloquial dialects, they write old-fashioned, turn to cliches and and do not express themselves. They sound like they are 100 years old,” says Hijjawi, who has big expectations for the new trainees and hopes they will produce many and good radio features from West Bank villages.

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