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It was great to finally meet Karem Shehada (left) and Mohammed El-Madhoun (right) tonight. Mohammed is the editor in chief of Watania Media Agency, Gaza’s most prominent news outlet and Karem is head of IT. The two were co-participants with myself and Beirut Report in 4M, a six month accelerator program to support independent media in the region. But Karem and Mohammed never made it to Beirut– where the program was being held– until today, for the last week of the cycle. This is because of repeated closures at the Egyptian/Gaza border following the war, as well as the election of Egyptian general, Abdel Fatah Al Sisi. (Palestinians were far freer to travel and cross the border under deposed president Morsi, they said).

At 25, it was Karem’s first time out of Gaza and first time on an airplane. It was Mohammed’s first time on a plane since he was a child. But the trip was not easy. The two had to travel to the border–which they say can only be accessed through “wasta” (connections) and where they say Egyptian guards charge up to a whopping $700 per person for crossing– far out of the range of most Gazans. Once in Cairo, they and other Palestinians are escorted to the airport, where they are held in the basement–they are not allowed out and there is barely any food inside. Along with the other Palestinians, they were forced to sleep on the floor overnight and had to pay triple or quadruple the price to have food brought to them by Egyptian airport workers. Both were really excited to be here. “I’m trying to absorb everything,” Karem said, wide-eyed and with a big smile as he looked up and down Hamra street.

They only had one complaint: “I can’t believe how slow the internet is,” Karem exclaimed, telling me the upload and download rates in Gaza are 4mbps, more than 4 times the average download speeds in Beirut and more than 10 times the upload speeds.

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For those interested, the guys and I will be speaking at the 4M media conference this weekend. See link for details.

 

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Habib Battah
Habib Battah is an investigative journalist and founder of the news site beirutreport.com. Battah has covered Lebanon and the Middle East for over 15 years and teaches journalism and media studies at the American University of Beirut. He is a contributor to Monocle, The Guardian, BBC World, Al Jazeera and others, a former fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award. Battah's investigative work was recently recognized for outstanding local reporting by the Columbia University Oakes Award for Environmental Reporting. Battah earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. in Near East Studies and Journalism from New York University.

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