Itamar Marcus does not recognize the Yasser Arafat that most Israelis know from their television sets. As the head of the Palestine Media Review, a relatively new nonprofit media outfit that monitors the official Palestine Authority television network, Marcus gets a very different picture of the Palestinian leader.
“There are two Arafats,” he says, playing a video his group has assembled from the Palestinian Broadcasting Company (PBC) to prove his point. It shows a collection of incitement speeches made by Arafat and other Palestinian leaders. In many of them Arafat calls for the crowd to spill their blood in order to liberate Palestine, assuring them a place in paradise. Banging his fist on the podium and shouting for emphasis, Arafat reveals a face that is rarely, if ever, seen in the West. By showing these clips to the public, Marcus hopes to unveil what he sees as the PLO’s true intentions.
During the early years of the Oslo peace process, Marcus says, the public constantly heard from Rabin and Peres that Arafat was a trustworthy partner. In particular, they made a distinction between Arafat, who, they claimed, was fighting for peace, and Hamas, who was fighting against it. Last year, before the Israeli elections, Arafat appeared on PBC praising the leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, referring to him as “our beloved Sheikh.” Arafat was also televised at the funeral of Hamas terrorist Abu Ayash, where he proclaimed him to be a “holy martyr.” Marcus believes that this and other examples, such as the PLO’s failure to change the Covenant, helped shape the election results, causing people to seriously question whether the other side was bargaining in good faith.
Besides influencing public opinion, Marcus also hopes to affect decision-makers. One subject that he has recently brought to their attention is the Palestinians’ continuing use of the map of Palestine, which encompasses the entire state of Israel. In one PBC clip, a map of Israel hangs on the wall of a kindergarten classroom. In the top left-hand corner is a Palestinian flag. The tape has numerous other examples, from the Fatah emblem, which shows two interlocking rifles on top of the state of Israel, to the Hebron Liberation Celebration in which dancers perform in front of a conspicuous map of Israel.
Marcus noted that in many scenes the cameraman purposely focuses on the map for several seconds. This emphasis gives the viewers the impression that they are going to receive all of Israel, not just the areas outside the “Green Line”, creating unrealistic expectations. Arafat has thus made it almost impossible to compromise, Marcus said, making it difficult to make future progress in the peace process. In order to foster a situation in which a final settlement can be reached that is acceptable to both sides, he sent to Knesset members a petition along with a copy of the tape, asking them to request Arafat to stop displaying the map of Israel as the future Palestine.
Amazingly, few people, even in Israel, monitor the Palestinian airwaves. Marcus attributes this partly to the politics of the Israeli media, which prefers to show clips of Arafat seemingly calling for peace instead of war. The practice of turning a blind eye towards what Arafat says to his own people produces a distortion in understanding the unfolding of events. An example of this is the commonly held assumption that the riots of last September were spontaneous, a boiling over of public outrage due to the opening of a tunnel alongside the Temple Mount. A segment of the tapes disputes this, showing that days before violence erupted Arafat issued a particularly vociferous speech in Arabic, inciting Palestinians to violence in Israel.
For the most part both the Israeli and American press pay little if any attention to Arafat’s proclamations in Arabic. Some journalists, however, have made use of Marcus’s work, such as George Will, who questioned Dennis Ross about a picture he received from Marcus with Ross sitting in Arafat’s office, a map of Israel hanging behind them. Ross ignored the question. Recently Marcus has sent copies to the U.S. House International Relations and U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committees, hoping they will exhibit more concern over images of crowds chanting before Arafat, “The soul and the blood we’ll give for thee, Palestine.” Perhaps if members of Congress start asking similar questions, Clinton administration officials will find it increasingly difficult not to answer.