Israel charges that the level of incitement in the Palestinian media and the education system is sowing the seeds of the next conflict
If you look for it, you’ll have no problem finding it — by the suitcase-full.
It lurks daily in the pages of the Palestinian newspapers, on the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation radio and TV, in the textbooks currently being studied in the Palestinian Authority schools.
Anti-Israeli incitement is what occupies Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Me-dia Watch, a privately funded Jerusalem-based monitoring organization. But he hesitates to use the “i” word. Rather, he says, the problem lies in the whole atmosphere — the totality of messages coming at the Palestinian public from all angles, creating an all-pervasive, war-like environment in which the idea of peaceful coexistence is entirely absent and in which Israel is either vilified, or not recognized at all.
The more outrageous cases periodically burst into the Israeli headlines. Like Yasser Arafat’s now-infamous Ramallah speech of November 15 in which he declared “our guns are raised. And we will aim them at anyone who prevents us from going to Jerusalem.” Or the scenes broadcast on PBC TV from last summer’s Palestinian Authority military-style children’s camps, in which the cute-looking boys and girls chanted, recited poems and sang in praise of armed revolution, jihad and martyrdom.
Then there was the November 7 opinion piece penned by guest columnist Nasser Ahmad and published in Al-Hayat al-Jadeedah, the semi-official PA daily, asserting: “Corruption is in the nature of the Jews all over the world, to the point that only rarely do you find corruption that the Jews are not behind… If we take a look at history, we discover to what extent the Jews were exposed to oppression and expulsion worldwide because of their ugly deeds and their wickedness.” Or the fact that every news broadcast on PBC TV starts off, and ends, with “the map”: the whole area of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with no borders and no names.
And no sensitivities were spared when PBC recently produced a short film commemorating the anniversary of a problematic Israeli retaliatory attack in October 1953 on the West Bank village of Qibiyah, in which the IDF destroyed scores of houses, killing over 40 civilians in the process. The five or six minute-long film clip included black-and-white images of eyeless and limbless children, taken from the Intifada and possibly elsewhere, as well as staged scenes of “Israeli soldiers” lining up and shooting groups of men and women against a wall, all set to an emotional narrative and plaintive background flute. Says Marcus: “Its purpose was only one — a definite desire to create hatred. You can’t watch that kind of stuff and not hate the people behind it.”
From first grade up, the textbooks used in PA schools in the West Bank are suffused with similar messages. The West Bank schools still use the Jordanian curriculum, as they have done for the past 30 years — and despite the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, the material has remained violently hostile. Gaza uses the Egyptian curriculum, which is far milder in its treatment of Israel. The Jordanian books are published in Amman, but are then embossed with the Palestinian Authority stamp of approval. During the occupation, the Israeli authorities used to edit out offending parts, redesigning pages and reprinting whole books to avoid large white gaps, but the PA has chosen not to.
An exhaustive search of these school texts by Marcus’s staff — he himself knows no Arabic — resulted in a report that has left many an Israeli gasping. Second-graders, for example, are taught a “Poem of Palestine,” including the lines: “For me, the promise of martyrdom and Palestine is my song/From Jerusalem I shall build my ladder towards eternity.” On page 29 of the “Our Arabic Language” primer for sixth-graders, pupils are asked to “form logical sentences making use of the following expressions: Wise opinion the Zionist danger he called for a Jihad disaster remaining cool-headed.” In a language primer of the same series, seventh-graders are given the following as a subject for composition: “How are we going to liberate our stolen land? Make use of the following ideas: Arab unity, genuine faith in Allah, most modern weapons and ammunition, the use of oil and other precious natural resources as weapons in the battle for liberation.” And so on.
The boundaries of what constitutes “our stolen land” are kept vague, at best. The new PA-approved atlas, in this case privately published in the West Bank city of Nablus, shows Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as all one area with no labels. Where the territories are marked separately, for example in the 10th-grade textbook “Modern Arab History and Contemporary Problems, Part Two,” the color key refers to “Arab lands occupied before 1967” and “Arab lands occupied in 1967.”
“The Palestinians haven’t yet internalized the recognition of Israel,” says Marcus, who moved to Israel from the United States in 1974. He worked in the Religious Affairs Ministry under the previous Labor-led government before turning to full-time monitoring after the 1996 elections. “It would be completely valid if they were to put a map on TV of the whole West Bank and Gaza without a single settlement. But Israel of 1948 is not in dispute now. They’re constantly talking about Lod, Jaffa, Acre and Haifa in future terms, which creates dangerous expectations. It’s a general world view — a view that was supposed to have changed with Oslo. Instead of promoting peace, it’s sowing the seeds of the next conflict.”
Israel’s delegation went off to the Wye Plantation talks in October armed with Marcus’s reports. It came back with a commitment from the Palestinians to issue a decree prohibiting all forms of incitement to violence or terror, comparable to existing Israeli legislation, and to join Israeli and U.S. representatives on a trilateral committee to find ways of preventing incitement.
The decree was issued in mid-November. And on the 24th of the month, the committee held its first meeting.
Marcus was the “professional” on the four-man Israeli team, headed by former Knesset member Yoash Tsidon of the right-wing Tsomet party. The Palestinian side was headed by former Arafat spokesman Marwan Kanafani. U.S. Ambassador Ed Walker stood in for former Congressman Mel Levine, who was unable to attend the opening session.
The sides came out agreeing to work on a definition of what constitutes incitement, and to meet again in early December. Now, The Jerusalem Report has learned, the Pal-estinians are concentrating their efforts on building up their own files citing examples of Israeli incitement against the Palestinians. Whether or not they’ve fully come to terms with Israel’s existence, one thing the Palestinians have clearly internalized is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of reciprocity.
“We have our own claims of Israeli incitement, every day,” Hafez Barguti, chief editor of Al-Hayat al-Jadeedah, told The Report the morning after the first meeting, having already coordinated positions with Kanafani. “When [Israeli Foreign Minister Ariel] Sharon tells settlers to grab any empty land they can, what do you call that if not a call to violence? It must be mutual, from our side and the Israeli side. On the Palestinian side, you might find an individual here or there. But on the Israeli side, it’s government ministers who make these declarations.”
Asked about the recent “corruption” article that appeared in his paper, Barguti said he’d spent several weeks abroad around that time, and that it was “difficult to control every word in this situation. Yesterday,” he went on, “I gave my editors instructions not to use this word — ‘corrupt’ — about a whole people. We’re going to make peace with these people.”
Barguti added that another recent anti-Semitic item using Shylock imagery had slipped by while he was preoccupied with his father, who was in a coma. As for references in Al-Hayat al-Jadeedah to Israel as the “Zionist entity,” he said he wouldn’t use such terminology himself, then asked rhetorically, and somewhat disingenuously, “since when being a Zionist was an insult? I think the Zionists should be happy to use this, no?”
At PBC headquarters in Ramallah, the PA’s temporary “capital” in the West Bank, radio and television head Radwan Abu Ayyash sits under a portrait of Arafat and the national flag. So far, he says, he’s invested three years of very hard work in getting PBC on its feet. And he insists that while the salaries of the TV and “Voice of Palestine” radio staff come from the Palestinian Authority, and the PBC is accountable to Arafat’s own office (the general coordinator, Hisham Mikki, is based in Gaza), there’s no real interference from on high.
Abu Ayyash even points to moments of daring. Like the time when the popular radio program “Good Morning Palestine,” which deals with local issues, was trying in vain to get PA Information Minister Yasser Abd Rabbo on the phone. With each call, Abd Rabbo’s secretary became ruder, until she was positively cursing. Abu Ayyash instructed staffers to tape the last call, and broadcast it live. Only Arafat himself is immune to criticism on PBC stations. “He’s a symbol. I cannot gamble with this,” says Abu Ayyash.
When it comes to the subject of incitement, however, the PBC is definitely up for a fight. Abu Ayyash pulls out copies of Marcus’s reports, on which he’s scribbled his own notes, and dismisses Palestinian Media Watch as “a Beit Agron production,” referring to the Jerusalem press center which houses, among other things, the Israeli Government Press Office and the military censor. He accuses the Israelis of “picking and choosing” from the programs and taking things out of context. “If some sheikh says live on TV that all the Israelis should be thrown into the sea, what can I do? Cut off his tongue?” he goes on. “I can’t change the hearts, the brains, the language of my people. I can’t make them fall in love by force. We are journalists, mirrors, reflectors. I’m not here to lie, or make propaganda.”
Abu Ayyash says that he’s put aside all the songs and poems calling for Israel’s destruction that were daily fare on PLO radio that used to air out of Algeria. “I try to be fair,” he says, “but at the same time, I cannot surrender my nationality to fit somebody’s mood. We have to build up our national feeling, to chart our origins, like any other people.” Abu Ayyash complains that Israel is ignoring the fact that “90 percent” of PBC’s news broadcasts deal with the peace process — even if they attack Netanyahu’s political position. Like Barguti, he argues that calling people “Zionists” is “not a curse.”
As for the map, Abu Ayyash claims at first that the idea is merely to show the Middle East, and focus on this area. “Give me a final-status map and I’ll use it,” he declares. Prodded further, Abu Ayyash says that he would put up a map of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, “but to be honest, I still have something to do with Jaffa and Haifa. I have a Palestinian refugee problem — I have people watching from Jaffa whose problem hasn’t been solved. That doesn’t mean I want to get into a tank and drive there.”
Israel has particularly objected to a number of items that have repeatedly cropped up on PBC TV. These include short clips showing Intifada violence interspersed daily between regular programming; a six-minute recording of the song “Baladi Ana,” or “My Country,” in which children depict the trauma of 1948, concluding “It’s still my land, my beautiful land, Palestine”; and a blood- and gorefilled series called “Al-Khalidun,” or “The Eternal Ones,” which has run weekly for the past two years. “Al-Khalidun” features Palestinian “martyrs” killed by Israel, describing their lives and times, and keeping their memories alive through interviews with proud family members.
Abu Ayyash rejects charges that “Al-Khalidun” glorifies martyrdom, stressing the centrality of the concept in Islam. “The people don’t need me to tell them this,” he scoffs. “They get it from the kindergarten to the grave. It’s part of their structure, their life. I can’t just delete it from TV.”
Furthermore, he argues, it’s important to remind people of how much pain it’s taken to get to this point. “Why didn’t Israel forget the Nazis?” he asks. “Because of Yad Vashem, you had to reach peace. Because of the Intifada, we have to reach peace. I’m not aiming to destroy Israel, but we have a right to show its atrocities.”
In the wake of Wye, where the subject of incitement was first raised, Israel observed slight “improvements” at PBC TV: The daily barrage of Intifada clips stopped; “Al-Khalidun” abruptly went off the air (Abu Ayyash says the series “came to its end”); and “Baladi Ana” suddenly disappeared. That, Abu Ayyash conceded to The Report, was taken off so as not to give Netanyahu “cards” to play with.
Days after the first incitement committee meeting, however, “Baladi Ana” reappeared. And all efforts at PBC TV are focused, again, on reciprocity. Kanafani has charged Abu Ayyash with building a file of Israeli transgressions. “If they want to play Tom and Jerry, that’s fine,” says the PBC head. “We’re monitoring them now.”
The PA Ministry of Education, meanwhile, refuses to respond to the charges of incitement in schoolbooks on grounds that the PA is working on its own curriculum, to be introduced in the year 2002.
Israel doesn’t want to wait that long. A proposal informally thrown up at the incitement committee would have the Americans fund an immediate reprint of edited versions of the books now in use. The Palestinians replied that they are not prepared to deal with their schoolbooks unless Israeli textbooks are dealt with at the same time.
Surrounded by the mounds of evidence collected by Itamar Marcus and his staff, many plain-thinking people might conclude that the Palestinians don’t aspire to peace at all. Indeed, Marcus’s material has been enthusiastically adopted by a myriad of right-wing Israeli and Jewish interest groups who would rather see the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations stop in their tracks.
Surprisingly, Marcus himself avoids coming to gloom-and-doom conclusions, instead putting a constructive spin on his work. “I see this whole media question as the key to peace,” he says. “We’re talking about the socialization of a people to either accept the Jewish people here or not. For the long-term good and the development of peace, we have to create an atmosphere that promotes peace in the media and in the schools.”
And Marcus goes even further. If the Palestinians themselves were promoting peace, he suggests, there would be a “revolution” in Israeli attitudes toward making concessions. But for that to happen, says Marcus, the Palestinians would need to deal not only with the symptoms — the blatant bursts of incitement — but with the deeper illness itself.
The cure, it seems, is not available yet. Several weeks ago, PBC radio interviewed Marcus about his work. The recording was never aired. Marcus believes that is because he didn’t come across as the easy-to-dismiss right-wing provocateur PBC obviously assumed he was. “They don’t want to present us as reasonable,” he concludes. “They still fear presenting us as anything but the enemy.”