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Listening, Finally, to the Palestinians

One of the most important lessons of the renewed Intifada in the Mideast is to take what Palestinian leaders have to say at face value when they speak to their own people, in Arabic. That may sound too basic to mention, but over the last seven years, since the Oslo process began, many Israeli officials have dismissed the harsh message as empty rhetoric, and many in the press, including me, did not treat the reports seriously enough.
“Let them have their words,” I recall hearing Shimon Peres say a few years ago here, “that’s all they have. Judge them by what they do, not what they say.”
Unfortunately, events of the last several months have borne out that what they the Palestinians are doing is precisely what they were saying.
The message, from Palestinian Authority political and religious leaders, is that the Jews have no historic ties to the land; that Israel, the enemy, must be destroyed; and that the peace process is temporary, and a means to achieving the ultimate goal of replacing the Jewish state with Palestine.
The renewed intifada, then, is not about borders or settlements or contested holy places. It’s about a complete denial of Jewish history, including any claim to Jerusalem’s Western Wall as a site holy to the Jewish people. (Palestinian historians now say the Temple was in Yemen.)
Most recently, Palestinian leaders have denied the Holocaust. Dr. Jareer Al-Kidwah, an education adviser to Yasir Arafat, stated several weeks ago that claims that Jews were murdered in the Holocaust are “all lies and unfounded claims” to evoke sympathy from the world. He asserted there was “no Dachau, no Auschwitz. [They] were disinfection sites.”
These reports are not difficult to verify. Itamar Marcus, a soft-spoken former New Yorker now living in Israel, has spent the last five years monitoring official Palestinian television, radio and newspapers, and he says Palestinian leaders have never equivocated about their goals and intentions. “They are quite open to their own audience, and the constant themes are the de-legitimation of Israel’s right to exist, and the need to continue the revolution.”
Marcus and his team of five translators who form the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Media Watch were among the first to predict an outbreak of hostilities this past summer, some weeks before Ariel Sharon’s controversial walk on the Temple Mount, which has widely been attributed as the immediate cause of the renewed violence.
During an interview in New York this week, Marcus explained that this past summer there was a sudden and dramatic increase in the amount of footage shown on Palestinian television of violent clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youth, much of it from the first intifada of the late 1980s. “It went from five or 10 minutes a day to more than 90 minutes, and the rhetoric stepped up in the quantity and quality of its nastiness. It was clear they were planning more violence,” Marcus said.
The footage focused on the heroism and martyrdom of youngsters, and Friday sermons from Muslim clerics called for eternal war against the Jews.
As usual, Marcus alerted the Israeli media and government officials, but it was only in the wake of the late September renewed violence that his media watch reports began to receive serious attention. Over the last two months he says he has been inundated with calls from Israeli, American and European media outlets requesting interviews and more information about what Palestinian leaders are saying to their people. He is only too willing to comply, gratified that news groups are starting to pay attention to the realities of the Palestinian message, even at this late date.
Asked if he sometimes felt like a prophet of old, calling out a warning to his fellow Jews, Marcus laughed, but acknowledged that he had often been frustrated by the lack of concern among his fellow Israelis. Two years ago, he said, they knew every detail of the Monica Lewinsky scandal but were unaware of what was being said about them by their Palestinian neighbors.
“My job is to make them aware,” he said, pointing out that he considers his role to be a source of information, not a political advocate. “The more exposure, the more pressure on them [the Palestinians] to change.” And while his personal politics are known to be on the right, his credibility is solid with mainstream Israeli media and government officials. The Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Times and Jerusalem Post have interviewed him or cited his findings in recent weeks.
“It’s a sign his message is getting through,” says Jeff Barak, editor of The Jerusalem Post, who added that while Marcus was always respected on the right, “now, given what we’ve seen over the past two months, the left, too, is saying not enough attention has been paid to what the PA is telling its own people.”
The difference, though, is how the left and right interpret his findings. People on the right say the virulently anti-Israel reports confirm why the Oslo peace process is a sham. Those on the left say the information underscores the need to make peace and redress these negative views and stereotypes.
Marcus says that personally, he is an optimist, and that he sees the current crisis as “a difficult time we’re going through.” But he also notes that one of the most depressing aspects of his work is seeing how Palestinian youngsters are taught to hate Jews, from textbooks to children’s television programming.
“From the youngest age they are told over and over again that the Jews came from Europe after World War II and stole the land of Palestine from them,” he said, “and they are told there is no historical connection between the Jews and Israel. No wonder they look at us with such hatred in their eyes.”