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Israeli media watchdog in Westport Nov. 21

Cindy Mindell  |
WESTPORT - Itamar Marcus is a professional eavesdropper. Over the last 14 years, the New York native has become a foremost expert on what the Palestinian media is teaching its public. The founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch will speak at the Westport Women's Club on Nov. 21.

Marcus has lived in Israel for more than 30 years. In 1996, at the start of the Oslo Accords between the Israeli government and the PLO, he noticed that the tone of Chairman Yasser Arafat's speeches was becoming particularly violent.

"He was talking about jihad, and comparing the accords to the Khudaibiya agreement, signed by the prophet Muhammad with the Arabian tribe of Koreish, and eventually violated," he says.

Marcus raised seed money to hire Arabic translators and to see whether there was something more serious going on in the PLO's messaging.

"As soon as we started watching TV on a daily basis and translating on a daily basis, our concerns were borne out," he says, "and no one in the Israeli media or government was aware."

Arafat was presenting one face to the world - Marcus recalls the leader being photographed kissing babies - "but to his own people, from children on up, he was promoting and glorifying violence, preaching jihad, demonizing Jews and Israelis," he says. "That was the biggest focus: hatred and demonization."

What was most disconcerting, Marcus says, was that the Palestinian population didn't hate Israel at the time. In four consecutive annual polls between 1996 and 1999, Palestinian pollster Khalil Shakaki asked people to grade various countries around the world for democratic regimes and human rights. Again and again, 70-plus percent of those surveyed ranked Israel highest, even above the U.S.

"Those opinions were being expressed after 38 years of contact with Israel, from 1967 to 1995, and just before the Palestinian Authority was starting to take over areas in territories," Marcus says. "The Palestinians truly admired Israel, and at the time were being told by the PA that Israel didn't have the right to exist, that Israelis should be driven into the sea. It took a lot work on our part to convince the Israeli media and government that this was going on."

By 1998, Palestinian Media Watch was working with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who did understand how serious the situation was becoming. He appointed Marcus as the Israeli representative to the Tri-Lateral Anti-Incitement Committee, established in 1999 under the Wye Accords.

In 2000, what Arafat was waiting for finally happened. "He decided that it was time to start a violent conflict," Marcus says - and not because of the failure of the peace talks, like many believed. "If you look at those four annual polls, in 1996, 50 percent of those surveyed gave the PA and Arafat a positive rating," he says. "But by 2000, the approval rating had fallen to 22 percent. So when he had absolutely no support from his people, and had given them enough training in hatred and demonization, he had a strong enough center of people to start a violent conflict."

Arafat gave the speech in July, and trends in the Palestinian media went from promoting hatred to supporting violence. In late September, Likud leader Ariel Sharon took a highly publicized walk on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, as a show of Israel's sovereignty over the site. Ten days later, Arafat decided to use the action as a spark to what became known as the Second Intifada, calling for the murder of Jews and Israelis in the name of Islam.

"The atmosphere today in the Palestinian media is on the verge of an outbreak of war," Marcus says. "Now PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas is behaving like Arafat. While there are very few direct calls for violence, there is still incredible demonization of Israel and glorification of violence. There is no overt violence only because it is not tactically valuable at this point."

How are Palestinian leaders demonizing Israel? Even during the most recent peace talks, Marcus says, they have accused Israel of spreading AIDS, drug use, and prostitution throughout the Palestinian territories. They claim that Israel poisoned Arafat, and that the government is planning to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque and is torturing Palestinian prisoners and stealing Palestinian body parts. "All this, to create a sense of Israelis as monsters," he says.

But the situation is even more critical: Over the last 10 days, the PA has released five articles outlining a plan to declare an independent Palestinian state within the borders agreed to on June 4, 1967.

PA leaders are currently meeting with government officials throughout the world to drum up support for the plan, Marcus says, which is to be implemented next summer. By then, the PA hopes to have enough international recognition and support to declare a state, which will include all of Jerusalem.

"That means than anyone living in half the neighborhoods of the city would be in violation of international law," he says. "And there's no telling how the U.S. will respond to the PA's lobbying. That would put Israel in a state of isolation like nothing we've ever experienced before."

In response, PMW is preparing a report on the latest peace talks, in an effort to create a worldwide governmental coalition to oppose the PA's plan. The 100-page report lists Palestinian violations of the basic principles agreed to in the talks, conditions set out by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: recognizing Israel, stopping violence, and stopping incitement to hatred.

"They have violated all three," Marcus says. "There is no recognition of Israel, no preparation of their people for peace; they promote an intense glorification of terrorism and violence - all in total violation of the American conditions."

The report then lists nearly 30 pages of examples of what Marcus calls "active non-recognition: children's TV programs describing Jaffa and Haifa as parts of the Palestinian state; newspaper articles highlighting an Israeli Arab soccer team moving up to the national division of "the homeland occupied in 1948;" countless media references to Israel as "the occupied homeland."

PMW intends to get copies of the report to parliamentarians and government officials throughout the world. Marcus is in the U.S. to raise funds for the project, and to raise awareness among American audiences about the current state of Palestinian media. He is also being sponsored by StandWithUs to train university campus leaders in Israel advocacy.

"It's well worth our while as Americans to pay more attention to what the so-called Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is doing," Ken Blackwell writes in the Oct. 15 issue of The American Spectator. Blackwell is former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and a senior fellow at the Family Research Council. "That's because we American taxpayers are footing the bill for much of it. President Obama and Sec. Hillary Clinton have promised $900 million in U.S. funds to the PLO, our supposed 'peace partners' in the latest round of Mideast peace talks."