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PMW op-ed: The Incitement Yardstick

Itamar Marcus & Barbara Crook  |
Following his demand for a crackdown, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently remarked that anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian Authority media had indeed lessened.  The incitement issue has generated significant interest and optimism worldwide. Unfortunately, both Sharon's satisfaction and the resulting optimism demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding about Palestinian society.

If media incitement were merely the tactical use of hate language by PA leaders to provoke violent behavior against Israel, then even a limited reduction would indeed be significant. But if the hate messages of the past 10 years reflect widespread and deep-seated beliefs within the PA leadership and society, then temporarily removing them from TV screens is like taking a painkiller to fight cancer. The pain may be veiled but the cancer still festers.

Palestinian Authority religious and academic leaders have been teaching for four and a half years that Allah demands the killing of Jews; and for 10 years that Israel has no right to exist. Moreover, hate messages expressed through the media mimic the messages the PA espouses through schoolbooks, summer camps, religious lessons, culture, poetry, and more. Every action and statement by the PA indicates that these are not merely superficial statements to "incite" people to sporadic violence, but are accurate indicators of Palestinian society's beliefs and dreams.

Just look at the PA Ministry of Education's choice for first-place in its recent letter-writing contest for children. The winning letter, entitled, "I will yet return to Lod," is a child yearning for Israel's eventual destruction:

I am Lara from Lod, and I am an 11 year-old girl living in the city of Ramallah. I used to accept that Ramallah is a substitute for Lod, and that the large [Mediterranean] sea has been exchanged for a small pool... you [Israel] do not deserve Lod, and after this day I will no longer accept the small pool. I will dream of the sea at Jaffa and the sunshine in Lod.

It is not insignificant - nor is it mere "incitement" - that PA educators chose for first place this powerful hate message to children. Denial of Israel's right to exist and the anticipation of its destruction are among the fundamental principles of PA ideology and education. This is a message they want for their children.

Sadly, the PA doesn't even wait for children to reach school to inculcate violence as a value. An October 2004 PA television program for preschoolers featured a talking puppet chick who was asked how he would respond if "a little boy cut down his tree." His answer: "I'll fight him and make a big riot," he answered. "I'll bring AK-47s [assault rifles]... I'll commit a massacre in front of the house."

 A FUNDAMENTAL theological tenet inculcated by the PA media is that Jews - even as individuals - have no right to exist.

"The Prophet said: The Resurrection will not take place until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims kill them. Rejoice in Allah's Victory... Everything wants vengeance on the Jews... these pigs on the face of the earth. And the day of our victory, Allah willing, will come." (PA TV, Sept 10, 2004)

For more than four years PA religious and academic leaders have repeatedly promoted the murder of Jews as the will of God and historical necessity. We can delude ourselves that this is merely temporary incitement - or we can face the harsh reality that such indoctrination has convinced a significant portion of Palestinian society that murdering Jews is an act of worship.

At any rate, Sharon's talk about reduced incitement was premature.

Just last week, PA TV rebroadcast - for the 11th time - an hour-long hate-promotion film that indoctrinates viewers, especially youth, with the message that Israel has no right to exist. The program stresses that Jaffa, Haifa, and Acre are occupied "Palestine," stolen from the "refugees." It even features a child vowing - with his "blood" - to "return" to west Jerusalem.

 Yet another recent rebroadcast featured a senior Palestinian historian calling for Israel's destruction: "Let the intruders be erased," taught Dr. Issam Sissalem. He said Israel is like the "parasitic worms in the ocean that eat a snail, and then live in its shell," and vowed: "We will not let anyone live in our shell."

ALL THIS explains why a tactical reduction in media incitement isn't enough. We face a political, religious, educational and popular culture which in its entirety promotes hatred of Israelis and Jews and teaches that violence is the preferred means of achieving political goals.

Media incitement per se is not the problem. The problem is Palestinian aspiration for Israel's destruction - and the Palestinian media are merely our window to these hopes and dreams. If the new Palestinian leaders are serious about peace with Israel they will have to do more than just mask their beliefs with politically acceptable facades. They will have to fundamentally change their world view and then detoxify their society with messages that actively promote peace.

Palestinian leaders need to go to their people and systematically - repeatedly - renounce years of hate promotion. They need to emphatically acknowledge both Israel's right to exist as a nation and the Jews' right to live as individuals. They need to reject violence against Israel - not because it's politically ineffective, which is the current rationale, but because it is morally wrong.

The day we start seeing PA leaders promoting these messages on PA TV is the day a peace process will have begun.