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Keeping an eye on Palestinians

The Palestinian-Israeli ceasefire has been welcomed by a visiting Israeli media expert but he is sceptical about the long-term prospects for peace.
Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, a privately funded organisation that monitors Palestinian news media and school books, has been in New Zealand this week for a two-day stay during which he met foreign affairs officials, supporters of Israel and National’s foreign affairs spokesman Lockwood Smith.
His visit was funded by the New Zealand Jewish Council.
Mr Marcus says anything that stops the killing is a welcome development, but he remains to be convinced that the Palestinian Authority is genuine in its desire for peace.
Eight years of study by his organisation has found a society directing its children to view the Palestinian-Israeli conflict not as a border struggle but as an “existential” conflict.
“Every message they have received, be it by a schoolbook or controlled television programme, presents Israel as completely illegitimate and the peace process that we are having as one that can lead to Israel’s eventual demise.”
New Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has won international praise for halting the latest intifada (uprising), but Mr Marcus says Mr Abbas has still not told his people that Israel has a right to exist, and till he does, doubt will linger about his intentions.
As recently as last Friday, a senior religious figure, Ibrahim Mudayris, stated in the official sermon on Palestinian television that diplomacy might persuade Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders, but such a pullback would not end Palestinians’ quest to take control of the rest of the territory occupied by Israel.
In this sermon, Ibrahim Madiras said: “No … this generation might not achieve this stage, but generations will come, and the land of Palestine … will demand that the Palestinians will return the way Mohammed returned there, as a conqueror.” Palestinian schoolbooks and media convey similar messages, Mr Marcus says.
In schoolbooks, Israel is described as an occupation and does not appear on maps, he says. Jews are portrayed as “treacherous, evil enemies of God.” In control, Israeli schoolbooks generally portray Arabs in a positive way and promote peace.
A study by his organisation found negative stereotyping in books produced for the fringe religious Haredi education system, but they were isolated examples and have been pointed out, Mr Marcus says.
On Palestinian television young girls are shown talking about the glory of shahada (martyrdom), he says.
“The message to their people is … that this is a respite of the warriors, a time of resting from the battle. They will return at a later stage.”
Similar language has been used during previous lulls in terrorist activity.
The danger is that Palestinian militants will use the ceasefire to rebuild their forces, Mr Marcus believes. At present, Israeli forces have the terrorists “on the run.” The number of suicide bombings have fallen from several a week to one about every three months.
“We don’t want a respite for six months or a year in which time the terrorist organisations rebuild the their arsenals and then attacks us with even stronger, more experienced terrorists. We want the message that, from now on, the whole process is diplomatic. We don’t want the message that ‘we will stop fighting now till we get as much as we can, then we will resume.’”
Mr Marcus says Israel can not be blamed for the negative perception of Jews among Palestinians. The books studied by his organisation were written before the latest troubles began. They were not a reflection of present violence.
It would be valid for the texts to critique the Israeli military presence in Palestinian cities, but that is not what they do, he says.
“They’re talking about Israeli cities being part of a stolen homeland. If you want to critique current events, that’s absolutely valid, but you can’t critique existence because then you are making sure there will be violence.”

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