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Infolive TV interview with PMW's Itamar Marcus

In an interview on Infolive TV, Palestinian Media Watch director Itamar Marcus and Political Analyst Jerrold Kessel discuss Hamas’s release of a tape of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in 2007. Additionally, Marcus and Kessel debate the importance of Palestinian media as a reflection of Palestinian society as well as the Palestinian leadership.

Full transcription of the interview:

Host: Good morning. Here at Infolive TV, it’s Olivier Rafowitz. We are here with two experts in the media world in Jerusalem. With me, Itamar Marcus. Good morning.

Itamar Marcus: Good morning.

Host: Itamar Marcus is in charge of Media Watch, a research institute dealing with the analysis of the Palestinian media for a few years now. And Jerrold Kessel, our analyst from CNN bureau chief. Together we will try today to analyze the last big media event with the release of the Gilad Shalit cassette during the Sharm el-Sheikh summit a few days ago. Do you think that the Hamas was doing a clever move by releasing this cassette during the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh?

Itamar Marcus: The Hamas has a very important need to be seen as a partner for talking with Israel at this point. The world was attempting and will continue to attempt to push them on the side and to marginalize them. If they announce to the world that they are the only ones who can release Gilad Shalit and are willing to release Gilad Shalit, it will force Israel to talk with them and I think from their perspective, this was a very siginificant move, and I think in the end it will be effective for creating some kind of dialogue with them, which could lead to further dialogue if it’s successful with Israel. And if Shalit is released, it could actually lead to further dialogue with the Europeans and less of a marginalization

Jerrold Kessel: This shows that Hamas want to get into the game and it shows Hamas’s understanding of Israeli society to a large degree. They understand the strength of Israeli public opinion and the release of that recording by the kidnapped soldier at this critical moment certainly had an impact on Israeli public opinion. So whether it’s from weakness or strength is a debatable point. Hamas has no real access to the conventional media that Fatah has in the way that Fatah dominates the Palestinian airways and the Palestinian press. Hamas here was using the internet, using it very intelligently from its point of view. And yes, I think I agree with Itamar that this was quite an effective move which may have reverberations yet.

Itamar Marcus: The Fatah television, which is Palestinian Authority television, reported on the Shalit tape in 16th minute of an 18 minute news report on the day of the release. Whereas the rest of the world and Israel was putting it as the main story, Fatah TV put it down 16 minutes. So they knew that this was successful and important for Hamas, which is why they tried to marginalize it.

Host: What mark could you give to Hamas by releasing this cassette during the summit day? Is it a clever and sophisticated move?

Itamar Marcus: The day also happened to be exactly the year anniversary, and I think that was the date that they were planning, possibly even before the date of the summit. […]
The goal for the Hamas was not a one-day media success. They have a long-term strategy. They have to be accepted as mainstream or as close to mainstream. They have to be someone the world is willing to talk to.

Host: Television, radio, newspapers. What do you see, more hatred in Fatah or more hatred in Hamas media against Israel?

Jerrold Kessel: I think the hatred is less important to us. Let’s say, there is hatred and there is antagonism, but that’s something that you live with. If they are considered the enemy, in my opinion, that’s not entirely relevant. The important thing is when and wherever they relate to Israel on a realistic basis try to get some kind of communication going or have an agenda to interact with Israel, as they did, as Itamar has been saying, on this occasion. Then you have to take notice of them. The other times, you can shove them aside and say it’s irrelevant. [...]

Itamar Marcus: I think the Palestinian media for us has been a very, very accurate indicator of the direction that the Palestinian leadership wanted to lead their people. We have found, for example, we would find the same messages in television programming, we would find the same messages in schoolbooks, we’d find the same messages in infrastructure naming. So for example, at the time, during the height of intifada, when Palestinians were very interested in having a lot of children violence, we saw that there were video clips promoting children to be violent, promoting children to aspire to Shahada for hours a day. At the same time, they were naming summer camps for suicide terrorists. So for example, two summers in a row, there were summer camps named for Ayaat al-Ahras who was a 17 year-old girl suicide terrorist, and this was for 15 year-old girls in the summer camp. So they were getting the message from there. They were naming cultural events. They had a book of the month, which was distributed. It was children’s poetry given out with the Al-Ayaam newspaper. This was under the Ministry of Culture, and the book of the month was named for Hana Dejeradat. Hana Dejeredat was the suicide terrorist from Haifa. So the media for us is a window into Palestinian society and we see that the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Sports and Youth, are all promoting Shahada and violence at the same time. We know that this is the message that children are getting from every place in their life. […]

Jerrold Kessel: I think it’s inevitable in a developing society, or in a nascent state in the making that you will have what we call recruited media. It’s not a democracy in the sense that Israel is a democracy to that degree where the media has an independent role. [..] I think it’s understandable, if not always acceptable. Of course it’s not acceptable that they’re promoting suicide bombers. [...]

Itamar Marcus: One of the misperceptions is that during the early period of Oslo, the Palestinian Authority in Arabic was promoting the peace process. From 1996 to 2000, there was incitement to vicious hatred. In July of 2000, it changed from hatred to incitement to violence. And we saw the change and reported on the change. In fact, we reported on September 20th, the opening sentence was

Host: Have you met with Palestinian media people this year?

Itamar Marcus: I met regularly. I represented Israel in the negotiations with the Palestinians.

Host: What were their reactions when you talk about these issues to them?

Itamar Marcus: We used to have meetings once a week, and the Palestinian representative was Marwan Qardafani. And the meetings would always begin with my presenting, to the American delegation as well, the examples of hatred and incitement that appeared that week in the Palestinian media. Marwan Qardafani would have a pile of papers this high and he would say, “Oh, you want to talk about incitement? Look at all these examples of incitement that I have here. But I don’t want to talk about incitement. I want to talk about peace and promoting peace.” And he would ramble on. They never actually responded to the problem of incitement. There is absolutely no symmetry between systematic indoctrination and brainwashing of children to having. I wouldn’t mind if Palestinian media was pro-Palestinian. What my problem is, when they take a them, let’s give an example, right today, we have been seeing incessantly promotion of Shahada for adults on Palestinian TV. […]
The point is why is Mahmoud Abbas directing TV this week when the world is coming closer to him and they’re having a summit, to all of a sudden rebroadcasting a video clip which shows a man being shot and going to heaven and being greeted by the virgins of paradise over and over again.

Host: What do you think? Why do the Palestinians still in this week of progress toward Fatah are still broadcasting such pictures?

Jerrold Kessel: It’s a problem for Palestine, but I suggest that the whole concept of focusing on the Palestinian media as the central issue is mistaken. […]

Host: Why Hamas did not release pictures of Gilad Shalit […], only the voice?

Jerrold Kessel: I don’t know. It’s a speculation of whether he’s not in good enough shape. If he had been looking very poorly, it wouldn’t have the effect that they managed to get across by appealing for help in his voice.

Host: What is the impact of voice for TV without pictures?

Jerrold Kessel: Well it’s intriguing if nothing else. You want to know. You ask the question. […]

Itamar Marcus: Definitely it adds a certain aura of mystery to it. Their official reason for it was that they didn’t want Israel to be able to identify the place where he’s being held. […]

Host: TV is so strong on Palestinian public opinion?

Itamar Marcus: Again, the impact of TV goes up and down. During the high violence periods, many, many more Palestinians are watching Palestinian TV.

Jerrold Kessel: Aren’t they watching Al-Jazeera more?

Itamar Marcus: Yes, during the high violence, they switched over to Palestinian TV.

Jerrold Kessel: No, to Al-Jazeera.

Itamar Marcus: During high violence. When it’s no violence and Palestinian TV then become more boring, then they switch to Al-Jazeera.

Host: How do you explain the freedom of movement for Israeli journalists in the Gaza strip.

Jerrold Kessel: That’s the credibility that they are a genuine force and not a product of something that’s alien to the area, and it serves its purpose. For its own reasons, the Israelis want to know and they get to know.

Host: Do Palestinians watch Israeli TV?

Itamar Marcus: Yes they do. In fact, before 2000, before the violence started, there were apparently more Palestinians watching Israeli Arabic language news that was on at that time. […] It all changed with the violence, but during that early period after the Oslo accords, Palestinians are still watching the Israeli Arabic news. The reason why they permit Israeli television into their own areas is because Israeli TV very often presents very sympathetic pictures. First of all, they’ll interview people from Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, they’ll show human interest stories, they’ll show human suffering. Israeli television is very mature and very democratic and it will show the picture that is actually happening there and this works to the advantage of the Palestinian Authority and to the advantage of Israelis, seeing what’s happening.

Jerrold Kessel: I suggest the big question that needs to be focused on is how much do televisions beyond the Palestinian committee, which are a recruited media doing that, are they reflecting or are they constructing, people like Al-Jazeera. That is a more critical question to the creating a public opinion or the impressions that have come out of what is happening inside the Palestinian society.

Host: Itamar, the last word?

Itamar Marcus: I agree completely that Palestinian TV is a very good reflection of what’s happening in society and the direction that the leadership wants society to go. It’s both of those at the same time. It’s certainly not leading society. It’s more a mirror of society.

Host: Can we expect some surprise from Hamas about next step with Gilad Shalit?

Itamar Marcus: I think, as I said before, it is now extremely important for Hamas for Israel to negotiate and eventually to release, the demands that Hamas had put originally in terms of the numbers as well as the crimes committed by the terrorists is going to drop significantly and Hamas, at some point, be it a month or two or three down the line, by releasing Shalit for any number of prisoners, is going to get a lot of credibility around the world and will be seen more as someone to be talked to.

Jerrold Kessel: The key word in the weeks ahead is engagement and disengagement. How far are the Palestinians disengaged from one another, West Bank and Gaza, Fatah and Hamas? How far is the apparent trend in Israel and in the West, possible also Europe, to keep that division, that disengagement intact? And how far will Israel and the United States be engaged with Palestine or disengaged with Palestine? I think that’s the key issue at the moment and it could reflect favorably on Gilad Shalit’s future or the opposite.