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PMW in the Media
Itamar Marcus on Charlie Rose with Ziyyad Assali
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Rose: The media’s influence in education of young people in the Middle East especially plays a crucial role in the peace process. Itamar Marcus is founder and Director of Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli organization that monitors the Palestinian media.
Ziyyad Assali joins me from Washington, he is the President and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine.
I am pleased to welcome both of them to this broadcast and to have a dialogue about what is in fact crucial.
Tom Friedman, in a New York Times piece, January 18, 04: The explosion of … the biggest threat to the future is JIA, Jews, Israel and America… the power of media and we want talk about that and different views on that. Tell me how you came to this and what your point is…
IM: Palestinian Media Watch was formed about six years ago to gain an understanding of what the Palestinians were saying amongst themselves in Arabic and very quickly we found that there were two distinct worlds, there is the English language world for media consumption and the Arabic language world which is completely different, and we were following especially what was being said to children, how children were being educated because we feel that for long term peace, it is more important to know what a 3rd grade teacher is telling her students than what Yasser Arafat is telling George Bush because ultimately that’s going to make the difference as to how the next generation related to Israel as neighbors or not.
Rose: What, in your judgement are they saying to the children in Palestinian areas?
IM: We have a found a consistent message that the conflict with Israel is not a border conflict. The conflict with Israel, the children are taught, the adults are taught, is an existential conflict against two targets. One, against individual Jews as Jews who are constantly portrayed as evil, conniving, cunning, as inherently evil, and the second thing is that Israel is delegitmized in its creation, not with relation to the West Bank and the Gaza strip but in its creation, Israel is delegitimized as an existing state. Children are taught that the conflict with Israel is existential against Jews and against Israel as a state.
Rose: And what are Israeli children taught about Palestinian issues, Palestinian people and Palestinian objectives?
IM: Israeli children are actually taught diametrically opposed messages. There is very active peace education in Israeli schools and in Israeli society. A beautiful example of Israeli peace education in an Israeli schoolbook, the story in a 3rd grade book of an Israeli boy who’s at the water and he falls into the water and he’s drowning and can’t get out of the water. He assumes he’s going to die and then all of a sudden a row boat comes along with an Arab in it and the Arab is wearing a keffiyeh and then there is an illustration of an Arab in a keffiyeh, bending over and saving this Israeli child. That is beautiful peace education. It’s telling the Israeli child that Arabs are good and that if you’re in trouble, the Arab is actually going to save your life.
Rose: Most of the Israeli media (and of course you can’t say in a 100% way) but most of the Israeli media you find, is not showing in any way, insensitive, disrespectful, erroneous about Palestinians and Palestinian objectives.
IM: That is correct. Absolutely, We actually studied over 400 Israeli schoolbooks and every little example of slight stereotyping we publicized, that these should be corrected. This was after we had studied the Palestinian schoolbooks and found horrific hatred of Jews, hatred of Israel, calls for Israel’s destruction, Jews defined as treacherous and evil, the enemies of God, the enemies of the Prophet. This was in Palestinian schoolbooks.
The Israeli schoolbooks are completely the opposite, that in spite of the conflict, we are educating to see the Arabs as our potential neighbors. Further example, the PA media (this not specifically aimed at children) has been calling for the extermination of Jews over the last few years, by numerous religious leaders who have explicitly said “Kill the Jews whenever you find them”, “have no mercy in your heart”. They have also indicated that this is what Islam is demanding of them, in many sources, in many occasions on PA TV, this is the extent to which the incitement has gone, literally calling for the murder of Jews as something that God wants.
And then, Israelis, on the other side, just by way of comparison, there was a young woman named Tatiana Suski, who after a suicide bombing in Israel was incensed and drew a picture of Muhammad, a pig and the Quran on a piece of paper and started distributing it in Israel. This was brought to the press’ attention, an outrage, it was publicized, the woman was arrested, charged under Israel’s anti-incitement laws and actually was convicted and sat a year in jail for insulting another religion.
So, Israel abhors incitement, against an Arab because he is an Arab, and the Palestinian society and their media has been promoting it as Palestinian Authority policy.
Rose: Ziyyad Assali. He is a physician, President, founder and member of the American Task force on Palestine and he joins us from Washington.
He and Mr. Marcus testified before the education Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee in the United States Congress.
You just heard what Mr Marcus said, how do you see this?
ZA: As someone who is pretty much dedicating all my energies organizationally and personally to pursue a peaceful two state solution, living side by side, living in peace and giving hope for the future generations, I find it rather distressing to listen to such an incredibly one-sided portrayal of two societies, two communities and their educational systems. It is unquestionable true that there are bad apples on every side, and statements and pictures and all kinds of unpleasant things exist on the Palestinian and on the Israeli side and it is in our own fundamental interest if we are serious about peace to not overplay the negative and damaging images and gloss over all the positive attempts of reconstructing a future for the children. I know that the Palestinian Curricula have been reviewed under the supervision of the Europeans and this has been going on since 1994, most of this stuff that has been mentioned of course were applied to the area prior to 1994 when the Palestinians moved in after the Oslo agreement and then started their work on education. Prior to that, the kids were educated under Jordanian textbooks and everything that was mentioned now applies to the area before the Palestinians even took command and Professor Nathan Brown who is a good solid professor at George Washington University has reviewed this work extensively, I happen to know him, I have great respect for him, and he indicated in writing, the most credible work on the subject, the new curricula seemed to be acceptable and do a good foundation for the peace.
IM: If I can respond. The comments that I’m talking about and the quotes that I’m citing are not from the past, quotes for the calling for the destruction and murder of Jews, these are sayings on PA TV, happening over the last couple of years and have nothing to do with Jordanian schoolbooks and this has been a backbone not only to adults, but children have been taught, through the last few years through music videos on PA TV to aspire death for Allah, to aspire the Shahada.
There was a music video that was probably on PA TV 500 times, Palestinian Authority official TV, on this music video, 500 times, directed at children, a young boy of about 14 years old writes a farewell letter to his parents and he goes off hoping to die in the conflict and the words of his letter which are sung to us by a popular singer, include the words “how sweet is Martyrdom” falling to the ground falling dead, achieving shahada, he turns to his mother and says “Mother, be joyous over my blood…”
We have found numerous music videos where PA children are told that Shahada is sweet. Children on TV, 11-year-old girls on TV that they want to die for Allah and the afterlife is so wonderful and that shahada is sweet. Let me just give you one more example, there is a story of a 14-year-old boy, named Faris Ouda, who, according to the official Palestinian daily, went out hoping to die. He prepared a memorial for himself in the corner of his room with his picture and a wreath around it, and as he left the house he said to his mother, ‘Don’t worry mother, Shahada is sweet.’ He went out, put himself in the front lines, hoping to die, got hit in the crossfire, nobody knows which bullet did it, the point is that this boy has been so convinced by today’s Palestinian media, by the thousands of hours of convincing children that they should be dying for Allah as Shahids, he went out and succeeded in doing this. And because of this, he was turned into a Palestinian Authority hero on Palestinian television.
ZA: There is no denying at all that there are people who are committing suicide as they inflict damage on others, there is what we call suicide bombings, they have motivations, they have their own sense of what it is that they are doing in this life. I condemn them myself and my organization with no equivocation, however I want to say, that detaching the daily life the contectual life under occupation and blaming the whole thing on media is unacceptable simplification, unfortunately, these people live with an abhorrent reality, under house arrest quite often, they have to deal with checkpoints, and they have to deal with bombs coming from the sky and from tanks, and they have to deal with daily humiliation, depravation, malnutrition, and school closures, city closures, these are realities, these are realities that illicit reactions from these young men and women and part of the impact is education but that’s hardly the whole story.
IM: Let me comment on that. I feel tremendous sympathy for the Palestinians who have to wait at checkpoints and for the difficult conditions that the Palestinians have today in the cities. However, we must ask who is ultimately responsible for these checkpoints and who’s responsible for the suffering. Before there was terrorism, there wasn’t a checkpoint. Before there was terrorism, everything in the economic situation of the Palestinians was flourishing, in fact, under Israel, before the Oslo accords, under Israel, Palestinian areas, that is the West Bank had one of the fastest growing economies in the world under Israel. In the 1970’s, the West Bank economy grew at 10% per year - the fastest growing economy in the world, and this was under Israel.
When Israel got the West Bank administration in 1967 there were no universities, when Israel gave it over there were 7 universities. All of the good things that people want for Palestinians are exactly what the Israelis want for the Palestinians - with one difference. The rest of the world has talked about it and Israel has done these things.
Israel did everything to improve the lives of these people because we wanted them to be our neighbors and to live with us in peace.
When the Palestinian Authority was established in 1993, they are the ones who turned the situation around. They are the ones who encouraged terrorism, fighting the peace process in Arabic, they are the ones who brought the checkpoints, they are the ones who brought all of this suffering on their people. So yes, I sympathize with the suffering of the Palestinian children and their people, but who is responsible? Not Israel, only the Palestinian leadership.
ZA: Well if I may say so, Palestinians are living under occupation. There would be no suicide bombings. If you want to simplify things to their maximum and simplistic formation. Let us be serious, people who live under occupation would want one thing above all. They want liberty. It is not altogether shocking for someone to say give me liberty or give me death. People do want to be free. The Palestinians have lived under occupation for the longest standing occupation of our present times. Since 1967, they want to be free people and if you give them freedom, the challenge for reasonable people on a show like this should be like this, how do we, actually, collectively and together try and make these people live separately, independently in freedom so that they have normal relations with each other. Is it the Israeli fault or the Palestinian fault, that’s easy, that is irrelevant, much too easy to feel a victim yourself and to have the monopoly on victimization if you will, and the other guy, his grievance, his suffering is only a theoretical consideration for you. No, we want to build societies, new societies, new relations for a state of Palestine, independent, viable, along side a Israel, that is how we should be expending our energies, rather than blaming each other.
Charlie Rose: If in fact, the kind of images that are being presented in a documentary that they have put together called “Ask for Death”, and a new documentary called the making of a child warrior, these two documentaries are reflective of the kind of media or the kind of betrayal that young Arab children are seeing, is that helpful in the process to achieve the objectives that you just so eloquently outlined.
ZA: It is completely not productive to that.
CR: Therefore both sides should make sure that that kind of inciting material, not in textbooks, not on the media
ZA: Everywhere. And may I ask about generalizations here. I’m sure if someone spends six years of their life trying to compile things, they would find things like that and they would embellish them, I don’t know.
But, if you take clips from the Janice Freeler show and show it in New Zealand about American TV, you would give them an incredibly distorted picture of American TV. We have to be careful with the selective process here. I personally do read the Palestinian press every day and I read other press in the region and I don’t see a thing, absolutely nothing, to suggest this in the print media. I don’t live there and I don’t see their TV, I’m sure that they have several stations and have several things. Dwelling on the complete negative stereotype of the other and dehumanizing him is completely unacceptable whether by shows that are actually on TV or by commentaries that are about what is happening in real life. We have to live in the gray area. It’s not black and white.
IM: I think it is very important to understand that the items that we are showing and that we are documenting in these report are not exceptions that appeared once over a number of years. When I tell you about the clip encouraging children 500-600 times over a period of two years, it was sometimes on two and three times a day. This was the backbone of PA TV. When you say for example that you think that the print media is fine, let me just tell you about an item or two that appeared in the last two days in the Palestinian print media. There was a discussion between two Palestinians - I forget their names - one of them was talking about Israel exchanging one Israeli captive for 400 terrorist, mostly from the Hizbullah and the other one responded and explained that Israel does this intentionally because its trying to tell the world that the value of a Jew is worth more than the value of an Arab and that even one Jew is worth a thousand Arabs. And the other responded and said, ‘Oh yes, this is found in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and this is their ideology.’ This was yesterday, two days ago on Palestinian television.
CR: But let me ask you this, you’re not suggesting that in the Israeli press you won’t find things that Palestinians would take great offence at. Israelis take great offence at, whether it is something someone said, not talking specifically about the editorial policy of the publication, there are certain things in certain Israeli publications that the Sharon government takes great exception to. Clearly, in newspapers and on television programs like this and others, people say things that other people violently disagree with. Now, doesn’t that happen in Israeli press as well?
IM: Its true, the Israeli press is a completely democratic press and we have…
CR: …and therefore people can say things that are offensive to Palestinians
IM: Right, but the Palestinian press is not a democratic press. Basamid, for example, who’s a Palestinian, has written and described tens of cases of Palestinian journalists who were tortured because they didn’t follow the official PA line, things that are appearing on their official TV, things that appear in their official newspaper are not things that can happen.
You have to imagine a state like Iraq in terms of the totalitarian control of the press. This is what the PA is. When they repeatedly, a few weeks ago there were other references to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that these messages keep coming over and over again. That the official religious leaders on television have been calling for the extermination of Jews.
This is not that person’s opinion. This is the PA leadership.
I believe sincerely that Ziyyad in Washington wants to have a peaceful two state solution but that doesn’t represent what the Palestinian Authority leadership is telling to their people. And that’s what we have a problem with.
ZA: I certainly don’t represent the PA. Although what Mr. Marcus is saying makes me want to defend their position that they are in now. How can these people be acting like such dictators while they have really no authority, their authority has been decimated. And they don’t have a security apparatus and they don’t have a political establishment that’s worthy of any respect over there. So how can they be imposing their will so deeply that nobody can dare to publish or write anything against them? I read what is written against them in the Palestinian Press every day, against the Palestinian Authority. Serious suggestions to changes of leadership, for reform, for opening up elections, very serious accusations of corruption, all that stuff is all over the press in the PA media. So I don’t know what this dictatorship in the media is about, but anyway, I do not want to be drawn in again, to get this my position, your position. We must absolutely responsibly defend whatever is worth defending, by human criteria that applies to all and not our tribe against their tribe, this is what got us in this mess in the first place. We must transcend those things.
CR: On that note, I must conclude. Thank you.
As I mentioned, there is a documentary called the making of a child warrior which is produced by PMW, his organization and the other documentary that was referred to, “Ask for Death”, produced by Mr. Marcus.


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