Talking with Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch
By Joan Brunwasser
JB: My guest today is Itamar Marcus, founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch. Welcome to OpEdNews, Itamar. Please tell our readers what Palestinian Media Watch is and why you felt compelled to create it.
IM: PMW was established 14 years ago. Since then, we have been reading the three daily Palestinian newspapers, watching and video recording Palestinian Authority official TV and studying all their schoolbooks. Our goal is to get an accurate picture of the internal Arabic language Palestinian world and especially what Palestinian leadership is saying to their children. We feel that if there is to be peace, it has to start with children and has to be founded on peace education. Therefore, what children are being taught in schools and what they are learning from music videos and children's media are a better indicator of the real beliefs and goals of the leaders, and will also determine if we have peace in the next generation.
Our conclusion, unfortunately, has been that there are two different worlds: the English language world for foreign consumption and the Arabic language world for internal consumption and there is often no resemblance between the two.
JB: How different is that from what goes on in Israel? You enjoy real freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Israel. So, Arabs, and especially Palestinians, are often vociferously attacked in the Israeli media, aren't they?
IM: Arabs and Palestinians are never attacked in Israel for what they are. In fact, in Israel, it is against the law to incite. Palestinians are verbally attacked for terror promotion and terror support. After the terror attack in 2008, in which 8 Israeli teenagers were murdered by a Palestinian terrorist who murdered them while they were studying in a high school library, the New York Times reported that 84% of Palestinians supported the attack and killings. This is the kind of thing that makes Israelis angry and critical of Palestinians. The Palestinians have named summer camps and soccer tournaments for kids after Palestinian suicide terrorists. This likewise brings anger and condemnation.
JB: Did something specific happen fourteen years ago to impel you to create PMW?
IM: Israel and the Palestinians were at the beginning of a peace process but, instead of bringing peace, under the new Arafat-led Palestinian Authority, terror was worse than ever before. There had never been a suicide bomber in Israel until Yassir Arafat was allowed into the region. We felt it was necessary to see if the peace Arafat was promoting in English was also being promoted in Arabic. Unfortunately, we found that the worst of our suspicions and fears had been correct. In Arabic, Palestinians were being fed systematic anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hate propaganda. The goodwill that had been built between Israelis and Palestinians for many years was being undermined by this continuous demonization under the new Palestinian Authority.
JB: So, who reads PMW? Aren't you preaching to the choir (those who support Israel)? And doesn't everyone else just look at PMW as another propaganda tool for Israel?
IM: Just the opposite. PMW is not seen as propaganda because the only opinion we express is the need for peace education. Aside from that we just let the Palestinians speak for themselves.
When we exposed, for example, that Palestinian Authority had been using music videos on TV to indoctrinate its children to aspire to die as child martyrs; that they would go to child martyr heaven with Ferris wheels and where children play with kites, everyone left and right was horrified. And PMW did not have to express any opinions. We just showed the PA TV videos at a hearing in the Senate. Hillary Clinton called them "child abuse". Not only wasn't it propaganda but the main beneficiaries of PMW were Palestinian children, because two of the worst Palestinian Authority propaganda videos promoting the glory of death as martyrs were taken off PA TV the next day.
PMW is doing a service to anyone interested in peace.
In a sermon on official Palestinian Authority TV in January this year, the cleric preached:
"The Jews, the enemies of Allah and of His Messenger, enemies of humanity in general, and of Palestinians in particular " The Jews are the Jews. Even if donkeys would cease to bray, dogs cease to bark, wolves cease to howl and snakes to bite, the Jews would not cease to harbor hatred towards Muslims" The Prophet says: 'You shall fight the Jews and kill them'" [PA TV (Fatah), Jan. 29, 2010]
How can any reasonable person not condemn and not fight to eliminate that hate speech? How can any reasonable person not understand that Palestinian hate speech that calls for murder in the name of a religion will destroy the chance for peace?
There are Palestinians and Muslims who have spoken at conferences after I have spoken, who make a point of condemning the material I have shown and the hate propaganda that the Palestinians expose their society and children to.
JB: Why are you in Washington right now?
IM: The purpose of the DC trip now is to heighten awareness that as we start peace talks again with the active participation of the US government - the issue of peace education must not be left behind. It is too important to leave it for the end. Every day that goes by will make it harder to undo the damage.
Have you found American government officials and the media generally open to PMW's message? How about elsewhere in the world - what kind of press response do you get?
We find government officials, Congress and MPs around the world very appreciative to receive the material on a regular basis. People whose job it is to know what is really going on in the international arena are happy to have this material. People are tired of opinions being expressed by "experts" and they welcome the opportunity to receive information that enables them to form opinions on their own with objective data.
In the last year, we have presented to the Foreign Affairs Committee of Congress and of Holland, and to MPs from Italy, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, and others. Media likewise is very favorable because we hand over material and let the media see, hear, and pass it on in a way that others can make their own opinions.
JB: Can you tell us the story behind the link to the television show you sent me?
IM: We often observe hate promotion from both the PA and Hamas. This is one example when a skit that was performed before a live audience at the Islamic University in Gaza and wasbroadcast on Hamas TV . The segment featured actors playing a Jewish father and son dressed in traditional Hasidic Jewish garb.
The skit opens as the father instructs:
Father: "We Jews hate the Muslims, we want to kill the Muslims, we Jews want to drink the blood of Muslims and Arabs."
[Turns to the audience:] "Are you Muslims and Arabs?"
[The audience responds in the affirmative.]
"I hate you, to please God."
Father: "Shimon, look, my son, I want to teach you a few things. You have to hate the Muslims... You have to drink the blood of the Muslims."
Father: "You must stand next to me and pray, my son."
Son: "Okay, one moment and I'm coming."
Father: "Where are you going, my son?"
Son: "I am going to wash." [as Muslims do before prayer]
Father: "You're going to do WHAT?"
Son: "To wash [with water]. You said you want us to pray."
Father: "Muslims [do that], not us... We have to wash our hands with the blood of Muslims."
[Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas) April 3, 2009]
Demonization of Jews like this and of Israel is very common in the PA. Israel has been accused by a senior official of the PA of spreading AIDS intentionally among Palestinians, of trying to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque by injecting acid into the foundations, of doing 5,000 medical experiments a year on Palestinian prisoners, and much more. This demonization and the hatred it creates becomes the justification for terror.
JB: I understand that this demonization also goes on in schools and can be found in children's textbooks. So, how does one ever have a hope of overcoming all that hate and propaganda in order to build bridges toward peace?
IM: It cannot be overcome without a total change in direction. That is why it is so urgent that we start now. Borders can be redrawn with one political decision, but hatred is embedded. It can only be changed if there is a courageous Palestinian leader who will receive world support only if he replaces the hate promotion with peace education. If this happens it can be turned around. It will take time and that is all the more reason to start ASAP.
JB: Given what you see and do on a daily basis, do you have to drag yourself out of bed every morning? Does it leave you completely pessimistic about chances for peace?
IM: Actually, I have hope for a very specific reason. The Palestinians did not always hate Israelis, they were taught to hate. As recently as 1996 through 1999, following 28 years of Israeli administration of the West Bank and Gaza, the most important Palestinian pollster checked Palestinian attitudes on how they rated the "democracy and human rights" in the Palestinian Authority, France, the US and Israel.
It turned out that, after 28 years of daily contact between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel received the best rating in the world with 78% of Palestinians giving Israel a "positive" rating in democracy and human rights. The US had only 65%, France 55% and the PA 50% of Palestinians giving them positive ratings. The poll was done three more times in the next three years and Israel was always seen as the best in the world by Palestinians, with 77%, 75% and 65% giving Israel positive ratings in democracy and human rights.
So, open borders and contact between the Israelis and Palestinians created healthy attitudes and respect. It was the terror and hate education of the PA that ruined the trust. My hope is that peace education can turn back the clock. The same way the Palestinian Authority poisoned their people with hate education, they can rectify the situation with peace education.
That's why I see PMW's role as central to the peace process. When the Palestinian Authority decides to change its message and turn to peace, we will be the first to know it and the first to publicize it.
JB: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, Itamar. Good luck with your work with Palestinian Media Watch. If you can be optimistic about the prospects for peace, then we can, too.