Norway’s second thoughts on Palestinian aid
by Frida Ghitis
A debate about aid to Palestinians has erupted in Norway, a country that has long been one of the strongest supporters of Palestinian causes in Europe. Suddenly, an urgent level of scrutiny is bringing into question whether Oslo’s aid might be making peace less likely, rather than more.
Norway has opened its wallet to the Palestinian Authority, contributing more than $50 million a year since 2008. The money has gone into the PA’s budget, with some funds helping to pay for Palestinian Television. Norwegians recently got a taste of PA-TV programming and its impact and the experience was shocking. This has sparked a political battle and a wave of soul-searching with potentially major ramifications.
The Israeli group Palestinian Media Watch monitors and translates Palestinian television, and it has long argued that its programming is poisoning the well, demonizing Israel and the Jews to their own people, even as Palestinian leaders speak of peace and reconciliation to international audiences.
Perhaps because PMW is Israeli, European critics of Israel are quick to dismiss it. But a respected reporter for Norway’s top news organization, NRK’s Tormod Strand, decided to investigate. Because he is an impartial observer, what he discovered should make everyone, not just Norwegians, sit up and take notice.
NRK broadcast Strand’s documentary, shocking many Norwegians and triggering intense parliamentary debates. The NRK investigation, showed not only the material PA-TV is broadcasting, but the troubling views it generates among its viewers.
Norwegian viewers heard PA-TV tell its audience that, “The Prophet says: ‘You shall fight the Jews and kill them.’ ” They saw Palestinian children on PA-TV chanting “Our enemy, Zion, is Satan with a tail.” They saw Palestinian “documentaries” perpetuating pernicious stereotypes, blaming the Jews for the worst moments in European history. explaining over grainy black and white historical footage, how “Faced with the Jews’ schemes, Europe could not bear their character traits, corruption. . . ”
Strand spoke with Palestinians in the streets of Ramallah. Their views, he discovered, aligned neatly with the messages from PA-TV. His report showed Palestinians completely convinced that the old Russian anti-Semitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” is real, unquestioningly believing it provides proof that “Jews are planning to control the world.”
Norwegians see themselves as champions of the downtrodden, and would like to believe their generous aid advances the creation of a Palestinian state and the chances for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
What they saw is their money funding a message machine that accomplishes precisely the opposite.
Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide says Norway’s money is crucial to bring about a two-state solution. He says Norwegian officials contacted PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who promised to pursue the matter. But Palestinians blamed the report on Israeli “incitement” against them.
Norwegian members of parliament are not dropping the subject. A spokesman for the Progress Party, second largest in the legislature, called for Norway to withdraw funding “unless the PA takes immediate actions to stop this type of hate message.” Other opposition parties, including the Christian Democrats and Conservatives, agreed.
New scrutiny has also brought attention to the Palestinian Authority’s practice of paying salaries, sometimes large salaries, to Palestinian prisoners, including those sentenced for multiple murders of Israelis. Member of Parliament Peter Gitmark told NRK-TV that Norway is indirectly contributing to terrorism by helping fund the salaries of convicted killers. “This is very serious,” he warned, noting that the payments to prisoners grow larger with the length of the sentence, which means perpetrators of the worst acts receive more of what the NRK interviewer pointed out is “Norwegian tax money.”
Gitmark called on the parliament’s Scrutiny Committee to investigate the matter.
Norway’s extraordinary moment of introspection deserves close attention from other donors. The PA receives hundreds of millions from the U.S., the European Union, the U.K., France and others.
The answer is not to cut off the Palestinian Authority from all aid. The appropriate response is to make the aid contingent on behavior that promotes reconciliation.
The PA, which governs the West Bank, is the only current alternative to Hamas, the militant Islamist organization that rules Gaza and rejects Israel’s existence. The PA should be supported and strengthened, but only if it will reject the ideology of hatred. Any other response from donors, as Norway is discovering, amounts to sending money to fight against peace.