PMW in the Media
Religious propaganda targets kids, and Fatah and Hamas are indistinguishable
Share |
A GENERATION has passed since the 1967 Six-Day War that created the Palestinian territories as they are today. But the bleak portrait that emerges of Palestinian society through a study of its media and culture reveals the next generation is being radicalised almost from birth.

When Monica Attard and her researchers scan Australia's media for the weekly Media Watch program on ABC television, the focus is on plagiarism, misrepresentation or conflicts of interest. When Itamar Marcus, the director of the Palestinian Media Watch website, views TV broadcasts, he sees children being brainwashed to become suicide bombers. Marcus was in Australia this week to advise federal MPs and security groups.

PMW is an Israeli organisation, established in 1996 to monitor Palestinian Arabic language media and analyse such seemingly innocuous activities as summer camps, poetry, school books, crosswords and religious instruction. But PMW revealed last month that Hamas-owned al-Aqsa TV was broadcasting a children's program featuring a Mickey Mouse clone called Farfur who was preaching Islamic supremacy. After an uproar, Hamas stopped using Farfur for this purpose, but the indoctrination continues and children are a key target.

On May 27, a new music video clip was aired on al-Aqsa urging children to become shaheeds, or martyrs. It shows a pre-pubescent boy holding an AK47 while a chorus sings "machinegun and Quran in our hands". The child becomes a Hamas fighter and dies as the choir sings "the pure blood will produce honour and glory".

The promotion of martyrdom to children has been a recurring message since the second intifada. From 2000 to 2003, Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority TV broadcast a music video thousands of times depicting Mohammed al-Dura, a Palestinian child killed in crossfire in 2000, in shaheed paradise. The al-Dura figure says: "I am waving to you not in parting but to say, 'Follow me'."

The Palestinian Authority took it off the air after Marcus testified about it to a US Senate committee. "But it was suddenly broadcast again in June 2006 after the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit," Marcus says. "Israeli troops were preparing to enter Gaza to search for Shalit and the Palestinians wanted children to be on the frontlines.

"They convince the children that it's better to die and then if the children are killed they run to the media saying, 'Protect our children from the Israeli soldiers who are killing them.' In fact, the children need protection from their own leaders."

On March 21 this year, Hamas TV sank to a new low. It broadcast a clip of a four-year-old girl, Duha, whose mother blew herself up in January 2004, killing four Israelis. Duha sings: "Instead of me you carried a bomb in your hands. Only now, I know what was more precious than us. I am following Mummy in her steps", as she picks up a stick of dynamite. On March 8, Hamas TV interviewed Duha, now seven, and asked her where her mother was. She replied, "Paradise", and after prompting recited a poem about her mother that said: "Reem, you are a fire bomb, your children and submachinegun are your motto."

"This is pure child abuse," Marcus says.

For a population of little more than two million people in the territories, Palestinians would seem to have a thriving media with as many as 25 private TV stations. But there is remarkable uniformity. Programming on the two main satellite TV stations, PBC TV, also Fatah-controlled, and Hamas's al-Aqsa TV, which began satellite broadcasts in February, is indistinguishable. Fatah TV is very religious, interrupting programs for prayers five times a day and broadcasting nothing but sermons during Ramadan. There are also three newspapers: one belongs to Hamas, another to Fatah, and one is independent. Yet there is not much diversity of views. What PMW has monitored is a transformation in the Palestinian struggle from a nationalist battle to a religious conflict.

"From 1996 to 2000 we saw a steady incitement to hatred but it wasn't violence," he says. "In July 2000, it shifted to violence for God. It became so intense that on September30 we reported that 'the atmosphere today in Palestinian media is on the eve of the outbreak of war'. A week later, the intifada began."

Palestinian schoolbooks, which have been produced since 2000 by the Fatah-controlled ministry of education, couch the Palestinian struggle in religious terminology. "As long as the conflict was nationalistic, territorial, compromise could be a possibility. Once it's been packaged as a religious conflict for God, it makes it literally impossible to compromise," Marcus says.

Marcus sees this as part of a general process of Islamisation in many Muslim countries. "But Arafat and Fatah used Islamic terminology to give religious backing to their conflict. He did this for his own political gain but he ended up doing PR for Hamas, which now has 56 per cent of the seats," Marcus says.

The trouble is that Hamas objects on religious grounds even to the Jews' right to exist. For example, Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan cited a hadith (prophet Mohammed's saying) on March 30 on Palestinian Authority TV saying "the hour of the resurrection will not take place until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims kill them, and the rock and the tree will say: 'Oh, Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, kill him."' Meanwhile, Fatah, which presents a moderate face to the world in English, shows a much more uncompromising one to Palestinian people in Arabic.

Marcus gives an example of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas saying in English to Condoleezza Rice on October 4, 2006, that "Hamas must recognise Israel". But in an Arabic interview the next day he said the opposite.

He adds: "People assume that there is a real difference between Hamas and Fatah. There is no difference except that Hamas says the same thing in English and Arabic whereas Fatah speaks the language of compromise in English and the language of Hamas in Arabic."