Finding Fault in the Palestinian Messages
That Aren’t So Public
by Majdi Mohammed
A new book by an Israeli watchdog group catalogs dozens of examples of messages broadcast by the Palestinian Authority for its domestic audience that would seem at odds with the pursuit of peace and a two-state solution.
Instead, the authors say, their findings show a pattern of non-recognition of Israel’s right to exist, demonization of Israel and promotion of violence.
Of course, this is nothing new. For years, many Israeli and Palestinian analysts have said that what Palestinian leaders tell their own people in their own language — as opposed to English-language statements tailored to opinion in the rest of the world — is the truest reflection of their actual beliefs. This has had the effect of further entrenching the sides to the conflict and undermining confidence that it can ever be resolved.
“There is no doubt in my mind that in the mainstream of the Palestinian national movement, Israel is not considered legitimate,” said Shlomo Avineri, an Israeli professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reflecting a widespread sense of disillusionment. “This is the inner truth of the Palestinians,” he said. “They really mean it. It is not what they say on CNN, but it is what they teach their children.”
But for many, the subject of incitement and media monitoring has become as contentious as some of the messages, especially since these pronouncements are often used to score propaganda points.
The book goes to the heart of this debate. Its authors — Itamar Marcus, the founder and director of the privately financed Palestinian Media Watch, and an analyst from the group, Nan Jacques Zilberdik — called their book “Deception: Betraying the Peace Process.”
“There is no preparation for living with Israel as neighbors,” Ms. Jacques Zilberdik said. “Instead, we see the opposite.”
Mr. Marcus, who set up Palestinian Media Watch in 1996, says that he wants to foster genuine reconciliation. His critics, however, note that he is a settler who lives in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, a contested area of the West Bank that Israel intends to keep under any agreement with the Palestinians.
The book is a compilation of samples gathered over a year starting in May 2010, the month that the Obama administration began brokering indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks. That round culminated in September 2010 with a few direct but inconclusive meetings. Since then, the negotiations have stalled.
While Palestinian Media Watch acknowledges that there is less blatant incitement than in the past, with fewer direct calls for violence, it says that the Palestinian Authority still glorifies terrorists, “libels” Israel and promotes a culture of violence.
For example, Palestinian Authority television has broadcast song clips with lyrics honoring Dalal Mughrabi, a woman who in 1978 helped carry out the deadliest terrorist attack in Israel’s history. Ms. Mughrabi was the 19-year-old leader of a Palestinian squad that sailed from Lebanon to Israel, where it killed an American photojournalist and 37 Israeli civilians, many of them children. Ms. Mughrabi and several other attackers were killed.
Another constant theme is the Palestinian denial of any Jewish historic or religious connection to Jerusalem.
Some of the examples publicized by the Israeli monitoring group are old ones that have been repeated over the years, and some of its interpretations are arguable.
“This is not a serious attempt to solve the problem of incitement,” said Ghassan Khatib, the spokesman for the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank. Mr. Khatib said that the authority had significantly reduced the level of incitement on the Palestinian side in recent years. “The question is,” he said, “are the Israelis improving or reversing in this regard?”
The watchdog group gives numerous examples of Palestinian Authority television hosts, including those on children’s quiz shows, who portray cities along Israel’s Mediterranean coast, like Haifa, Jaffa and Acre, as being part of “Palestine.” Some news reports refer to Israel as the Palestinian interior.
While the Israeli government and news media usually say the same things in Hebrew and English, Palestinians and Israeli critics say they also do little to promote the idea of a Palestinian state. Official Israeli maps do not show the Green Line, the pre-1967 boundary that demarcates East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In Israeli officialdom, the West Bank is routinely referred to by its biblical names, Judea and Samaria. The Israeli education minister recently adopted a plan to take Israeli schoolchildren on trips to a historic Jewish holy site in the West Bank city of Hebron. This summer, the Israeli police briefly detained two rabbis for questioning over their suspected endorsement of a treatise co-written by a third rabbi that seemed to justify the killing of non-Jews, even babies, in wartime.
Some explain the overheated language as a natural expression of such a long-running conflict, and say that any real education in the language of peace is unlikely to come before negotiators resolve the core issues.
“Reconciliation comes only after matters have been settled,” said Radwan Abu Ayyash, a veteran Palestinian journalist and former director of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, the parent of the authority’s television and radio stations with headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“Thinking of Jaffa and Haifa is still there as an old dream, as history,” he said, referring to the Palestinian refugees’ desire to return to the homes they occupied before 1948, “but it is not reality.”
Some Israelis struggle with the practice of monitoring the Palestinian news media, acknowledging the importance of knowing what is being said in Arabic, yet disturbed by how its dissemination is exploited by those not eager to see Israel make concessions.
“There is peace making and there is peace building,” said Itamar Rabinovich, who served as Israel’s chief negotiator with Syria and as Israel’s ambassador in Washington, explaining why the contentious messages in Arabic are so damaging. The lack of peace building, he said, is part of the failure of the Oslo peace process that began with accords signed in 1993 but has not yet produced a Palestinian state.
In one of the most egregious examples of Palestinian doublespeak, Yasir Arafat spoke in a mosque in South Africa in May 1994, only months after the signing of the Oslo accords, and called on the worshipers “to come and to fight and to start the jihad to liberate Jerusalem.”
As the ambassador to Washington at the time, Mr. Rabinovich said he found himself in the awkward position of having to explain to anyone who would listen that jihad, usually translated as holy war, could also mean a spiritual struggle, in order to justify continuing the peace process.
Still, he said, it is not by chance that those focusing on Palestinian incitement and publicizing it are “rightist groups who use it as ammunition.”
The issue of Palestinian double-speak is “important, and also inevitable,” said Shlomo Brom, a retired Israeli general who leads a program on Israeli-Palestinian relations at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “If it is possible to deal with it at all,” Mr. Brom said, “it has to be done in a mutual way and as part of agreements.”
For now, though, the Israelis and Palestinians are not talking to each other, but only to themselves.