The Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud Habbash on
Thursday condemned last weekend’s murder of five Israelis in Itamar and insisted
that the PA was acting to counter incitement against Jews.
“I say the
same as [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas – this is a big crime against civilians in
their homes, an inhuman crime,” he told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone
'Itamar killings carried out by foreign worker'
‘People feel they’re living the trauma all over again’
“We are against such crimes from both sides, and against any
murders, whether from the Palestinian or Israeli side. We want to see all
the civilians living in peace in the Holy Land.”
Netanyahu, in a Saturday night statement, linked the brutal stabbing to
death of the sleeping family to incitement in the mosques and
educational system in the PA.
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger said
that “the spiritual leadership and religious leaders inciting also bear the
responsibility,” and Habbash’s local counterpart, Religious Services Minister
Ya’acov Margi, called the murders “the result of the unrestrained incitement” in
the Palestinian territories, “first and foremost by the religious leaders
inciting in the mosques.”
Abbas, too, condemned the murder, but denied
that such incitement existed in the PA.
On Thursday, Habbash firmly
rejected the notion that the PA allowed incitement, while noting that violent
rhetoric aimed at Palestinians emanated from Jews as well and must be
“We are, from the beginning, against any bad incitement, not
just inside the Palestinian Authority. This includes from schools, mosques and
the media,” he said.
“There is a clear policy in the PA leadership to
work against any bad incitement. We said this before and always will – we
believe that by this policy we can establish real peace and good life for all
the peoples in the Holy Land.”
When asked what he defined as incitement,
Habbash said that “first it must be agreed upon what exactly incitement is. If I
say in a mosque we have the national right for our homeland, is that incitement?
I don’t think so.
“We were asked to take part in the American committee
established over 10 years ago to define what is and what is not incitement, not
only on the PA side, but also the Israeli one, how to stop it, and move forward
in cooperation. Until now the Israeli side refused to meet with the Palestinians
for these discussions,” he said.
To Habbash, “if anyone encouraged hatred
among the public, called to kill others, or to throw them out of their homeland
– this would be considered bad incitement. If people are called animals – such
as if Muslims calling Jews children of monkeys – this is bad incitement, and we
are against it. And the same applies to if a Jewish rabbi calls Palestinians
snakes and animals.
“In such cases, we have to step in, whether it is in
mosques, schools or holy places, to prevent imams and rabbis saying such
things,” Habbash said.
“Let’s stop the conflict, and go ahead to
establish a real peace in the Holy Land – a two-state solution of independence
for the Palestinians and Israelis according to the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem
a united city for all the religions, and a political capital for both states –
east Jerusalem for the Palestinians, and west Jerusalem for the Jews,” he
The committee to which Habbash was referring was a trilateral
anti-incitement committee, composed of American, Israeli and Palestinian
representatives, formed at the demand of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as
part of the Wye River Memorandum.
While the committee met once a week in
1999, “nothing ever came out of it,” said Itamar Marcus, founder and director of
Palestinian Media Watch, who was part of the Israeli team for the
“Calling what goes on in the PA incitement
would be understating the problem and its significance; talking about
indoctrination, and seeing it as part of the ongoing war against Israel” would
be more accurate, Marcus said on Thursday.
Marcus noted examples such as
the fact that Abbas recently awarded $2,000 to the family of a terrorist who
attacked IDF soldiers, and that a week before the Itamar killings, the
PA-controlled television channel honored two people sitting in prisons, and
referred to them as heroes – the woman who drove a suicide bomber to the Sbarro
restaurant in Jerusalem, and the man who drove a suicide bomber to the capital’s
As for Habbash himself, Marcus said the minister had
referred to the conflict with Israel on religious terms, calling it a Ribat,
which in effect means that reconciliation is prohibited from a religious point
“It’s a big mistake to take [what Abbas and Habbash say in]
English seriously; they speak very differently in different languages every
day,” Marcus said.