While Israeli youngsters spend summer days crowded around TV screens watching a variety of cartoons and other entertainment programs, in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, children will be getting quite a different message from some of their TV programming: a message of hatred.
"For many years both Fatah and Hamas have been actively using television for propaganda," says Itamar Marcus, director of the Palestinian Media Watch. From music videos to the dramatic death of cartoon-like characters, including a Mickey Mouse look-alike named Farfur, the message of martyrdom is being drummed into young minds.
From the first months of the intifada, music videos were being turned out to get young Palestinians into the streets, he says. Starting in January 2001, says Marcus, "there was one where a boy wrote a farewell letter and then went off hoping to be killed. You see the boy throwing stones, a singer sings his farewell letter, and when he falls dead on the ground, the words in the music video are sung: 'How sweet is shahada [martyrdom] - ahla shahada - when I am embraced by you, my land.' And you see him falling down in slow motion. Death as a martyr was presented as sweet, as calm, and there were periods when this was being broadcast three times a day."
Another music video featured Muhammad al-Dura, who Palestinians claimed was shot by the IDF but which was later disproved. "It opens with al-Dura calling to children: I'm waving to you not to say goodbye, but to say: Follow me," says Marcus, whose group monitors the PA, Hamas and other Arab stations that offer such propaganda. "Then you see a reenactment of the event in which he was killed, after which he is shown in child's paradise where he's playing with a kite in a grassy field, on the beach, and he's even walking towards a Ferris wheel. He's having a wonderful time in child's paradise, where there are amusement parks, and he's calling others to follow him. Both these clips ran almost daily on PA TV for years, sometimes many times a day."
Many videos, all of which can be viewed on the PMW Website (www.palwatch.org) feature very young children. "The farewell video starts as the boy is riding his bike; he's portrayed as just a little kid riding off on his bike, leaving his father. But he's also a hero, secretly going to join the popular struggle," says Marcus. One program that appeared on PA TV last year featured a child in a Palestinian school getting up and reading; "I love the way of shahada, the land will drip my blood."
CALLING THESE current programs "booster shots" to "get the kids out there," when needed for rock-throwing or other violence, he says there are "many music videos with continuous violence that depict throwing stones and firebombs as glorious. There was one that ran for a few years in which one child, maybe 10 years old, tells another who appears to be about six that: 'The stone in their hand will turn into a Kalashnikov.'
Hatred is also promoted in the videos, like one of a young woman "sitting in the rubble of her house, and the boy says: 'I will avenge the humiliation of my mother.' Then he goes out with other boys to throw stones, and one of the stones goes through a window with a Magen David on it."
Another key message on both PA and Hamas children's TV is that there is no State of Israel, "that there is a world without Israel," says Marcus. "A special Ramadan program last year featured a geography quiz posing questions like: Name Palestinian ports. The answer? Haifa Port, Ashkelon, Jaffa, Eilat, Ashdod and Gaza."
"That the world should be viewed as a world without Israel is a very prominent message even today continuing on Palestinian TV, which is under the direct control of Mahmoud Abbas."
IN THE space of a month, Hamas and Fatah ran identical items on TV. Each program showed young children dancing on television with big keys around their necks, each of which bore the name of an Israeli city. The Hamas keys were marked Beit She'an, Jerusalem, Haifa, Ramle and Acre and the Fatah ones read Haifa, Ramle, Acre, Jaffa and Beersheba. They keys carried the same message of symbolizing ownership of Israeli cities.
But it was Farfur, the Mickey Mouse character, who really made headlines. A featured performer on the popular Friday afternoon Al-Aksa TV (Hamas) program Tomorrow's Pioneers. In 2007, Farfur appeared for a few months before being killed on TV by an "Israeli interrogator." He was replaced by Nahul, a bee, who also died on TV when Israel refused him medical treatment. "As he died in bed, Saraa, the hostess, says: 'Congratulations to you. Today we don't mourn you as if you died, we say congratulations because it's your wedding. Congratulations. You are a shahid,'" notes Marcus.
The bee was replaced by a bunny named Assud, which means "lion," "because he was a bunny on the outside but a lion inside," explains Marcus. "Among other things he says that because he is a lion, he is going to kill the Jews and eat them. Another time he said that if the Danes ever did another cartoon of Muhammad, he would kill the Danes and eat them, as well."
In his final video, Assud explains how he went to the headquarters of Al-Aksa TV because he heard Israeli forces might bomb it during Operation Cast Lead. "Saraa sits with him as he's dying, and he says: 'Tell the children that Assud has died, died as a hero, died as a shahid....' She tries unsuccessfully to revive him, and then the children all say: 'We will sacrifice ourselves for you, O Palestine.' The message is that if Assud can be a shahid, all the children can be.
"Assud was replaced by a bear named Nassur, who declares war on the Zionists. He says to Saraa: 'You are ready, Saraa, we are all ready to sacrifice ourselves for the homeland.'"
"CHILDREN ARE very attracted to these characters," notes Marcus, "Kids fall in love with them, and then right in front of their eyes, these characters... become shahid, one after another, killed on television by Israel. It creates intense hatred. In fact, we've had children call in to the program and say: 'We hate the Jews because they killed Farfur.' The life-size dolls have been turned into the perfect tools to imprint hatred on young minds.
"They realize that if they can indoctrinate their children at a very young age that Israel and the Jews are the enemy, they won't have much trouble getting them to join the violence and terror against Israel as they grow older."
Marcus, who has traveled the world lecturing on Palestinian society and education, recently told a group of Swedish MPs, who supply funding to the PA: "When you fund the Palestinian Authority directly you are responsible for the continuation of of hate education, and for the wars we will fight in the next generation."
"Once Palestinian society has decided to teach children that death is better than life, a message we find in Palestinian schoolbooks, as well, they don't see any problem in brainwashing young children because they're convinced that they are brainwashing them to higher values," Marcus explains. "They feel they are instilling what they see as the greatest Islamic value, and will use any tool to do it, including Mickey Mouse."
Exploiting the children of suicide bombers for propaganda purposes is not beyond the pale for Al-Aksa TV. Only recently, the two young children of woman suicide bomber Reem Riyashi, who killed four Israelis at the Erez crossing in 2004, were brought into the studio, where a reenactment video clip of their mother's suicide terror was shown in their presence.
"In the music video the girl playing Riyashi's daughter sees the actress playing her mother hiding the bomb she's preparing, and asks 'What are you holding in your hand? Is it a toy or a present for me?' Later on the girl finds out her mother committed a suicide attack and says in the video: 'You held a bomb in your hands, now I know what is more precious than us.' This program ended with Saraa telling her young audience: 'We will continue in the footsteps of the shahida fighter Reem Riyashi until we liberate our homeland from your oppressive hands,'" explains Marcus.
YIGAL CARMON, president and founder of MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), recalled a recent video which depicted a Palestinian boy who came to the White House to stab president George W. Bush, in which he turns the White House into a mosque. Viewed recently by me, it features two puppets, the Palestinian boy and Bush, the latter dressed in what look like battle fatigues.
Broadcast on Al-Aksa TV on March 30, 2008, it features the boy saying, "I place my trust in Allah. I need to kill you," after explaining how Bush and his minions have "killed daddy in the Iraq war," how his mother was killed "by you and the criminal Zionists in Lebanon" and his younger and older siblings in "the Gaza holocaust. I'm an orphan, you criminal... You took everything from me, Bush."
After the White House is miraculously turned into a mosque, the boy takes the "sword of Islam" and stabs Bush several times, making stabbing sounds as he does so.
"The most serious thing is that they are recruiting children at a very young age - four, five, 10 - totally recruited to war which is against international law, which forbids this," says Carmon. "When they recruit children for killing, for war, for jihad, show them using swords - that's illegitimate. They are recruiting young minds to war. They are inculcating violence in their little souls.
"They are stealing their childhood and are turning little children into weapons, not letting them have a childhood, not exposing them to any culture except the culture of violence," says Carmon, whose Web site (www.memritv.org) contains dozens of such videos, which can be viewed by the public and include translations. "When you show a young kid stabbing Bush to death with several stab wounds, that's inculcating violence into their souls."