Comment: Why Palestinian incitement doesn’t matter

Incitement to violence is dangerous, however, it’s not the only and probably not the main reason for raging violence.

An image posted on Facebook under the "Knife Intifada" hashtag called on West Bank residents to continue killing Jews: "O son of the [West] Bank, rise up! Do not leave [the Jews] alone." (photo credit: MEMRI)
An image posted on Facebook under the "Knife Intifada" hashtag called on West Bank residents to continue killing Jews: "O son of the [West] Bank, rise up! Do not leave [the Jews] alone."
(photo credit: MEMRI)
Does Palestinian incitement matter to future settlement with the Palestinian Authority and the separation process between Israelis and Palestinians? It does if you ask members of government who are running around now initiating urgent meetings with Facebook management and heads of state. It seems that in their minds the only obstacle to the solution of the conflict are the Facebook groups who call to destroy Israel or Whatsapp messages that spread violent content. Two questions should be asked in this context, one related to the ongoing wave of violence, another to stalemate in the political process.
The other day I was driving back home from the Knesset on Highway 443 and listening to Palestinian radio, the station controlled and financed by Fatah.
First there was a news bulletin: an hourly update about recent arrests, hunger strikes and other developments on the ground in West Bank. Then army-style music followed – the singer glorified the “heroes who oppose the occupation army, the martyrs who give away their soul for their motherland.” I’ve heard this particular song many times on Palestinian TV and radio before, years before the “knife intifada” was launched.
Al-Aksa TV in Gaza has produced horrific children’s programming that insults and appalls anyone who cares about children’s mental health, and there have been “Meet the homeland” programs on Palestinian official TV that presented Haifa, Acre, Jaffa and Safed as Palestinian cities, displaying maps including only a Palestinian state.
If none of these components are new, a reasonable question is why the attacks and the terrorism started in October 2015 and not, let’s say, June 2012 or January 2010, given that the incitement in Palestinian and Arab media was there all the time. How can anyone determine that a given terrorist attack was perpetrated as the result of a song on a Fatah radio station; an anti-Semitic movie on one of Arab satellite channels; a deteriorating economic situation; the recent arrest or death of one of a relative; peer pressure or hundred other possible reasons? Is it possible to shut down the anti-Israeli propaganda or to minimize the incitement to violence? The answer is no, not completely. Israeli authorities can shut down a radio station or a TV channel, but can never control the Internet space, or the Arab satellites or the international Arabic-language media. As we refer to what is happening in the PA, it’s important to emphasize that Palestinian narrative of events is a much wider phenomenon – and is constructed not solely by the Palestinians.
LONG BEFORE Palestinian TV existed, Egyptian TV used the phrase “occupation army” and weather forecasts never showed anything resembling Israel on maps, only “Äl-Quds.” Anti-Semitic movies and serials implying that the Great Powers colluded with the Jews against the Arabs were broadcast on Al-Manar, Dream TV and other Arab channels throughout the 2000s. The most popular hit in 1998 was “Al-Hulm al-Arabi” – “Arabs dream,” and it spoke about liberation of Palestine. Anyone can buy The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in practically any book shop in Beirut, Istanbul or Cairo, and Saudi preachers have dedicated untold hours to negative characterizations of Jews.
As we all learned from the “Arab Spring” and Islamic State phenomena, borders don’t really matter or count in the Middle East. Especially not when it comes to beliefs, fashions, opinion exchange and narratives. The wave of Islamization of the Seventies left its mark on every Muslim society in the Middle East – Arabs and non-Arabs, Shi’ites and Sunnis, Egyptians, Turks, Moroccans and Palestinians. And anti-Israeli sentiment is something that is being shared in the Middle East by many millions.
Did incitement ever have an effect on genuine attempts to reach a settlement or a compromise with Arab countries? It seems that the Israeli government isn’t really concerned by all these millions in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and other countries, because it is happening elsewhere, beyond Israel’s borders.
The strong anti-Israeli sentiment, the incitement in Egyptian media and cinema industry didn’t prevent Menachem Begin from signing the peace accords with Egypt, and thank God for that. Even those who opposed the Camp David accords back then are thankful for them now, and the relations with Egypt are growing stronger. The peace, however, is still cold, there is no real interaction between civil societies in the two countries and for the time being it will remain so – but isn’t a cold peace better than a hot war? So it seems that the incitement in Jordanian or Egyptian media, the boycotts, even the calls for attacks against Israelis and Jews never causes Israeli officials to lose sleep; they know perfectly well how to distinguish between the emotional component and realpolitik. But when it comes to the Palestinians Israel acts emotionally, not rationally. Yes, there is anti-Israeli incitement in Palestinian media – TV, radio, newspapers and new media. And it has been there forever.
Sometimes the level was higher, sometimes lower, but it was never completely absent as what is seen as incitement in Israel is a part of Palestinian and even pan-Arab narrative. We wish it were different, but it is quite probable that even if the conflict ends the narrative will remain – at least for a while.
Does it bother me, just like any Israeli or Jew, that young children are learning in schools, on TV and in mosques that Jews are “offspring of monkeys and pigs who contaminate al-Aksa mosque”? Definitely. Do I think that this kind of brainwashing will poison their souls and keep alive the hostile attitude? No doubt about that. But at the same time I believe that as long as we are able to separate from the Palestinians by drawing our borders, reaching a kind of settlement with the PA, Israeli society will be no more interested in Palestinian incitement than in Lebanese, Jordanian, Saudi or Egyptian incitement.
Incitement was never an obstacle to reaching understandings with Jordan and Egypt, and should also not affect our determination to put an end to the forced co-existence of Israel and Palestine.
Palestinians are inseparable part of the Middle East, where anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish rhetoric is widespread.
Incitement to violence is dangerous, however, it’s not the only and probably not the main reason for raging violence.
Israel cannot and should not “educate” Palestinians but should rather proceed with the separation from them either by reaching a settlement with the PA, or though unilateral steps that will end up in drawing the borders of Israel and protecting the Jewish and democratic narrative of the State of Israel. As for Palestinian incitement – as with any hatred and negative emotion it’s mostly destructive for the Palestinians themselves, but this is something that Palestinian society should be dealing with, not Israel.
The author is a member of Zionist Union, an expert on the Middle East and a member of Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.