The issue of incitement is coming again to the forefront in the midst of the finger pointing over who is abiding by the requirements of the peace process, and who is simply doing what is required to get by. In reality, much of this discussion falls into the category of propaganda and efforts to wrack up points, rather than an attempt to understand how incitement might be reversed from encouraging aggression to inspiring understanding. Media and education are used to fulfill both of these very different goals.
In the history of "incitement", Palestinians used media and other educational tools to prepare the public (especially new generations) and perpetuate an enthusiasm for the national duty of defending the Palestinian land and people, both of which have been under attack by a foreign occupying army. Palestinians saw that "project" in a positive light as a way of defining Palestinian nationhood. Certainly, the Israeli side has done the same, in trying to recruit its nation in the fight with the opposing side.
But with the start of the peace process, in particular the Oslo agreement that marked the first codified peace between Palestinians and Israelis, both parties agreed that it was now time to move from the culture of incitement to the culture of peace. That required educating both peoples in the values of tolerance and reconciliation in order to gradually reduce the levels of hostility and hatred and revenge. On the Palestinian side, a great deal of progress was made in this regard, to the extent that the next Palestinian generation--those in their late teens before the Aqsa intifada--had grown up in an environment nearly free of the accumulation of hatred and hostility. We were truly on our way to a generation that was prepared to accept coexistence with Israel under the terms of reference specified in the Oslo accords and assuming the need to end the occupation. There were, of course, exceptions because there were those who continued to oppose the peace process and did not stop their attacks much less their message of hostility, but these people made up a small minority. As the peace process progressed and took hold, they became even more marginalized.
An example of this sea change in the Palestinian environment can be seen through the lens of the Palestinian school curriculum, which was introduced in Palestinian schools several years after the Oslo accords, after much research and discussion. The curriculum replaced Jordanian texts in the West Bank and Egyptian texts in the Gaza Strip, both of which had been administered by the Israeli military. The Palestinian curriculum, while yet to cover all grades, is completely absent of incitement or jingoistic language. Except for some rare cases, it refers to the Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and not to those in Israel. It also does not refer to Israel or the Jewish people in a hostile or inciting way.
There are some sections in the history texts that offer an account of what Palestinians and many Israelis consider historical fact: the settling of historic Palestine by the Zionist movement and the subsequent forced removal of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, land and properties and the creation of the refugee tragedy. The texts also remember as heroes those Palestinian forefathers who fought bravely to defend Palestinian land.
All too frequently one hears that the Palestinian curriculum contains no map of Israel or demarcation of Israel's borders. That is correct. The most important of the reasons for this is that Israel has not yet recognized the Palestinian state and its borders in kind. Palestinians view their recognition of Israel as part and parcel of the recognition of two states. I think that Palestinians will be prepared to include a map of Israel in their official textbooks and their national consciousness at that time that Israel is willing to allow, and officially recognizes, a Palestinian state in its own Israeli national narrative. Even today, when one visits the offices of some high-ranking Israeli politicians, it is the map of historic Palestine that hangs on the wall--maps that include no demarcation of the green line and the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
When the peace process collapsed into the intifada in 2000, as Israel reoccupied Palestinian Authority-controlled areas, and while Palestinian society reeled with nearly 3,000 dead and tens of thousands of arrests, Palestinians renewed a national narrative that encouraged the new generation to stand fast against aggression and defend themselves, the people and the land. There is no doubt that Palestinians can easily turn again to the language of reconciliation and cultural understanding--when there is a concrete prospect of peace.
No community in the world would promote reconciliation at a time of war or under belligerent military occupation; the result would be self-destructive. But one can and must abandon the military culture for that of peace when there are serious steps made towards a hopeful new reality.-Published 4/8/03(c)bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet and has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
The achievements registered almost overnight by the Palestinian Authority in reducing extreme instances of incitement in the media--glorified calls to Palestinian children to achieve martyrdom, demonic depictions of Israel, etc.--appear to offer testimony to two key aspects of the Palestinian reality. First, much of the incitement has been officially inspired. And secondly, the powers-that-be in Ramallah, whatever their limitations and constraints, are in control, at least on this issue.
At a more fundamental level, long before the advent of the current ceasefire, a process of revision of Palestinian textbooks succeeded in considerably reducing incitement in the material that Palestinian children study in school. There are still plenty of maps that ignore the existence of the State of Israel, and plenty of texts that ignore or obfuscate the Jewish roots and history of the Land of Israel/Palestine. But these are errors of omission rather than active incitement, and they have occasional parallels--that unfortunately are largely ignored--in Israeli textbooks and maps and in the Israeli media as well.
Nor can we ignore the fact that the old Palestinian textbooks were actually Egyptian and Jordanian, and that the rest of the Arab world, beginning with these two countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel, has made virtually no effort at all to address the distortions and insufficiencies in the way their children study about Israel and the peace process.
But Egypt and Jordan are not at war with Israel and have no existential territorial quarrel with it, as the Palestinians do. Hence our preoccupation with the way Palestinians portray us.
Beyond the reduction of incitement there lies a moral and political dilemma. It is one thing to insist that Palestinians omit offensive portrayals of Jews and eliminate appeals, direct or indirect, to murder them. But to what extent can we insist that Palestinians actually tell our story, our narrative, to their children? For it is only by juxtaposing our version of events--particularly the events of 1948 and the Zionist narrative in general--with theirs, that Palestinian children are likely to develop a capacity toward greater tolerance and understanding of the underpinnings of a genuine two state solution.
Of course this argument goes both ways. The religiously motivated settlers of Gush Emmunim and the ultra-orthodox--two prime supporters of a hard line policy in the West Bank and Gaza--are also desperately in need of greater exposure to the Palestinian narrative. But in the context of this discussion (though not in a broader context regarding violence) they are comparable to Hamas rather than to the less religious Palestinian mainstream, in the sense that the children of people with one-sided and absolute religious convictions regarding sanctification of the land and of themselves as believers, are not easily disabused of these notions as long as their parents control the schools and the community in which they learn. Only an atmosphere of peace and greater tolerance generated by the mainstream on both sides will erode away support for these extremist positions.
I recently suggested to several Palestinians who have dealt actively with reducing incitement that the two sides agree not merely to expunge offensive statements and portrayals of the other, but that they include in their respective textbooks, at the appropriate level, a jointly authored statement that presents the key historical and political narratives of both sides. It could be authored by a joint committee of historians.
On an experimental basis each side in this committee would be allotted 500 to 1,000 words in which to describe its version of the events from 1948 to the present, the meaning and moral and political underpinnings of its approach to the Land of Israel/Palestine in the course of the past 100 years, its position regarding the refugee/right of return issue, Jerusalem, Israel's legitimacy, etc. Each side would have the right to challenge passages written by the other on the grounds that they constitute incitement or are hurtful. Both sides would have to agree to the complete final text of this 1,000 to 2,000-word statement, which would then become mandatory reading and material for discussion by their youth.
I believe such a statement would be acceptable to Israeli educational institutions, many of which already "teach" the Palestinian narrative. But my Palestinian associates reacted icily to the idea: now, they noted, was not a good time. In other words, they will listen to Israelis' critique of incitement in their media and textbooks and try to respond; and they will of course, quite justifiably, cite instances of incitement in the Israeli media. But they will not systematically expose their youth to the Israeli version of events, even in return for a reciprocal move among Israelis.
I believe that this Palestinian response is not motivated by a fear that exposure to our narrative will somehow turn their kids into Zionists. Most adult Palestinians know the Israeli narrative well, and the Palestinian press reprints far more Israeli press reports and op-eds that reflect this narrative than vice versa. Rather, it appears to go to the heart of the asymmetry in our conflict: Israelis now largely accept the notions of Palestinian peoplehood and Palestinian sovereignty over part of the land, just as they recognize that they live in a neighborhood dominated--historically, demographically, politically--by Egypt, Jordan and 20 additional Arab states. Palestinians and most other Arabs, on the other hand, still have not come to terms with Jewish peoplehood, nationhood and sovereign rights and their consequences in even part of the land that constitutes the ancient Jewish homeland.
For most Arabs, making peace with Israel is an admission of defeat, and certainly not a cause for celebration. Yet this will not stop most Palestinians from making peace with us and finding constructive ways to coexist. That is about the best this generation can do. The actual legitimization of our narrative by the other side (which still does not have to agree with it) will be a challenge for the second generation of Israelis and Palestinians who live at peace.-Published 4/8/2003(c)bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is co-editor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and a former senior adviser to PM Barak.
bitterlemons: What are specific examples of how Palestinians and Israelis can improve the atmosphere by stopping incitement?
Amr: There is much that could be done to reduce the level of incitement in the media, but we have not yet started joint action with the Israelis in this regard. There is a tripartite Palestinian-Israeli-American committee that should deal with this issue, but this committee has not met yet because the Israeli side has not named its representatives to the committee.
I believe that ending incitement is linked to occurrences on the ground because incitement is not merely words, but behavior. There is now an opportunity to discuss making progress on the ground, and then progress in the language used by both parties. We hope the Israelis will name their members of the committee. For our part, we insist that any measure regarding incitement in the media should be reciprocal and not a measure taken by one party alone.
bitterlemons: How are Palestinians monitoring incitement?
Amr: Everybody can see the positive change in the language of the Palestinian media in favor of calm, which serves a political goal we are serious about. The preparations to form a preliminary committee are going well.
There are also many institutions that are monitoring the Israeli media, statements made by Israeli officials, Israeli parties, and by settlers on private radio stations. All these things are monitored by us, and when the committee starts its function, these issues will be presented. On behalf of Palestinians, we are ready to start this work immediately.
bitterlemons: What has the Palestinian Authority done recently to meet its obligations in the road map pertaining incitement ?
Amr: We distribute a daily briefing from the Ministry of Information to all Palestinian media organizations. We also try to respond to recommendations concerning the need to maintain an atmosphere of calm in order to make the truce a success. We deem this [the truce] as a means of moving to the political track.
This daily message offers suggestions from the Ministry of Information to all media organs for topics on which to focus. We are now very interested, for example, on waging a peaceful popular struggle over the issue of the wall that Israel is constructing, as well as over the settlements. There are non-combatant, peaceful and grassroots means through which we can develop Palestinian activities in this direction. This cannot be called incitement. We have foreign friends coming from all parts of the world to express their solidarity with us in stopping [Israeli] settlement, and this is natural and even to be expected.
bitterlemons: What is the difference between stopping incitement and ending freedom of speech?
Amr: There are some people who try to link the issue of stopping incitement with the issue of political plurality and freedom of expression, and this is not proper at all. In the presidential decree issued on the subject of preventing incitement, a special paragraph stated that these measures were not to violate the freedom of expression of any Palestinian individual or faction. Freedom of expression is guaranteed for everyone in the Basic Law, the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, and in other Palestinian literature. We understand the positive use of language by Palestinian political forces as they express their opinions; they will certainly avoid any language that could be charged with being inciting.
bitterlemons: What has the Israeli side done to stop incitement, as far as you know?
Amr: I don't believe that Israel has taken any serious steps in this regard, because it has predicated the idea of stopping incitement on its belief that the world understands that it is only Palestinians that perpetuate incitement. This is, however, no longer valid. Israel has an enormous quantity of incitement--in statements by ministers, officials, and religious leaders, as well as publications, articles and writings published in the press, as well as incitement on private radio stations.
When the joint committee convenes, then we will put all of these issues on the table, and hope for reciprocity in this regard. The Americans will be the party to judge, as they will witness our efforts and those of Israel on this matter.-Published 4/8/03(c)bitterlemons.org
Nabil Amr is the Palestinian Minister of Information. He founded al Hayat al Jadida, a major Palestinian newspaper, and has played a role in the official radio and television networks of the Palestinian Authority.
In the summer of 1999, Prime Minister Ehud Barak appointed me head of the Israeli delegation to the Incitement Committee, which acted to curb excessive language in the media. The committee also had a Palestinian and an American chair. The three chairmen met together to devise a common denominator for creating a mechanism to remove improper language from the media, with the objective of improving the atmosphere and generating an enhanced infrastructure for renewed deliberations between Israelis and Palestinians, in anticipation of the advent of a new spring in the relations between the two peoples.
The committee's deliberations were cut off by the intifada; its renewal is currently the subject of serious discussion.
The Palestinian delegation to the committee was headed by Marwan Kanafani. It quickly became apparent to me and my Israeli colleagues that Kanafani behaved completely differently in full committee meetings, when all members were present, than in the private meetings he held with me in the course of our many months of work. In other words, there was almost no progress in the committee discussions, whereas in our private meetings, sometimes in the presence of United States Ambassador Martin Indyk, it was evident that we could register progress and reach agreements toward some sort of arrangement.
The Palestinian delegation included several members who were appointed by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and apparently reported directly and independently to him about our discussions, the atmosphere of our deliberations and the conclusions reached. While this was not an open issue during the duration of the committee's activity, it was undoubtedly a reality that made life difficult for the Palestinian chair and rendered his activities more extreme.
Hence my conclusion that Kanafani and I would achieve useful results for both sides as long as the committee remained a cover that enabled us to chart our own path, without interfering directly in our discussions. This was the first and primary lesson I drew from the long months of committee activity. I would regularly report back to the Israeli delegation regarding the achievements or the disagreements with the Palestinians that came up in my meetings with Kanafani.
The Incitement Committee held two public meetings in the presence of all the delegations, one in Jerusalem and one in Gaza, while Kanafani and I held many private meetings. I quickly concluded that we should institutionalize these meetings, because they enabled us to reach progress and better understanding without having to encounter the difficulties engendered by the allegiances of the members of the Palestinian delegation. The latter presented a united front. They always closed ranks with Arafat and backed his position; never did I discern a deviation from his views.
Nor could I, in these meetings, give expression to the understandings we had reached in our private meetings. On several occasions Kanafani emphasized that these understandings were private and could not be shared with the committee plenum.
At the personal level, Kanafani and I developed a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. When he was hospitalized in Israel for an operation I visited him, and met his family there. But these improved personal relations had no effect on the overall conduct of the committee.
This leads to the conclusion that the joint committee's performance, particularly on the Palestinian side, is a product first and foremost of the status of the Palestinian chair, his knowledge of the material at hand and his desire to reach arrangements that will reflect progress in the committee's work. In the course of personal discussions, it was possible for Marwan Kanafani and I to make substantive progress concerning Palestinian or Israeli violations of the agreement to prevent incitement. The committee's work reflected to a large extent Kanafani's desire to register achievements without insisting on minor and non-substantive details.
Turning to the Israeli side, Barak apparently sought to give the Israeli delegation freedom of maneuver with regard to general policy lines. My approach was never questioned by the prime minister or any of his ministers placed in charge of the committee. One of the latter, Haim Ramon, sought to assist us actively through his personal contacts with senior Palestinians.
From the Israeli standpoint we were encouraged to do everything possible to enable the committee to succeed and overcome a variety of daily difficulties. One of these was the constant attempt by extremists to feed me data regarding Palestinian non-compliance with the committee's decisions. These data reflected a huge gap between Palestinian commitments and realities in the field. I had little doubt that most of this information was correct. Nevertheless I did not allow it to dictate my approach or to determine the nature of the efforts I made toward the success of the committee and the prevention or reduction of incitement in the Palestinian media.- Published 4/8/2003(c)bitterlemons.org
Yaakov Erez was editor of the daily Maariv from 1992 to 2003. He chaired the Israeli delegation to the Incitement Committee from 1999 until the committee's activities ceased with the outbreak of the intifada in September 2000.
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