Israel has recently returned to condemning Palestinians and their leadership over what it calls "acts of incitement". It is clear that Israel is trying to draw attention away from the important issues on the table. This is a strong indication of the predicament that faces the country in light of mounting pressure from the international community, especially the US, to cease the illegal expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.
The latest condemnation came in reference to a street that has been named after Yahiya Ayyash, a Hamas leader. This is not a new name. In fact, the name was given in 1998 and the Israeli government was aware of it then and has been since. The condemnation thus is just another random selection by the Israeli government in a long-standing attempt at delegitimizing whatever Palestinian leadership there happens to be. Israeli officials even describe the peaceful and legitimate action of boycotting illegal settlement products as incitement.
Incitement is a very elastic concept and hard to define. If it means putting incitement propaganda into schools, the Palestinian National Authority has already made successful efforts to deal with this. The Ministry of Education began tackling this issue in the 1990s when it commenced a phased introduction of new textbooks in all subjects and all grades, a process that was completed in 2006.
Several independent reviews of the textbooks have reported positive conclusions on the removal of incitement. European donors have consistently monitored our textbooks to ensure that they are satisfied; in a statement to that effect, the EU states that the "new textbooks, though not perfect, are free of inciteful content and improve the previous textbooks, constituting a valuable contribution to the education of young Palestinians." Indeed, few countries' textbooks have been subjected to as much scrutiny. It is hard to define where free speech shades into incitement. Two sides may see the same incident very differently. This is certainly the case with Israelis and Palestinians, whose historical narratives are usually antagonistic.
For Palestinians, the very fact of Israel's occupation is incitement. Recently our media prominently reported pictures of Palestinian farmers being ordered to strip by Israeli soldiers. Most reasonable people would regard such behavior by an occupying army as incitement.
Meanwhile, Israel has done nothing to tackle its own government-sponsored incitement. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, who called for the cleansing of Arabs, is revered by followers of a movement whose political party is a member of the Israeli coalition government--not to mention his responsibility for educating thousands of students, with substantial government funding. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, who supports the killing of non-Jewish children, remains head of a religious school in an Israeli settlement, and has not been removed as would be expected by a community regarding itself as democratic, liberal and civilized.
These pronouncements are not exclusive to right-wing parties or religious figures, but transcend them to be part of the dominant discourse in Israel. Menachem Begin, a former prime minister described Palestinians as "a beast walking on two legs'", while another prime minister, Yitzak Shamir, said that "[The Palestinians] would be crushed like grasshoppers ... heads smashed against the boulders and walls." This is discourse that demonizes, demoralizes and dehumanizes an entire people and should certainly be considered incitement.
Israel has also been complaining in recent weeks about a decision to name a square in Ramallah after a Palestinian woman, Dalal al-Mughrabi, regarded by Israelis as a terrorist. While some view this as incitement, others view it as honoring heroism in the pursuit of freedom.
Indeed, Israel could be held culpable for the same thing. Shlomo Ben-Yosef Street, in Acre, is a reminder to Palestinian residents of the man who, in 1938, attacked a bus full of Palestinian civilians, seeking to kill them all. Ben-Yosef is one of 12 members of the Jewish underground honored by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a speech last month, when he said that their "message of sacrifice and heroism remains alive". These 12 were sentenced to hang by the British for the murdering and bombing of Palestinian civilians in the 1930s and 1940s.
Visitors to Israel fly in and out of Ben Gurion Airport. For Palestinians, this is the ultimate affront. David Ben Gurion, the founder of Israel, is also the man who dealt with "the Arab Problem" by expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Under his leadership 69 Palestinians were killed in the Qibya Massacre of 1953.
And outside Jericho, deep in occupied territory, the main road that runs along the border to Jordan and up the Jordan Valley is named in honor of Rehavam Zeevi, a former minister of tourism, who called for the ethnic cleansing and transfer of all Palestinians including those who have Israeli citizenship.
We must agree to disagree that our historical narratives will never be reconciled, and move on to a two-state solution with Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace. The Palestinian leadership is ready to work even harder to combat incitement, but this must happen in tandem with efforts by Israel--a sovereign state for 62 years--to tackle its own incitement issues, seeking a common definition through a third party, as provided by the Oslo accords.
In the end, the best way to purge incitement is to end the occupation.- Published 26/4/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
by Yossi Alpher
The incitement issue is rife with hypocrisy on both sides. It is exaggerated by both Israelis and Palestinians so as to excuse their refusal to negotiate and to "score points", particularly with the international community. While the latter should be tough on incitement, it should not permit that issue to obfuscate the need for immediate progress toward a solution in more pragmatic spheres of the conflict.
When Palestinians name streets and squares after out-and-out terrorists, label them freedom fighters and glorify them in their school curriculum, then deny this is incitement, this is hypocrisy. But when Israel focuses on this phenomenon and ignores the progress made by the Palestinian Authority in cleaning up its textbooks and Friday mosque sermons, this is no less hypocritical.
Moreover, the Netanyahu government appears to be willfully ignoring the increase in incitement against Palestinians and Arabs in general in Israel's school system--particularly the religious schools, where 80 percent of high school students recently supported denying equal rights to Arab citizens of Israel--and in the rhetoric of religious leaders like Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, leader of Shas. Indeed, there are features of the Israeli media that for years have "incited" against the Palestinian Authority without anyone taking conscious notice. Take, for example, the television and newspaper weather maps that obliterate the Palestinian Authority much the way Palestinian textbook maps ignore Israel.
The point is not that incitement in Israel is as bad as in Palestine (it isn't), or that it began under the current Israeli government (it didn't--decades ago we named squares after Jewish terrorists who murdered Arab civilians before 1948). Rather, the point is that the government of Israel appears uninterested in countering Israeli incitement even as it goes out of its way to excoriate Palestinian incitement. Needless to say, Palestinian complaints about Israeli incitement hardly serve the cause of objectivity when they focus on issues like the very name of Ben Gurion airport.
Yet the incitement issue goes far beyond Israeli-Palestinian relations, and here too hypocrisy reigns. Throughout the Arab world and much of the Muslim world there is vile, racist incitement against Israelis and Jews in general. From newspaper cartoons to school curricula, from Friday sermons to the sale of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, from Iran to Algeria, Jews and Israelis are vilified daily and pervasively. Egypt and Jordan, Arab states at peace with Israel, are no exception.
We do virtually nothing about this. Nor have we ever allowed it to interfere with otherwise peaceful relations with our neighbors. We understand that even a cold peace rife with incitement against us is far better than war. Those of us who take the trouble to discuss the issue with our Arab state neighbors discover very quickly that peace has not brought about the slightest readiness in Cairo to acknowledge the Jews as a Middle East people with the right to self-determination in its historic homeland. Many Muslims everywhere continue to view Jews as, at best, adherents of a second-class religion to be tolerated only if it abandons territorial and sovereign aspirations. In coexisting with Israel, they practice their own form of hypocrisy.
So why do we concentrate on the Palestinians? Is it because we and they are fighting over the same territory and the same historic-religious sites that we demand more of them as a condition for negotiating or ending the conflict? Is the intimacy of our conflict the reason for demanding a host of security constraints that we also don't seek to impose on our other neighbors? Or is it because Palestinians have never had a state of their own and were scarcely considered a people until a few decades ago that we feel we can impose additional conditions?
To be sure, these are all legitimate Israeli concerns when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians. But they don't justify the hypocrisy over incitement.- Published 26/4/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Incitement is the continued denial of freedom to Palestinians
by Diana Buttu
Virtually every Palestinian official who has met an international delegation visiting Palestine has had to face the barrage of oft-repeated, ill-studied questions regarding incitement in general and Palestinian textbooks in particular. "But how do you expect to have peace if Palestinian textbooks don't recognize Israel?" goes the refrain. A few lessons later and our guests are politely educated about the true nature of Palestinian textbooks, what they really say and not simply what right-wing Israeli settler organizations (who have managed to convince members of the US Congress, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) claim that Palestinian textbooks say.
Incitement is an oft-wielded sword by Israeli officials. They point to Palestine TV, asserting that the airing of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire is "incitement". They point to Palestinian textbooks, alleging (incorrectly) that the books do not demarcate the 1967 border and (correctly) the lack of recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state". They chalk both down as "incitement". Most recently, they've started pointing to Palestinian streets, asserting that the naming of several streets after those killed by Israel is "incitement".
But according to this logic, any attempt to highlight Israel's racism and denial of freedom or resistance to such racism and denial of freedom can and should be considered "incitement". In short, in Israel's thinking, one is not allowed to speak of Israel's crimes or of Palestinian resistance to such crimes, but must instead simply accept them and, well, shut up. So, no pictures of dead Palestinians, Israel must be accepted as a Jewish state (no debate allowed) and no naming of streets after Yahiya Ayyash or Dalal al-Mughrabi (both killed by Israel).
But as is often the case, those in glass houses forget that they should not throw stones. Israel conveniently forgets that its annual commemoration of "Independence Day" constitutes incitement to Palestinians for whom the commemoration of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homeland in order to make way for Jewish immigrants is not a day of celebration.
Israel forgets that its own official maps issued by the Ministry of Tourism do not demarcate the 1967 border, something that by Israel's own standards should constitute incitement. Israeli officials also fail to remember that not a single Israeli prime minister has ever recognized Palestine's right to exist even while demanding that Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
Israel has failed to take a long hard look at its own textbooks, which describe Arabs as "untrustworthy" among other things. More subtly, Israel's classification of Palestinian citizens of Israel as "Israeli Arabs" is, to the holders of such a title, "incitement" because it ignores that their identity and the identity of their ancestors both predate Israel's creation and are not tied to Israel in any positive way.
Israel conveniently forgets that its own naming of streets and highways constitutes incitement. For example, highway 90, which runs through the Jordan Valley (in the West Bank) and which is largely off-limits to Palestinians, is named after the late Israeli tourism minister, Rehavam Zeevi who openly advocated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
But most importantly, Israel forgets that its continued denial of freedom to the Palestinians and its continued racist, apartheid regime are the very essence of incitement. For Palestinians the list is endless and growing, particularly with each growing settlement, every home demolition, every land confiscation, every eviction and each day that passes that a brutal siege is imposed on the Gaza Strip or that Palestinian refugees are not allowed to return to their homes simply because they are not Jewish.
Perhaps in the Israeli mindset the entire "problem" (for Palestinians are viewed simply as that) would just "disappear" if we Palestinians stopped showing pictures of killed Palestinians, stopped demanding our rights and even took the bold step of naming our streets after Israeli terrorists or those who advocate our ethnic cleansing.
But that is an erroneous conclusion. Palestinian children do not recall what is written in their fifth grade textbook; they do recall when their classmates in the Gaza Strip are killed by Israeli bombings. Palestinians are not motivated to resist when they see the name of Yahiya Ayyash in the center of Ramallah but when they see that the Old City of Hebron and the Ibrahimi Mosque are off limits because they have been illegally taken over by 400 Israeli armed squatters who are protected by thousands of soldiers. No amount of "peace curriculum" can erase the fact that Palestinians will forever resent that they reside in refugee camps while immigrants have taken over their homes.
Perhaps if we stop demanding that our rights be upheld ("incitement" to Israel), then Israel will finally see the error of its ways and decide instead to end its racist apartheid regime and set Palestinians free. Perhaps...but not likely.- Published 26/4/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Diana Buttu is a human rights lawyer and a former legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Stop Palestinian denial of Jewish peoplehood
by Saul Singer
The debate over incitement may seem sterile. Distinctions can be made between naming schools and summer camps after suicide bombers, as Palestinian leaders do, and Israeli leaders speaking about Arabs in a disparaging, even violent way. But these distinctions often sound like debating points that have little relevance to the practical pursuit of peace.
Incitement, however, is much more important than it looks. It impacts on two levels--creating a climate of violence, and preventing fundamental movement toward peace. Incitement is not just a barometer that can predict inclement weather ahead, but a significant factor at seeding the storm clouds that it measures.
To see this, we must compare the climates for peace on each side. Israel, over the years, has gone through a sea change. As late as 1990, the Israeli consensus believed that an independent Palestinian state was an existential threat. Even the Labor party would not speak of it openly. Outgoing US Secretary of State George Shultz reflected this consensus when he predicted in 1988 that there would never be a Palestinian state because this would be too great a threat to Israel.
The 1993 Oslo accords set in motion a process that, by 2005, turned the Israeli consensus on its head. Even the right's iconic champion, Ariel Sharon, essentially said that a Palestinian state, far from a threat, had become an Israeli interest necessary to preserve the state's democratic and Jewish character. More importantly, Sharon risked tearing the nation apart by putting a down payment on this vision in the form of the total evacuation of Jewish settlements, Israeli troops and even graves from Gaza.
Israeli opponents of a two-state solution certainly exist, and retain some political strength, but they are almost as marginal now as the peace movement was in 1990. Then, no major Israeli politician could endorse a Palestinian state; now no serious Israeli leader can abstain from endorsing one.
What has happened on the Palestinian side during this same period? At first it might seem that Palestinian support for a two-state solution is a given. On closer examination, however, it is hard to compare the Israeli and Palestinian climates because it is so hard to find a real Palestinian peace movement.
What would such a movement look like? Just as the Israeli embrace of a two-state solution was all about accepting a Palestinian state, the comparable Palestinian Rubicon is acceptance of Israel. A Palestinian peace movement would therefore argue, at least, for the practical need to accept Israel. In concrete terms, such acceptance would mean abandoning the Palestinian "right of return" to Israel, which is designed as a backdoor negation of Israeli statehood, much as part of the settlement movement was designed to negate a Palestinian state.
As it turns out, there is a Palestinian advocate of giving up the "right of return" to Israel in the name of peace: Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds University. It took extreme intellectual, moral and physical courage for Nusseibeh to take this position, not completely unlike those Israelis who advocated for Palestinian statehood when doing so bordered on treason. But unlike in Israel, where the two-state paradigm has become mainstream, among Palestinians Nusseibeh remains an extreme exception, essentially a lone voice.
This is the context in which the incitement debate must be considered. The problem is not just the glorification of terrorism on the Palestinian side, it is the denial of Jewish peoplehood, of Jewish history and of any legitimate Jewish connection to any part of Israel. At the 2000 Camp David summit, President Bill Clinton was shocked that Yasser Arafat baldly denied that there ever was a Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Yet to this day no Palestinian politician, including in the "peace camp", can publicly say otherwise.
Some might note here that Israelis, including those who back the two-state paradigm, only perfunctorily accept the notions of a Palestinian people or their right to a state. But there is a big difference. The Palestinian narrative is that Jews stole their land, so accepting such a theft would be dishonorable and a terrible defeat. Israelis, by contrast, danced in the streets when the UN partition resolution was announced in 1947, and have come around again to see Palestinian statehood as a conduit to securing the Zionist dream.
The Palestinian equivalent of the Zionist dream remains stuck deep within a narrative of Israel's destruction. The first sign of change will be when Palestinians start denying their denial of the facts of history. Palestinians do not have to become Zionists, but they do have to start openly convincing themselves that they are not capitulating to thievery but rather compromising with a sufficiently legitimate competing claim to sovereignty. Stopping incitement is a critical first step in a long process that, on the Palestinian side, has barely begun.- Published 26/4/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Saul Singer is co-author, with Dan Senor, of "Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle" (Twelve, 2009).
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