April 18, 2008 - Everybody wants peace in the Middle East. But little attention is being given to whether a cultural foundation exists that can sustain peace. A peace on paper alone is worse than worthless. It will be destined to explode into an even worse conflagration - unless the seeds of hate that undermine peace are recognized and addressed now.
One of the greatest obstacles to peace, which has not received sufficient attention in the world press, is the Palestinian program of institutionalized, government-supported incitement whose purpose is to dehumanize Jews and make the hatred of Jews and the desire to kill them a virtue. We have already seen this in Palestinian TV programming for children: Farfur Mouse and Nahoul Bee. Questionable actions on either side can be discontinued and changed, but when a child's mind is poisoned practically since the day it is born, changing that is next to impossible.
While Israeli society has its problems, it has nothing remotely comparable to the officially sanctioned ethnic and religious hatred that pervades every level of Palestinian culture. The mainstream media have largely ignored this, but Steven Erlanger of the New York Times has recently issued a groundbreaking report.
Erlanger states that in the Katib Wilayat mosque in Gaza, in his Friday sermon, the imam said this:
Jews are a people who cannot be trusted. They have been traitors to all agreements - go back to history. Their fate is their vanishing. Look what they are doing to us.
At another Gaza mosque, the Al Omari mosque, the imam calls Jews "the brothers of apes and pigs."
The Hamas television station, al-Aksa, is another active channel for Jew hatred. It praises suicide bombing and encourages a jihad until Palestine (whose maps contain Israel) is liberated from the Jews.
Palestinian television showers praise on terrorists who launch rockets into Israeli cities. Even children's programs encourage "martyrdom" and teach the "perfidy of the Jews" as well as the need to reclaim all of Palestine, Israel included, from the hated Jews. And Friday sermons from mosques proclaim how Jews have been the enemies of Muslims since the time of Muhammad.
Radwan Abu Ayyash, deputy minister of culture in Ramallah, ran the Palestinian Broadcasting Company until 2005 when Hamas was elected. He is free in his criticism of those who followed him. He accuses Hamas of "us[ing] religious language to motivate simple people for political as well as religious goals" and he calls much of what Hamas TV broadcasts "disgusting and unprofessional." He added that "what is not fine is to build up children with a culture of hatred, of closed minds, a culture of sickness."
The comments of Radwan Abu Ayyash are clearly self-serving and politically motivated, because his own record is no better than what he criticizes. Here are some comments from a sermon broadcast on Palestinian Authority Television on March 2004, before the change in the Palestinian administration and while he was still the boss:
The Jews today - there is no doubt - are avenging their ancient forefathers, the sons of apes and pigs. Some of the extremist Jews are demanding today their property in Al-Madina. There are even those who have requested to be buried at the southern edge of Palestine. When the one-eyed Dayan was on his deathbed, he instructed that he be buried at the southern edge of Palestine. When asked why, he said, "So that I will be close to Al-Madina." This is the extremist tendency of the Jews. They are the extremists, they are the terrorists. They deserve death, and we deserve life, because we are the people of Truth.Ö We will fight them with Allah's help.
This example is far from unique, and others like this and worse are easy to find. So where was Radwan Abu Ayyash while this was being broadcast under his direction? Was a "culture of hatred" OK as long as he was the one in charge? It is a mistake to think that this incitement began with Hamas. It is many years old, and has born fruit in a hardened anti-Jewish religious attitude that threatens to destroy any chance for peace.
Much Palestinian anti-Jewish ranting draws from classical Christian anti-Semitism. Note, for example, the phrase from Erlanger's report, "perfidy of the Jews." Recognizing this connection sheds much light on the meaning of Muslim hatred for the state of Israel and the double standard by which Israel is usually judged.
In his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid Jimmy Carter relates an odd incident that he appears to tell with pride, but for which he should really feel embarrassed. On his first visit to Israel in the early 1970's Carter had an audience with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She asked him for his impressions of her country. Carter writes:
With some hesitation I said that I had long taught lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures and that a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God. I asked if she was concerned about the secular nature of her Labor government.
This brief comment speaks volumes. The "secular" Israeli government has turned away from God, and is being punished. All more evidence that attitudes ingrained in childhood die hard. Jews have suffered for centuries from the belief that they have "turned away from God" and are being punished for it. History has become self-fulfilling prophecy: if the lives of Jews were made miserable by the actions of people who held this belief, it is just the "common historical pattern" that proves the "perfidy" of the Jew.
What other explanation can there be for why every flaw in Israeli society is held to a microscope, while gross human rights abuses in the Muslim world evoke hardly a squeak? Most of the world's religious people are either Christian or Muslim, and both of those traditions have long been obsessed with the Jew as "fossil" who survives long after he should have been replaced.
Both the Qur'an and the New Testament contain passages accusing the Jews of faithlessness towards God, of killing their prophets, of incurring divine wrath. Those passages have resounded through the ages and their effects are still felt. It is important to recognize that there has been much reform within Christianity, and even though this attitude condemning the "faithless" Jew still survives in the Christian world, many Christian voices have spoken out against it. Islam has not yet caught up.
This is a serious problem that cries out for attention, because a mind trained in hate since birth has the power to destroy any peace produced by rational agreement. The incitement still practiced in Palestinian society today was banned by the Oslo agreement 15 years ago. The Israeli government is at fault for not having emphatically demanded compliance ever since that time. It is almost too late now - unless people recognize how serious this problem is and how potent a weapon is the mind of a child.
We can focus on things that each side could do to improve its peace position and to comply with its Roadmap obligations - and we should. Israeli society is not perfect. There are things about it that I would change if I could. I have no incentive to mention any of them, because I know that Israel's enemies will take anything critical said about Israel as evidence justifying Israel's destruction.
And that is exactly the point. Israel is the only country judged by such a radical standard. Israel's record certainly shines in comparison to its neighbors - Syria, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, where Jews cannot even legally be citizens. Even the Western democracies suffer from serious social inequalities. Yet only Israel is judged by a standard that magnifies every blemish and that deems any serious flaw reason to dismantle the state or replace it with a "binational" (read: Arab) state. Only Israel is judged according to the wrath of God. The most sensible explanation for this irrational double standard is the attitude of replacement theology - originally Christian, now Muslim - that haunts the deepest corners of the minds of those who hate Israel the most and who refuse to tolerate its existence. And this is how Palestinian children are still being raised today.
No matter how many peace conferences we hold, or how many peace missions we send, no peace can last if planted on soil polluted by seeds of hate.
Erlanger, Steven. "In Gaza, Hamasís Insults to Jews Complicate Peace." New York Times, April 1, 2008.
Goldberg, Jeffrey. "What Would Jimmy Do?: A Former President Puts the Onus for Resolving the Mideast Conflict on the Israelis." Washington Post, December 10, 2006.
"Last Week's Friday Sermon on PA Television." Middle East Media Research Institute, Special Dispatch Series No. 683, March 19, 2004.
Peace with Realism