In recent weeks, the publication of Daniel Polisar’s study of Palestinian public opinion published by Mosaic magazine has been a subject of intense debate. His thesis demonstrating the overwhelming support among Palestinians for violence against Jews and the belief that Israel should be destroyed ought to be a game changer in discussions about peace in the Middle East. Yet predictably left-wingers who prefer fantasy to reality have sought to discredit his work by claiming he was wrongly painting Palestinians as “irrational animals.” Polisar eviscerated that specious and utterly false argument published in the Forward, so there’s no need for further comment about his critics here. But those with lingering doubts about the subject would do well to read the feature published in the Sunday New York Times that provides a useful addendum to the discussion. In it, the Times paints a not entirely unsympathetic portrait of Al Aqsa TV, the broadcast outlet of the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza. While the article has a bizarre, upbeat tone, it also makes it clear that one of the leading outlets of Palestinian popular culture reflects exactly the same spirit of support for violence and delegitimization of Israel that Polisar’s study revealed.
The article, written by the paper’s stringers in Gaza rather than anyone associated with its Jerusalem bureau, portrays life at the station where on-air personalities encourage Palestinians to go out stab, shoot, or blow up as many Jews as they can find. Of course, this advice is couched in the language of “resistance” in which such activities are depicted as “fighting the ‘occupation’” rather than bloodthirsty murder of random Jews. Indeed, the article never actually comes clean about Hamas ideology which views all of Israel — the parts inside the 1967 lines as well as Jerusalem and the West Bank — as occupied territory and that any Jews, man, women or child, soldier or civilian, is a fair game for murder. But it does give a sense of the purpose of the station’s programming, albeit from an insider’s view.
In perhaps the most telling line, it says that one of the station’s presenters was so moved by a “foot-stomping” song encouraging mayhem against Jews that he joked about being “worried about stabbings in the studios.” The humor of the situation in which station personnel say their content is so inflammatory that Palestinians present might not wait to see a Jew to start the violence may be lost on some but we get the point.
While, as the article notes, Aqsa TV is not as popular as the official Palestinian Authority station operating in the West Bank, like its Hamas sponsors, its influence is growing. Moreover, as much as the Times discusses the station’s content it does pull its punches a bit by claiming that Aqsa TV has toned down some of its content through its social media and the weekly Friday sermons it broadcasts were actually far more hateful than the regular shows.
But you don’t have to take the Times’s word for it. If you go to the Memri.org media monitoring website, you can watch a selection of the station’s greatest hits in which viewers are told that the Jews are Nazis, that they should plunge their knives into the Jews and even get a lecture from an expert on the Quran who insists that the Muslim holy text approves of the murder of Jewish women and children while another cleric says not a single Jew will eventually be left alive in the land.
Though Hamas may be more radical than the Fatah Party that runs the West Bank, a look at the Palestine Media Watch site shows that it runs a fair share of incitement to terrorism as well.
True to form, the Times does attempt to draw some moral equivalence in which it says there is incitement on both sides. But the best it can do there is to claim there was a game for children in which players were asked to defend themselves against terrorists and to kill attackers with knives and guns that ran on the website of a right-wing radio station before being pulled. But the attempt to claim both sides are doing it falls flat when you realize that the equivalents of PA TV and Aqsa TV for Israelis never run incitement and, in fact, places where advocates of peace and concessions are more easily found than supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
But that brings us back to Polisar’s thesis. The real obstacle to peace remains a Palestinian political and popular culture that glorifies violence against Jews and views Israel as a temporary indignity Palestinians must suffer that will eventually disappear. Palestinians think this way not just because they have those messages drummed into them by their media but also because the struggle against a Jewish state within any boundaries is inextricably tied to their sense of national identity. As one female viewer quoted in the Times said of Aqsa TV, its talk and music extolling terror make her feel “very nationalistic.” A nation that conceives of itself in such terms is not only unready for peace but is incapable of even considering it.
Most Israelis understand that the truth about the Palestinian neighbors requires them to give up hopes for an end to the conflict any time soon. But telling the truth about the Palestinians is widely resented by those that want desperately to believe that Israel can magically create peace on its own. But so long as the Palestinians are tapping their feet to songs about slaughter and cheering terror TV, peace is nowhere in sight.