April 1, 2008.
GAZA – In the Katib Wilayat mosque one recent Friday, the imam was
discussing the wiliness of the Jew.
In a play staged at a Gaza cultural center this month, a Palestinian farmer pulls
his dead child from a house bombed by Israel. “Jews are a people who cannot
be trusted,” Imam Yousif al-Zahar of Hamas told the faithful. “They have been
traitors to all agreements – go back to history. Their fate is their vanishing. Look
what they are doing to us.”
At Al Omari mosque, the imam cursed the Jews and the “Crusaders”, or
Christians, and the Danes, for reprinting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
He referred to Jews as “the brothers of apes and pigs,” while the Hamas
television station, Al Aksa, praises suicide bombing and holy war until Palestine
is free of Jewish control.
Its videos praise fighters and rocket-launching teams; its broadcasts insult the
Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, for talking to Israel and the United
States; its children’s programs praise ‘martyrdom’, teach what it calls the
perfidy of the Jews and the need to end Israeli occupation over Palestinian
land, meaning any part of the state of Israel.
Such incitement against Israel and Jews was supposed to be banned under the
1993 Oslo accords and the 2003 ‘road map’ peace plan. While the Palestinian
Authority under Fatah has made significant, if imperfect efforts to end
incitement, Hamas, no party to those agreements, feels no such restraint.
Since Hamas took over Gaza last June, routing Fatah, Hamas sermons and
media reports preaching violence and hatred have become more pervasive,
extreme and sophisticated, on the model of Hezbollah and its television station
Al Manar, in Lebanon.
Intended to indoctrinate the young to its brand of radical Islam, which combines
politics, social work and military resistance, including acts of terrorism, the
programs of Al Aksa television and radio, including crucial Friday sermons, are
an indication of how far from reconciliation Israelis and many Palestinians are.
Hamas’s grip on Gaza matters, but what may matter more in the long run is its
control over propaganda and education there, breeding longer-term problems for
Israel, and for peace. No matter what Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agree
upon, there is concern here that the attitudes being instilled will make a
sustainable peace extremely difficult.
“If you take a sample on Friday, you’re bound to hear incitement against the
Jews in the prayers and the imam’s sermon,” said Mkhaimer Abusada, a
political scientist at Al Azhar University here. “He uses verses from the Koran to
say how the Jews were the enemies of the prophet and didn’t keep their
promises to the prophet 1,400 years ago.”
Mr. Abusada is a Muslim and political independent. “You have young people,
and everyone has to listen to the imam whether you believe him or not,” he
said. “By saying the same thing over and over, you find a lot of people believing
it, especially when he cites the Koran or hadith,” the sayings of the prophet.
Radwan Abu Ayyash, deputy minister of culture in Ramallah, ran the Palestinian
Broadcasting Company until 2005. Hamas “uses religious language to motivate
simple people for political as well as religious goals,” he said. “People don’t
distinguish between the two.” He said he found a lot of what Al Aksa broadcast
“disgusting and unprofessional.”
Every Palestinian thinks the situation in Gaza is ugly, he said. “But what is not
fine is to build up children with a culture of hatred, of closed minds, a culture of
sickness. I don’t think they always know what they are creating. People use
one weapon, language, without realizing that they also use it against
Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli group, said Hamas took its
view of Jews from what it considered the roots of Islam, then tried to make the
present match the past.
For example, in a column in the weekly Al Risalah, Sheik Yunus al-Astal,
a Hamas legislator and imam, discussed a Koranic verse suggesting that
“suffering by fire is the Jews’ destiny in this world and the next.”
“The reason for the punishment of burning is that it is fitting retribution for
what they have done,” Mr. Astal wrote on March 13. “But the urgent question
is, is it possible that they will have the punishment of burning in this world,
before the great punishment of hell? Many religious leaders believe so,” he said,
adding, “Therefore we are sure that the holocaust is still to come upon the
At the end, Mr. Marcus points out, Mr. Astal switches from “harik”, the
ordinary word for burning, to “mahraka”, normally used to connote the
Some Hamas videos, like one in March 2007, promote the participation of
children in ‘resistance’, showing them training in uniform, holding rifles. Recent
shows displayed Mr. Abbas kissing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, under the slogan “Palestine doesn’t return
with kisses, it returns with martyrs.”
Programs for children
Another children’s program, ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’, has become infamous for
its puppet characters – a kind of Mickey Mouse, a bee and a rabbit – who speak,
like Assud the rabbit, of conquering the Jews to the young hostess, Saraa
Barhoum, 11. “We will liberate Al Aksa mosque from the Zionists’ filth,” Assud
said recently. “We will liberate Jaffa and Acre”, cities now in Israel proper. “We
will liberate the whole homeland.”
The mouse, Farfour, was murdered by an Israeli interrogator and replaced by
Nahoul, the bee, who died “a martyr’s death” from lack of health care because
of Gaza’s closed borders. He has been supplanted by Assud, the rabbit, who
vows “to get rid of the Jews, God willing, and I will eat them up, God willing.”
When Assud first made his appearance, he said to Saraa: “We are all
martyrdom-seekers, are we not, Saraa?” She responded: “Of course we are.
We are all ready to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our homeland. We will
sacrifice our souls and everything we own for the homeland.”
Along with Mr. Marcus’s group, the Middle East Media Research Institute, or
Memri, also monitors the Arabic media. But no one disputes their translations,
and there are numerous Palestinians in Gaza – in the hothouse atmosphere of an
overcrowded, isolated territory where martyr posters and anger at Israel are
widespread among Fatah, too – who are deeply upset about the hold Hamas has
on their mosques and on what their children watch.
Abu Saleh, who asked that his full name not be used because of his critical
views, is worried about his children. His eldest son, 13, likes to watch Al Aksa,
especially the nationalist songs and military videos. “I talk to them about
Hamas, but to be honest, it’s scary and you have to watch it over time,” he
said. “When kids are 17 or 18, you don’t know what happens. They get
enraged and can attach themselves to radical groups.”
The Prophet Muhammad made a temporary hudna, or truce, with the Jews
about 1,400 years ago, so Hamas allows the idea. But no one in Hamas says he
would make a peace treaty with Israel or permanently give up any part of
British Mandate Palestine.
“They talk of hudna, not of peace or reconciliation with Israel,” said Mr.
Abusada, the political scientist. “They believe over time they will be strong
enough to liberate all historic Palestine.”
Saraa, the host of ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers,’ is the niece of Fawzi Barhoum, a
Hamas spokesman. Some of the language used against other Arabs upsets him,
Mr. Barhoum said, but he insisted that Israel was illegitimate. “No one can deny
that all this was Palestinian land and Jews occupied the land,” he said firmly.
“Therefore the Hamas charter is based on what Israel has committed
against our people and our understanding of Israel and its practices.”
The charter is a deeply anti-Semitic document and cites a famous forgery, the
Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as truth. But “our battle is not with Jews as
Jews,” he said, “but those who came and occupied us and killed us.”
After all, Mr. Barhoum said, “the Jews who recognized the evil of the
occupation stayed outside and refused to come to Palestine as occupiers.” “The
Jews who came, came to occupy and to kill,” he said.
Marwan M. Abu Ras, 50, an imam who taught at Hamas’s Islamic University for
25 years, has an advice show on Al Aksa. He is proud that his show uses sign
language for the deaf.
The chairman of the Palestinian Scholars League, and a Hamas legislator,
Mr. Abu Ras is popularly called “Hamas’s mufti”, because he is ready to give
religious sanction to Hamas political structures.
Last month, he criticized Egypt for closing the Gaza border at Israel’s
request. He complained, “We are besieged by the sons of Arabism and Islam,
as well as by the brothers of apes and pigs.”
He tried to distinguish between religious and political language, and then said:
“The Israelis can’t accept criticism. They overreact, like any guilty person.”
Israel for him is an enemy. “This is an open war with Israel, with each
side trying to press the other,” he said. A war? “If it’s not a war, what is it?”
Then he spoke of his son, who tried to volunteer to fight the Israelis at 17. “I
convinced him to wait, he had no weapon, until 20,” Mr. Abu Ras said. “Now
he’s a member of Qassam,” the Hamas military wing, “and an example for
Promoting an ethos
Mark Regev, spokesman for Mr. Olmert, called on “Arab leaders who are
moderate and believe in peace to speak out more strongly against extremist
elements.” He called the “incitement to hatred and violence standard Hamas
operating procedure,” adding, “In Hamas education and broadcasting they turn
the suicide bomber who murders the innocent into a positive role model, and
they portray Jews in the most negative terms, that too often reminds us of
language used in Europe in the first half of the 20th century.”
The “serious question”, he said, “is what ethos are they promoting?”
Hazim el-Sharawi, 30, the original host of the Farfour character on Hamas
television, and known as “Uncle Hazim”, has no doubts. It was his idea to have
Farfour killed by an Israeli interrogator, he said. “We wanted to send a message
through this character that would fit the reality of Palestinian life.”
Israel is the source, he insisted. “A child sees his neighbors killed, or
blown up on the beach, and how do I explain this to a child that already
knows? The occupation is the reason; it creates the reality. I just organize the
information for him.”
The point is simple, he said: “We want to connect the child to Palestine, to his
country, so you know that your original city is Jaffa, your capital is Jerusalem
and that the Jews took your land and closed your borders and are killing your
friends and family.”