- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

JERUSALEM With the ruins of a radio transmission tower behind her, a Palestine TV reporter tells viewers that its destruction by warplanes is proof of Israel's "barbarity" and "hatred of civilization."

A column in Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah, the official newspaper of Yasser Arafat's government, calls Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his defense minister "lying murderers."

Palestinian school textbooks tend to ignore Israel as the neighbor of a future Palestinian state, dwell on the expulsion of Arabs from their homes and don't mention Jews in passages about religious tolerance.

Israelis sum it up as "incitement" aimed at keeping the conflict on the boil, and it is the reason why Palestinian radio and TV became targets in the tit-for-tat war of bombings and shootings.

Palestinians maintain that their angry words, public and private, reflect their oppression by Israel and note that Israelis are guilty of their own invective, too.

Mr. Sharon and others frequently describe Mr. Arafat as "a liar" and a "terrorist," and call the Palestinian Authority an "empire of lies" and a "coalition of terror." In a January interview, Mr. Sharon said he regretted not having Mr. Arafat killed during Israel's siege of Beirut in 1982.

"We can easily compile more Israeli incitement material in one day than you can find in official Palestinian media in a year," said Al-Hayat editor Hafez al-Barghouti.

The Israelis maintain that Palestinian authorities are keeping passions aflame by running endless TV footage of wounded and dead Palestinians, without putting it in any context, or giving Israel's version of events.

Still, the Palestinian media rarely come close to the kind of anti-Semitic vitriol that is commonplace in the Egyptian media, and Mr. Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gissin, concedes the problem is less acute than in the early days of the Palestinian uprising more than a year ago, when Palestinian TV announcers openly exhorted viewers to hit the streets and riot.

But much harsh language and imagery remain, Mr. Gissin said, and they are "breeding hatred of the Jews and contaminating the minds of the young."

Mr. Arafat's government has distanced itself from most of the attacks carried out against Israelis, suggesting it cannot control the militant groups that send out the suicide bombers. Israel contends the militants are taking their cue, in part, from what they see and hear on the air.

A week of intensive monitoring of the Palestinian media official and independent, broadcast and print reveals a nation at war.

Patriotic songs exhort Palestinians to fight for their rights. Footage shows Palestinians shot or beaten by Israeli soldiers.

The airwaves are filled with heart-rending messages from relatives of the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, and phrases such as "horrific torment" are commonly used to describe what Palestinians endure at the hands of Israelis.

Moving interviews with victims' families are another staple. In the Jan. 10 episode of a TV program called "To Complete the Journey," viewers phoned in donations for Raid Mahmoud Fashafsha, a 32-year-old father of four who became a quadriplegic in August after being severely beaten at a roadblock.

Mr. Fashafsha was shown lying helplessly on a bed, while his wife and elderly parents wept. One caller from Kuwait, a woman who identified herself only as Inaam, screamed that Mr. Sharon was "a pig and a dog."

Some of the strong language is not that far removed from what Israeli media used to deliver in the early years of Jewish statehood, when broadcasting was heavily controlled and the imperative was to mobilize the people in building their country and defending it against Arab threat.

Israelis can argue that in the past couple of decades they have changed; as they have grown into an industrialized urban society, their media have become pluralistic, their history books more evenhanded. They maintain that since peace efforts began in earnest in the early 1990s, they had been preparing their people for coexistence alongside a Palestinian state until the current uprising erupted in September 2000.

Even Palestinians do not accuse Israeli media of being inflammatory. The cries of "death to the Arabs" that often go up after suicide bombings rarely translate into action. Most Palestinian casualties have been inflicted by the Israeli army.

To the charge of one-sidedness and militancy in their media, Palestinians reply that they, too, are mobilizing for statehood. Moreover, Palestinian officials attribute the incitement accusations in part to Israel's frustration over losing its grip on the Palestinians since the mid-1990s creation of the Palestinian Authority in parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

"Israel only likes to hear its own voice," said Radwan Abu Ayyash, chairman of Palestinian radio and television. "It doesn't like anyone beside itself to speak about conditions in the occupied territories."

Abu Ayyash and other Palestinian officials said many of Israel's complaints are exaggerated, based on inaccurate translations from Arabic or taken out of context.

"Do they want us to bury our dead without talking about them?" asked Mr. Barghouti. "Do they want us to help them cover up events?"

Israel has also complained about Palestinian textbooks introduced over the past two years, arguing that they either promote hatred of the Jews or ignore Israel altogether.

The books, introduced for grades one, two, six and seven, are part of a program to replace by 2005 Egyptian and Jordanian curricula in all 10 years of basic education in Palestinian schools. The books, written by a committee of academics, education experts and professionals, have received intense publicity and close Israeli scrutiny since their appearance.

A recent report by political scientist Nathan Brown of George Washington University concludes the textbooks were in fact "less incendiary than portrayed."

"The Palestinian curriculum is not a 'war' curriculum. Neither is it a 'peace' curriculum," he wrote. Mr. Brown also said the Palestinian Authority should be credited with removing overtly "racist and anti-Semitic material" from curricula.

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