Sunday, February 6, 2005

JERUSALEM — Newly elected President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered Palestinian television to cleanse its screens of bloody imagery to conform with a new mood of conciliation in the region.

Eulogies to suicide bombers, or “martyrs” as they were known, have given way to “feel-good” nature programs and romantic films. Instead of referring to “martyr operations,” suicide bombings are described more neutrally as “explosions.”

The changes have been brought in as Israelis and Palestinians prepare for tomorrow’s summit in Egypt between Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Mr. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen, summoned the directors of the television station and told them to tone down their aggressive programming.

He also said he did not want the kind of sycophantic, round-the-clock coverage of his schedule that was the norm under the former Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

“He said that he does not want a screen full of blood,” said Radwan Abu Ayash, head of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp. “We must avoid bloody things, which are not a good image for our people.

“He also said that he does not want songs praising him or for us to report on all his activities — only if there is some news value. He wanted a ‘free screen’ and said that all sides should have the right to talk. These are big changes.”

Palestinian television ceaselessly used to extol Mr. Arafat and his dominant Fatah party. Attacks on Israeli targets were applauded, and special songs were composed for the station in praise of fallen “martyrs.”

Now, Mr. Abu Ayash said: “We have passionate Egyptian love films replacing war films. We have soft geography programs for the kids, films with cute animals roaming in the wild and so on.

“We are broadcasting more traditional music, rather than martial music. Even our words are less provocative. We are trying to be as peaceful as possible.”

Israeli officials have long denounced the television station, accusing it of inciting violence. One Cabinet minister described the changes as an “important step” in fostering a mood of co-operation.

Palestinians have welcomed them, with reservations.

“People salute Abu Mazen’s understanding of the need to make the broadcasting moderate, because the old style under Arafat was not only dull, but it brought incitement and hatred,” said Ibrahim Wahbeh, a Bethlehem resident.

“But if the positive mood is to be built up, we need to feel real improvements to our lives, and soon. This is something that television should follow closely.”

Palestinians and Israelis, many of whom are skeptical of the peace process after so many false starts, hope that clear signs of change will emerge from the summit.

Mr. Abbas, who has voiced his disapproval of armed Palestinian attacks on Israelis, has said the Palestinians will declare an end to hostilities when he and Mr. Sharon meet.

The summit, at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, will also be attended by King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

Mr. Abu Ayash said that the summit was a “window of hope.”

“Television is a reflection of the pulse of the people, a mirror of what is going on in society. We are willing to open the window of hope wider,” he said.

“But we need to get something in the bank to show people. I am worried that if things do not work out, we may go back to the bloody screens, to marches, to funerals. We don’t want to go back to that. No one does.”

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