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Friday 11 April 2008

In Gaza, Hamas’s Insults to Jews Complicate Peace

In Gaza, Hamas's Insults to Jews Complicate Peace
GAZA — In the Katib Wilayat mosque one recent Friday, the imam was
discussing the wiliness of the Jew.
"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 themselves."
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 Jews."
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.
While the Palestinian Authority of Fatah also causes some concern — its
textbooks, for example, rarely recognize the state of Israel — Yigal
Carmon, who runs Memri, said Hamas and its media used "the kind of
anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish language you don't really hear any more
from the Palestinian Authority, which hasn't talked like that in a long
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."
Excluding Reconciliation
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?" he asked.
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 young people."
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."


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