Don't blame Palestinian media for the continuation of the Israeli occupation
When the international community recently slammed Israel’s illegal settlement activities, Israel’s Prime Minister responded that the problem is not settlements but Palestinian incitement. Benjamin Netanyahu also has rejected that Israeli troops controlling Palestinian lands are an occupational force, again insisting that the real problem is Palestinian schools books and tv stations inciting innocent Palestinians to carry out acts of violence against the benevolent Israelis.
In its attempt at balance in an asymmetrical situation, the Quartet made up of the UN, EU, Russia and the US has also given prominence to the issue of “incitement to violence.”
The accusations that Palestinians school textbooks and media are instruments of incitement to violence have long been scientifically debunked even though they have been regularly repeated by Israeli officials and Israeli apologists.
The claim that Palestinians teach their children hate has been rejected by tens of American and European as well as Israeli and Palestinians academic studies since the turn of the millennium. A 2005 US congressional bipartisan report asserted that Palestinian textbooks “ do not incite Palestinians towards anti-Jewish violence or constitute a “war curriculum.” Europe's’ Chris Patent was angry about accusations that the EU funds Palestinians textbooks full of hate that he ordered a full investigation that of course found the accusation to be untrue. “It is a total fabrication that the European Union has funded textbooks with anti-Semitic arguments within them in Palestinian schools. It is a complete lie,” Patten said afterwards.
Media incitement has not been as easy to research. To begin with there is a huge difference between what people voluntarily choose to watch or read and what is mandatorily taught in schools to children. Furthermore it is much more difficult to accuse one side of incitement without a regular monitoring mechanism on both sides that applies a clear definition of what is media incitement.
Israel has not agreed to participate in a committee that attempted to define and monitor incitement in both Israeli and Palestinian media. Even though incitement has been a favorite escape argument of Netanyahu, the Israeli government refused in 2014 a US-led initiative to convene a tripartite (Israeli, Palestinian, American) committee to address incitement and education toward peace both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In the Palestinian- Israeli context a much more complicated problem has to be accessed. There is little similarity between the current Israeli media which has been developed over seventy years and is now a strong vibrant well funded sector and the current Palestinian media that by and large is less than twenty years old and is highly restricted by working under occupation and restrictions. While a few newspapers existed before the Oslo Accords and were subject to Israeli military censorship, radio and television as well as a further two newspapers in the West Bank and a couple in Gaza (plus online media) are less than two decades old.
Palestinian journalists have been regularly the subject of harassment, restrictions, and physical attacks. Local and international human rights organizations have documented violations against Palestinian journalists by the Israeli army.
Journalists including a member of the Palestinian journalists union are currently administratively detained in an Israeli jail without charge or trial.
A more fair comparison would be to compare Palestinian media under occupation today with the Zionist media on the eve of the creation of the state of Israel.
Palestinian journalists also work under harsh professional conditions, lower salaries and face severe travel restrictions. A study by the Geneva-based International Press Institute reflected the inability of Palestinian journalists to travel to and from Jerusalem and between Gaza and the West Bank. In fact the IPI report published in 2013 revealed that the Israeli government doesn’t recognize Palestinian media institutions. Some Palestinian journalists working for international media are granted press credentials, but Israel doesn’t recognize or deal professionally with any of the existing Palestinian media organizations. The IPI report stated that Palestinian and Israeli journalists are restricted from traveling to each other’s areas and official sources are often denied to journalists from both sides.
In social media a recent experiment by Israel’s Channel 10 when an Israeli and a Palestinian youth each wrote similar posts inciting to violence on their facebook pages is very telling. The Palestinian young person's facebook post received seven likes and a number of warnings from readers not to do it while the Israeli youth's post received 1,200 likes and shares with a number of commentators offering to help. The Israeli army arrested the Palestinian (he was later released) while the Israeli facebook writer wasn’t contacted.
The continuation of the Israeli occupation and the asymmetrical relationship between the Israeli army and its institution against Palestinians makes it difficult to unilaterally blame media for the continuation of the conflict. The idea that the conflict is perpetuated because of Palestinian incitement to violence is akin to putting the blame on a woman because she used foul language or for violently scratching her attacker while being rapped.
Media certainly does have an influence on people’s behavior but media is a mere reflection of society. Change of the reality by ending the root cause of the conflict, namely the military occupation of Palestinian lands is the key to a resolution. Attempts to blame the Palestinian media falls under the often repeated statement "don’t shoot the messenger."
Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on twitter.com/daoudkuttab