Monitoring Palestinian incitement is not enough

Posted: 4/11/2010 11:18:00 AM
Author: Fern Oppenheim
Source: This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem POst on April 11, 2010.

Monitoring Palestinian incitement is not enough
by Fern Oppenheim

We need to address the issue of the indoctrination of children who are taught to hate from a very young age.
Talkbacks (6) Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently announced that Israel will begin to monitor incitement in the Palestinian Authority, and appointed Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser as government coordinator of this program. According to a recent Haaretz article, reports on incitement will be issued periodically and an “incitement index” will be produced by monitoring broadcasts in the official PA media, statements and actions by senior PA officials, and textbooks. While this is welcome news, and a crucial step forward in creating a more conducive climate for peace, it falls short in terms of adequately communicating the full scope and severity of the problem.

Israeli government officials historically have spoken about the culture of hatred in the PA solely in terms of incitement. In addition to incitement, there is a related and arguably even more egregious phenomenon – indoctrination – which should be monitored, reported on and publicized in its own right. To conflate the two and report only on “incitement” is to unnecessarily blur the true nature of what has been taking place in Palestinian society.

Incitement is defined as “stirring to action, attempting to persuade.” A good example of incitement in the PA would be a fiery speech against Israel by a politician or an imam. Indoctrination, on the other hand, is defined as “instruction in the rudiments of a belief system” or, more simply put, brainwashing. An example of indoctrination would be a Palestinian TV program that teaches young children that all of Israel is Palestinian territory, and that suicide missions are the highest form of martyrdom.

There are critical distinctions between the two which highlight the need to address them separately:

1. Who they target – adults vs. children

When an Imam or politician preaches hate to an adult audience, those assembled generally have the ability to assess the speech and make their own judgments regarding its veracity. Conversely, when children’s TV shows, textbooks, etc. teach young Palestinians that Israelis have no historical ties to the land, that Jews are evil, that terrorism is justified, etc., the children targeted are being brainwashed to believe what they are being taught. Unlike adults, they are not yet able to assess the quality of information being fed to them. They become the unwitting vessels of the poison being served. In this regard, indoctrination is an educational form of child abuse that is like statutory rape of the mind. It is a human-rights violation against which children’s rights activists should be up in arms.

2. The shelf life of the message – temporary vs. forever

Messages of incitement to adults can be turned on and off like a spigot, depending on the needs of the Palestinian governing body. Once youngsters are indoctrinated, however, they will likely believe the vile things they were taught for the rest of their lives, and act on them. Israel can make all the concessions requested of her tomorrow, yet an entire generation of Palestinians will still harbor the hatred they were spoon-fed to their dying days. Indoctrination is therefore a much greater threat than incitement to the long-term prospects for peace.

As a child of a Holocaust survivor, I have often questioned how so many people could be complicit in the murder of the six million. While there are no simple answers, it is clear that the groundwork for turning a normal society into murderers has to be carefully laid. All forms of propaganda have to be employed to dehumanize the victims and position them as threats to the society.

It is alarming to witness this type of groundwork being laid in the Palestinian territories over the past several years by official bodies and media outlets. When innocent Palestinian children watch their beloved Sesame Street-like TV characters brutally murdered by IDF soldiers, or spend time in summer camps and public squares named after suicide bombers, they are being carefully prepared to harbor lasting enmity and emulate perpetrators of terror.

This indoctrination is the start of a process that results in a culture of blind hatred. It has been allowed to flourish for far too long. Israeli government officials, including those involved in Netanyahu’s new program, must address the brainwashing of Palestinian children as a discrete and pressing issue in its own right.

True peace depends on it.

The writer is president of Applied Marketing Innovations, cofounder of the Brand Israel Group, and strategic communications consultant for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.