On the morning of August 3rd, I had the pleasure to walk Itamar Marcus, founder and president of Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), from Union Station to the Rayburn House Office Building where he would give a presentation on the recent wave of Palestinian terrorism as part of the Endowment for Middle East Truth’s (EMET) Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Policy Seminar Series on Capitol Hill. Marcus’s presentation came at an urgent and appropriate time. Sometime during the 15 minute walk to the Hill, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Taylor Force Act, a bill that would condition U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) on ending its immoral program of paying salaries to convicted terrorists and their family members.
I asked Marcus if he thought the Taylor Force Act would have a positive outcome on Palestinian incitement. He immediately corrected my terminology. “Incitement is only one part of the puzzle,” Marcus said. “The situation of the Palestinian leadership goes beyond incitement; it’s indoctrination.” In that moment I heard what he said but I brushed it off as semantics. It was only after hearing his presentation that his correction really sunk in.
The title of his presentation was ‘Anatomy of Terror: How Good People Turn into Terrorists.’ Marcus explained he works off the assumption that the majority of Palestinians are good people, which then raises the question, “what is the messaging from the Palestinian leadership that gets mainstream people to participate in or support terrorism?”
Marcus explained there are two different worlds in the messaging of Palestinian leadership. “There’s the English language world and there’s the Arabic language world and oftentimes there is no resemblance between the two.” Marcus divided the internal messaging, or the messaging in Arabic to the Palestinian people, into two periods — the messaging before the attack and the messaging after the attack. “In the messaging before the attack,” Marcus explained, “the PA needs to instill a motivation. This is done through hated, fear and a religious duty.”
This process starts incredibly early. Childhood is supposed to be a time of innocence, a time to grow and learn about the world, a time to dream of being an astronaut or a firefighter. But far too often Palestinian children are being systematically indoctrinated to embrace hatred and to fear the “outsiders.” While children TV shows in the U.S. teach lessons about sharing and friendship, Palestinian children are learning about weapons and killing. Marcus illustrated this point by showing the audience official video clips from PA TV’s top children’s program, ‘The Best Home.’
The first clip featured a puppet overlooking Tel Aviv, telling children Tel Aviv should be Jaffa, but it was occupied. A teacher then appeared on screen to assure children Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth and “all the Palestinian cites occupied in 1948 will return to us one day.” In English the PA claims the conflict is about territory — they want the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem – but the message they tell their children, the future generation, is the false claim that all of Israel is occupied Palestinian land, and the unrealistic fantasy that they will control it one day. These messages serve to delegitimize Israel as a nation.
The second clip featured a girl teaching children not to “fear the rifle” because the “Sons of Zion” are the “most evil among creation” and “barbaric monkeys.” Not only is Israel illegitimate, Jews as individuals are stigmatized against as well.
These provocative clips are so effective they almost guarantee intense tension. They demonstrate a sense of how a Palestinian child sees the world and how Palestinian leadership manages to create a society that not only normalizes but supports terrorism.
Delegitimizing messages alone, however, are not enough to get someone to fight or kill. Marcus further explained, “if the Jews are a threat, if Jews endanger Palestinian society and all of humanity, then fighting Jews becomes the right thing to do and a good person would do it.” Instilling existential fear that Jews are endangering the world becomes the focus of PA messaging.
This is reflected in real-world application by the recent rise of terrorism following Israel’s decision to increase security measures near the Temple Mount after Palestinian terrorists killed two Israeli policemen in the area. A couple of metal detectors should not have rallied the masses, leading to multiple terrorist attacks and violent protests, so what was the Palestinian leadership telling their people?
Marcus showed a video of the Minister of Religious Affairs of the PA claiming Israel was going to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque and put a temple in its place. The PA intentionally misrepresented the situation. They ignored Israel’s declared and intended purpose of added security measures to protect Israelis, Muslims and tourists visiting Jerusalem’s Old City. Instead they fabricated the narrative that Israel is changing the status quo. Fatah called for a ‘Day of Rage’ to defend the Temple Mount. What this translates to, Marcus explained, is anyone who goes out and fights evil Israelis are defending Palestinian society. “It’s self-defense and that self-defense is the justification to get good people to turn into terrorists, ” said Marcus. By playing on misplaced fear, Palestinian leaders were able to motivate mass action in an incredibly short timeframe.
The fabricated tale that Israel’s goal is to harm Muslims doesn’t just appear in times of tension or conflict. This message, like messages of hate, is constant. Marcus showed a clip which featured an official PA TV host warning kids to be very careful, not to go out without their parents because the “barbaric occupation” is targeting children. “They are trying to kill people everywhere. These are barbarians, my young friends. They try to kill people for no reason, who are just walking on their land.”
Messages aren’t only designed to instill hate and fear. The Palestinian leadership tailors its messages to children to prepare them for martyrdom. These messages glorify both killing and dying. They feature children reciting poems and celebrating the slaughter of innocent Israelis.
Marcus showed a video from the same children’s program, which featured a young girl reciting a poem saying, “O Palestinian carrying a rifle: Shoot, shoot, in the name of God. The path of the Martyrs is above all.”
It is important to point out that by using Islamic terminology the PA has turned killing into the will of Allah. As Marcus explains, this type of rhetoric frames the conflict in the context of a religious war and, as history has proven, religious wars don’t end. If someone tells you to kill for territory or nationalism, this context can be questioned by a good person. But, a “good person” is not going to question the will of God. In fact, religious Muslims are not even allowed to question the will of God. This becomes even more significant when looking at the importance of religion in Palestinian society. Marcus offered a 2015 poll which revealed that 95.6% of Palestinians claimed religion was an important part of their life.
While the Palestinian leadership is sending negative messages to Palestinian children, it is also hiding positive information from them about Israel. This constant barrage of hateful indoctrination makes it easy to understand Marcus’ question of how good people transform into terrorists. Children are taught to hate Israelis and Jews, that they are responsible for all the evil in the world, and therefore killing them is good for the world. They are also taught to fear them, and that Israel’s goal is to kill Palestinians, especially children, and to destroy Islam. The final aspect of Palestinian messaging before an attack incorporates killing and dying as a religious duty, “the path of a Martyr is above all.” It is Allah’s will.
These themes and the impact these messages are having on Palestinian youth was apparent during last year’s terror wave. From October 2015 to October 2016, forty-four Israelis and four Americans were killed, including Taylor Force. 50% of terrorist perpetrators were teenagers and 10% were under the age of 15. “The Palestinian child isn’t to blame…they were poisoned and didn’t have any other choice.” Marcus blames the religious leaders, Palestinian educators, Palestinian media and the PA for poisoning the minds of children.
The second component of the indoctrination puzzle is the messaging after an attack. According to Marcus, these messages serve to eliminate or lessen the fear of being killed during an attack. Messages to motivate Palestinian children to kill and die include honor, promises of heavenly and monetary rewards.
Every terrorist who dies while fighting Israel gets a poster in their honor. According to Marcus, honor is one of the most important values in Palestinian society. He shared a poster from Fatah’s official Facebook page that read, “Fatah movement escorts its heroic Martyr to his wedding.” Marcus stressed the poster doesn’t say to his funeral, but to his wedding. This is because a terrorist who dies while killing Israelis is considered a Shaheed (martyr); he died for Allah and therefore he is being rewarded with marrying 72 virgins in heaven. Death becomes a celebration.
Even more troubling, Marcus pointed to a publication from WAFA, the PA’s official news agency, which referred to 16 twelfth grade students who committed terror attacks and were killed in action in 2016. The statement, issued on the day of what would have been their high school graduation, did not mourn the loss of the students who will never graduate. Rather, it congratulated the 16 students who “succeeded [in achieving] the Martyrdom of the homeland and withstanding its difficult tests.” The statement then addressed how some of the graduating students “are disappointed because they did not receive the grade they hoped for or did not succeed” and emphasized that “the families of the Martyrs and their relatives find themselves proud of the Martyrdom that their children achieved with the Creator and in the homeland,” because “death as a Martyr is the path to excellence and greatness, and the path of those who know how to reach the great victory.” In other words, the message the PA delivered to the graduating high school class was that the path to excellence and greatness is not through hard work and growth; it is through terror and violence. One can achieve excellence and greatness by simply killing an Israeli, and for this be granted the highest honor.
The PA further honors terrorists by naming squares, youth centers, schools, hospitals, summer camps and sports competitions after them. Marcus gave the example of Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian terrorist who killed 37 civilians, 12 of them children, in 1987. Because this was the deadliest terror attack against Israel, Mughrabi has the most places names after her. To demonstrate the PA’s effectiveness of presenting terrorists as heroes and role models, Marcus showed a video of an interview with girls that attend a school named after Mughrabi. One student expressed her “life’s ambition is to reach the level that the Martyr fighter Dalal Mughrabi reached…”
Finally, Marcus addressed the last component in the anatomy of terrorism, the monetary rewards. Palestinian law dictates the PA will pay salaries to terrorists convicted of killing Israelis and to the families of those killed during an attack. The Taylor Force Acts seeks to address this problem specifically.
The presentation clearly demonstrates the danger behind the messages Palestinian leaders are sending their people. Before an attack leaders poison children’s minds with messages of hate, fear and religious duty. After the attack leaders offer instant heroism, honor, and promises of monetary and heavenly rewards.
As Marcus stressed, Palestinian youth are not to blame, their leaders gave them no other option but to see terrorism as a force for good. That said, it is clear to see why Marcus corrected my terminology from incitement to indoctrination.
Passing the Taylor Force Act and eliminating payments for terror will address one element of incitement, but the Palestinian situation goes much deeper than incitement. Rather, it is a systematic program of indoctrination. These immoral and deadly messages are constant. They derive from every aspect of life—media, school, youth centers, sports complexes, street posters, law, etc. They are designed, and unfortunately have been proven effective, to instill a mindset that encourages, supports, and normalizes terrorism. While Israel definitely suffers from the consequences of Palestinian indoctrination, and the American families of Americans killed by Palestinian terrorism suffer, it is Palestinian society which suffers the most.
Palestinian children deserve the truth from their leaders. Instead of instilling hatred for and fear of Israelis, Palestinian leaders should encourage understanding and engagement. Rather than honoring and rewarding death, Palestinian leaders should encourage hard work, progress, and peace. Graduation should be the goal, not martyrdom.
The international community and Palestinian citizens together need to stand up and finally throw terror to the wayside. Pressure needs to be placed on the PA to end its culture of hate. An approach needs to be taken to rewrite curriculum, marginalize extremists and hold those responsible accountable.
It is time the PA fulfills their longtime promise of ending terrorism, this time both in English and Arabic. We’ve been fooled by the PA long enough. Washington should disregard any and all messages the PA makes in English and focus only on the messages it delivers to its own people. Unless the PA knows the world will no longer turn a blind eye to its insidious behavior, Israelis, Palestinians, and tourists who wish to visit the Holy Land will continue to suffer. When (and only when) Palestinian indoctrination stops, the true path forward to peace can begin.