Itamar Marcus is director of Palestinian Media Watch, a nonprofit that examines Palestinian ideology and policy. He founded it in 1996, and three years later the Israeli government appointed him its representative in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on incitement. Born in New York and now a resident of Efrat on the West Bank, he was interviewed here while on a speaking tour for the pro-Israel group StandWithUs. This is an edited transcript.
Q: How has the Palestinian media changed since you began monitoring it?
A: Palestinian media changes whenever the leadership has different messages it wants its people to receive. When we started in 1996, there was a lot of demonization of Jews and a denial of the right of Israel to exist — but there were very few calls for violence. Beginning in the summer of 2000 we noticed a change and published a report saying the atmosphere on Palestinian television hinted at the outbreak of war. That report came out two-and-a-half weeks before start of the intifada that lasted until 2004.
For the next four years, the Palestinian media was filled with calls for violence and genocide against Jews and of a religious war against every Jew in the world. It continued until 2005 when [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas came to power.
What is happening in the Palestinian media now?
On Oct. 17 it resumed calls for violence. The most important came from Abbas himself. He made a speech calling on Palestinians to prevent Jews from going to the Temple Mount “in any way whatsoever,” and he said the presence of Jews there would defile holy Islamic land. That was the signal — together with other material in the Palestinian media — that led to 11 Israelis being murdered by cars and being butchered in the massacre in a [West Jerusalem] synagogue. But because of international pressure, the calls for violence appear to have stopped.
How strident are the messages?
The hate messaging in recent years is as vicious — even worse — than the [Yasir] Arafat days. We’ve seen children on Palestinian television repeating a poem that says, “My enemy Zion is Satan with a tail.” Recently, a boy on Palestinian television read a poem with the words, “Oh you [Jews] who murdered Allah’s pious prophets, you have been condemned to humiliation and hardship. Sons of Zion, most evil among creation, barbaric apes and wretched pigs.” In the past, they denied Israel’s existence. Now children compare Jews to apes and deny the humanity of Jews.
Has anything you have heard surprised you?
There was a positive surprise in September when an article in the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority praised the employment policies and ethical behavior of Israelis who employ Palestinians in the West Bank. It said that whenever Palestinian workers have an opportunity to work for Israelis, they are quick to quit their jobs with Palestinian employers. And it said the only cases in which a Palestinian worker does not receive the salary his employer promised is when the middleman was a Palestinian.
What is the most shocking thing you have heard?
In the last four months, officials of the Palestinian Authority repeated three of the most infamous blood libels that have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews throughout history. During the Gaza war, the official Palestinian Authority daily wrote: “Israel’s God demands, according to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that they offer him sacrifices during Passover of matzah made from the blood of our children.”
What response has your work generated?
We present this material to governments throughout the world and we work closely with the Israeli government, meeting with the prime minister’s office quarterly for the last five years. We also brief members of many country’s parliaments, as well as members of Congress. A few years ago, we recommended six changes in American anti-terror funding laws. Five were passed a few weeks later and the sixth was partially accepted.