Palestinian incitement against Israel and its impact on peace prospects

Published: 22 July 2011
Briefing Number 292

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Summary:  This Briefing describes the phenomenon of ‘incitement’ against Israel in Palestinian Arab public life.  We also provide a collection of powerful comments - from Dennis Ross, Dore Gold, Mark Regev, David Horovitz, Alon Ben-Meir and Joel Fishman - on why incitement poses such a serious obstacle to peace.  Finally, we summarise the latest findings of the IMPACT-SE group which studies hostility to Israel in Palestinian school textbooks. 

Key messages:

- Former US peace negotiator Dennis Ross said: “There cannot be peace negotiations if there is one environment at the peace table and another environment in the streets....”.  Palestinian incitement quite simply makes sustainable peace impossible.  Yet it is rife, and deep-rooted. The Palestinian people and their supporters internationally need to take far-reaching measures to curb incitement if peace is ever to stand a chance.          

- In the 1990s peace-seeking Western governments supported the Palestinian Authority and turned a blind eye to its financial corruption.  The results were disastrous. In 2011 peace-seeking Western governments are supporting the Palestinian Authority.  But this time they are turning a blind eye to its ideological corruption, as embodied in the culture of incitement against Israel.   The dangers are just as great.....

- You cannot build a Palestinian state by demonising the Jewish one.

- There is no mirror-image whatsoever between Palestinian incitement against Israel on the one hand, and anti-Palestinian statements by Israelis on the other.  Palestinian incitement is endorsed and organised by the institutions of Palestinian society, and deeply rooted among its grassroots.  By contrast, anti-Arab statements in Israel are strongly condemned by mainstream Israeli society.  In addition, there is no Israeli equivalent to the types of incitement against Israel which are listed below.

What is Palestinian incitement against Israel?

Palestinian Arab incitement against Israel takes several forms.  For many years Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) has published reports chronicling this incitement, which are based on Palestinian primary sources such as the media, state bodies, mosque sermons, and schoolbooks.  See the PMW website at  PMW places incitement into the following categories (among others):

  • Denial of Israel’s right to exist
  • Depiction of all of modern Israel as part of Palestine
  • Demonisation of Jews and Israelis via words and images
  • Denial of Jewish and Israeli history and of connection to the land
  • Portrayal of children as legitimate combatants
  • Glorification of past Palestinian suicide bombings
  • Maps, photographs and cartoons which erase Israel altogether 
  • Depiction of suicide bombing ‘martyrs’ as role models for Palestinians
  • Naming of summer camps, schools and public squares after terrorists
  • Refusal to acknowledge and educate about the Holocaust

These are commonplace in Palestinian society: not just in Hamas-run Gaza, but in the Fatah-controlled West Bank.    

The impact of incitement on the possibility of peace.....

The public climate promoted by incitement against Israel quite simply makes meaningful peace impossible.  That is one reason why curbing incitement was one of the core provisions of several agreements between Israelis and Palestinians during the so-called Oslo process in the 1990s.   Israel argues that the Palestinians have done nothing to honour their commitment to curb incitement. Indeed Israel has recently started publishing an ‘Index of Incitement’ to place the spotlight in international diplomatic circles on the phenomenon.  The Palestinians claim that have curbed incitement, and argue that it is Israel which really produces incitement.  The Israelis strongly deny both these claims.  On the second one they say that incitement in Palestinian society is endorsed from the central organisations in Palestinian society, and is deeply-rooted.  By contrast, anti-Arab incitement in Israel is quickly condemned by political leaders and public figures.    

The rest of this Briefing provides various quotes from prominent commentators explaining why this issue is so central.

Dennis Ross.....
Incitement permeates Palestinian society in general, and creates an atmosphere incompatible with peace. In the words of US diplomat and former peace negotiator Dennis Ross (quoted by Dore Gold, 14 March 2011, on the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs blog – see

“There cannot be successful negotiations if there is one environment at the peace table and another environment in the streets....”

Dore Gold.....

Dore Gold, president of the JCPA, expresses the point as follows (ibid):

“It is impossible to seriously advance peace when Palestinian institutions and official media are still calling for a return to war.....incitement is not a side issue that can be ignored.  Demanding zero tolerance of Palestinian incitement goes to the root of any meaningful peacemaking in the future......”

Mark Regev......

Mark Regev is an official spokesperson for the Israeli Government, and a well-known figure for his appearances in international media.  Regev recently expressed his concern over incitement as follows:

“When you name public squares and football stadiums after terrorist killers – and I am talking here about the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, not Hamas in Gaza – you are clearly encouraging a culture of hatred and the glorification of violence.  You are saying that here are people you should emulate, that here are your role-models.   Prime Minister Netanyahu has been very clear about this – you can’t talk about peace on the one hand and then have your school textbooks demonising Jews on the other.  

Of course, Yasser Arafat was the master of such double-talk but believe me when I tell you it has not gone away.  There was a piece on the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Information website a short while ago saying that Jews have no historic connection to the Western Wall, that it’s all a Zionist myth.  (See Beyond Images Briefing 275 – Palestinian denial of Jewish history). Of course, you can see where that argument is going.   To which I say: stop this double-talk and put your energies instead into preparing your people for coexistence and reconciliation.....”

- From interview, Jewish Chronicle, London, 6 May 2011 (

David Horovitz......

David Horovitz was editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post from 2004 to 2011.  He wrote the following in an editorial about incitement on 25 March 2011:

“Not only hasn’t the Palestinian Authority taken remotely sufficient steps to prepare its people for peace with Israel, its official TV, radio and newspapers are regularly used as platforms for incitement against Israel..... The regular demonization of Israel and the Jewish people, such as the present campaign launched by the PA-controlled media against the very idea of schools teaching Palestinians about the Holocaust, diverts attention from the repressive PA’s abuse of basic human rights such as freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.  But it also makes a negotiated peace with Israel impossible.

That’s part of the reason why the PA squandered most of the 10-month settlement freeze put in place in the West Bank by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the request of US President Barack Obama, instead of entering into direct negotiations with Israel, and that is why it is now pursuing unilateral measures such as seeking a UN declaration of a Palestinian state. 

Only if the PA, or some other more enlightened Palestinian leadership, utterly rejects terrorism, introduces true democratic reforms in Palestinian society, stops incitement against Israel and internalises the right of the Jewish people to political sovereignty and to peace alongside a Palestinian state, will there be peace......”

Alon Ben-Meir.....

Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at New York University, and a regular Jerusalem Post columnist.  He holds very doveish views, and is routinely highly critical of the Israeli government for being too uncompromising about peace.  But in a column published on 8 April 2011 in the Jerusalem Post Ben-Meir wrote as follows:  

“The adoption of nonviolent methods by the Palestinian Authority to advance its cause is admirable and represents the most promising strategy to effect change.   But for a nonviolent movement to serve its intended purpose, it must be accompanied by a public narrative supportive of both the strategy and the reality of Israel.

The continued incitement emanating from Palestinian private institutions, media, schools and refugee camps defeats the strategy and instead it serves to strengthen the voices of radicals on both sides of the Green Line.  Rather than advance independence, this vitriol contributes to the solidification of the occupation in the name of security. It is time for the Palestinians to realise this, because continuing verbal and written onslaughts that support the use of violence and perpetuate radical political narratives are detrimental to their cause and must be stopped.....”
Joel Fishman......

Joel Fishman is a historian and a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs ( Fishman recently published a report on incitement in the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs (5:1, 2011).  Fishman explains that incitement is deeply rooted in Palestinian political culture.  He shows that it forms part of the long-term struggle of Palestinian society against Israel. This is not a struggle just against particular Israel policies, but a struggle to deny Israel’s basic rights and legitimacy.  Fishman argues that only serious democratisation in Palestinian society will be able to root out incitement, and he also highlights how Western politicians have chosen to turn a blind eye to that incitement, with disastrous results.  He writes:

“Incitement to hatred and violence is a weapon of political warfare.  It is not the result of a misunderstanding nor does it happen randomly.... Incitement is incompatible with peace-making.  It begins with words, and ends in violence: effectively the gap between the two is small.... A Palestinian regime that engages in incitement represents an existential danger.  It is a deal-breaker......”   

The work of IMPACT-SE on Palestinian schoolbooks

Finally, we highlight the work of another organisation which specialises in monitoring the content of Palestinian Arab schoolbooks.  In April 2011 the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE) published its latest report into Palestinian schoolbooks.  Their report demonstrated, in the words of one IMPACT-SE board member quoted in The Jerusalem Post (13 April 2011), that:

“there is generally total denial of the existence of Israel – and if there is an Israeli presence it is usually extremely negative....”. 

The IMPACT-SE report features statements in Palestinian schoolbooks such as the following: “the rank of shahid (martyr) stands above all ranks”. 

For more see:

Appendix 1 – examples of recent PMW briefings

Here are examples of recent Palestinian Media Watch reports and briefings on incitement.  There are literally hundreds of these on the PMW site.  (Dalal Mughrabi was the woman who directed the coastal road bus hijacking and massacre in Israel in March 1978, in which 37 Israeli civilians were killed, including 12 children).  
- PA TV: Terrorist Dalal Mughrabi as role model for the Arab world (July 2010)

- PA kids’ TV: Jaffa, Haifa, Tiberias are “my country Palestine” (10 July 2010)

- College class and summer camp named after Dalal Mughrabi (5 July 2010)

- Published Palestinian research claims that ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem’ (a quote from King David’s Psalms) was a Crusader expression usurped by Zionists

Some related Beyond Images Briefings

Briefing 270 – 9 October 2010
Palestinian incitement against Israel: the goals of Palestinian Media Watch, and why this matters for peace

Briefing 269 – 9 October 2010
Incitement against Israel in mainstream Palestinian media.... during 2010 peace talks

Briefing 210 – 20 January 2008
Arab incitement against the West: Islamic scholar protests on Al-Jazeera TV

Briefing 192 – 27 March 2007
‘How many Jews did Mama kill....?’ Children on Palestinian TV

Briefing 104 – November 2004
Sweets on the streets.... Glorification of terror in Palestinian society

Briefing 137 – 10 April 2005
“Seeing through the lies” about Israel: a Lebanese journalist speaks out