A few months ago Israeli musician David Broza appeared before a packed house at the Dakota Jazz Club. Song after song was greeted with applause, enthusiasm, cheers, recognition. At last, as a fitting coda, Broza sang the song that the audience waited all evening to hear, “Yiyeh Tov” (“It Will Be Good”). This iconic song, written in the 70s, is perhaps the best known of the many Israeli peace songs. “Yiyeh Tov” expresses the hope that Israeli and Palestinian children will someday live in peace,”without fear, borders or bomb shelters.” Everyone sang along.
Such songs have been a mainstay of Israeli culture for years, along with literature, film and curriculum aimed at preparing Israelis for peace with the Palestinians and for the tough compromises that a peace deal will require.
The long running and highly charged nature of the conflict make it challenging for both sides- Israeli and Palestinian — to do the work necessary to prepare their people for peace, but that does not relieve them of this essential responsibility. So when this song, calling for the murder of Jews, appeared on the Palestinian Authority radio station a few months ago, the question of whether Palestinian leadership is responsibly preparing its people for peace seemed to answer itself. The fact that this song was being played on the PA’s own media organ was significant. It aired just a few days after the UN voted to elevate the Palestinians to observer status.
What kind of “partner for peace” broadcasts such messages? And speaking of messages, there are a few disturbing ones to take away from the new logo of the Fatah party, which rules the West Bank.
No two state solution is envisioned in this logo — just one state, which includes Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, all covered with pattern of the Arab checkered keffiyah. In case this is too subtle, look at the Arabic letter whose top is shaped like an ornate key. The old key is symbolic of Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in Israel’s War of Independence and who wish to return, flooding Israel with millions of refugees and their descendants. Symbols matter. These symbols only perpetuate Palestinian suffering because they promote a vision that cannot be.
There are aspects of this conflict that anger me, frustrate me, worry me… but this aspect simply depresses me. If Palestinians started tomorrow it would take years to un-teach these messages.
Speaking of teaching, the topic of school curriculum — both Israeli and Palestinian — has gotten a lot of attention recently. A study, “Victims of Our Own Narratives? Portrayal of the ‘Other’ in Israeli and Palestinian School Books,” concluded that each side’s textbooks generally do not demonize the other side, although information is presented in a way that favors a particular narrative.
The findings have met with considerable controversy. While the Palestinian Authority welcomed the results, which portrayed their curricula in a much more favorable light than in past studies, the Times of Israel reports that “the Israeli Ministry of Education refused to cooperate with the study, the US State Department distanced itself from the study, and at least three members of the study’s Scientific Advisory Panel refused to support the study, citing methodological and procedural flaws.”
Even if one takes the study results at face value, it still begs this question: If the Palestinian curriculum does not teach hatred, why undercut the curriculum with incitement in the media and through PA symbols? A quick perusal of the website Palestinian Media Watch provides a depressing catalogue of examples.
And what of Gaza? What is the Hamas doing to prepare its people to live in peace? They have opened thirty six training camps to prepare some 9,000 high school children for jihad against Israel. Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu-Toameh asks, “How can anyone talk about the two-state solution when thousands of Palestinian children are being trained to use weapons and explosives to replace Israel with an Islamic state?” Indeed.
Circling back to Israel, there are some who feel that the “Yiyeh Tov” culture has changed, that hatred of the “other” is growing, whether that “other” is Palestinian, Arab or simply Muslim. The story of the “LaFamilia” fan club of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team provides a truly disgusting example of bigotry.
Beitar Jerusalem recently drafted two new players, Muslim athletes from Chechnya. Some Israelis were pleased that Muslims would play for Beitar alongside Jews, some were indifferent, but the fans of “LaFamilia” were outraged. Once the news broke, the xenonophobic gang, known for chanting anti-Islam slurs, attended games with signs that said “Beitar will remain pure”- meaning, “Jews only.” Shortly thereafter, arsonists firebombed Beitar Jerusalem’s team office.
Condemnation of “LaFamilia”s bigotry was widespread, beginning with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, long known for his devotion to the team said, “If we do not remove these racists from our stadium and disconnect them from the team, we will be just like them. I will not be attending Beitar games until they are removed. I am sick and tired of being affiliated with the dark vulgarity of people who will never be a part of what Beitar is supposed to symbolize in sports and in Israeli society.”
When the first of the new players, 19 year old Gabriel Kadiev, made his debut February 10, he was greeted by a huge ovation from the crowd. Security was tight, as hundreds of police kept order, ejecting dozens of troublemakers from the game.
HaAretz sports writer Shlomi Barzel wrote, “This ‘La Familia’ gang of bigots tried to flex their muscles and thought they were going to scare someone. The players and the vast majority of fans rejected them and the club didn’t bend. This has turned them into even more outcasts than they were before.”
The story, which was a national embarrassment for Israel, illustrates an essential lesson. There is a big difference between hatred that comes “top down” from the leadership and that which comes “bottom up” from a rotten element within society. A society whose leaders and citizens stand behind values of decency and morality, can, eventually, self-correct. But when hatred emanates from the top, what then?