Peace between Israelis and Palestinians, two peoples fated to live beside each other, must ultimately depend on mutual respect and tolerance. What chance does that dream have when the most impressionable Palestinians, children, are fed a steady diet of anti-Semitism, global Islamic supremacy and hate?
Hamas, a terrorist organization that is now senior partner in the Palestinian Authority's "national unity" government, is turning entertainment for children into a weapon of war. The star of Hamas' new television program is a Mickey Mouse-like character named Farfur who imparts his lessons with the help of a winsome co-host, a little girl named Saraa. Here are recent samples of their televised dialogue beamed to countless thousands of Palestinian children:
Farfur: "We are setting with you the cornerstone for world leadership under Islamic leadership. Isn't it so, Saraa?
Saraa: "Yes, our beloved children."
Farfur: "Yes, we, tomorrow's pioneers, will restore to this nation its glory, and we will liberate Al-Aqsa (mosque, in Jerusalem), with Allah's will, and we will liberate Iraq, with Allah's will, and we will liberate the Muslim countries, invaded by murderers."
Saraa: "Yes, they are the children occupied by the Jews, but with the will of Allah, we will resist and protect against the Zionist occupation."
Farfur: "... we will win, Bush! We will win Sharon! Ah, Sharon is dead. We will win, Mofaz. Mofaz left. We will win, Olmert, we will win Condoleezza ... we will win!"
Saraa: "... we will lead this world ..."
To Farfur and Saraa, Israel is the "oppressive invading Zionist occupation," the "Zionist germ that must be expunged from the Arab nation."
Palestinian children have just exchanged their Jordanian and Egyptian textbooks for books written by the Palestinian Authority, whose leaders negotiate with Israel on a two-state solution. Yet, the PA-written textbooks include maps that show no Israel. In its place there is only Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Palestinian Authority's textbooks include a summary history of World War II but omit any mention of the Holocaust. Nazi ideology is portrayed as racist but the Nazis' systematic murder of 6 million Jews, a powerfully motivating force in creating the modern state of Israel, rates not a single sentence in Palestinian textbooks.
Children learn not only from propaganda-spewing programs and history-omitting textbooks but from their elders, too.
What can they have learned from this recent proclamation by Ahmad Bahar, acting speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council?
"Our people was afflicted by the cancerous lump, that is the Jews, in the heart of the Arab nation ... be certain that America is on its way to disappear, America is wallowing (in blood) today in Iraq and Afghanistan, America is defeated and Israel is defeated, and was defeated in Lebanon and Palestine ... Make us victorious over the infidel people ... Allah, take hold of the Jews and their allies, Allah, take hold of the Americans and their allies ... Allah, count them and kill them to the last one and don't leave even one."
Palestinian children old enough to read can ponder this missive written by Kan'an Ubayd and published April 23 in the Hamas newspaper Al-Risalah:
"...the extermination of Jews is good for the inhabitants of the worlds on a land, to which Allah gave his blessings for the sake of the inhabitants of the worlds."
Or this, spoken by Yussaf Al-Sharafi, a prominent official of the Palestinian Legislative Council:
"(Judaism) is a faith that is based on murder. 'I kill, therefore I am.'" Al-Sharafi then declared that Israel would cease to exist "through blood and Shahids (martyrs)."
Israelis have long since grown accustomed to calumny. It's been a staple of hostile Arab regimes and their state-controlled media since Israel's establishment in 1948. No defamation is too crude or too vile.
The spurious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a transparent forgery alleging a Jewish plot to control the world, are a frequently publicized favorite of the Arab press. The even cruder slander that Jews secretly murder gentile children to use their blood in the making of unleavened bread for the Jewish Passover was repeated just last year in a drama series broadcast by Lebanon's Al-Manar television channel.
Some may imagine that all this is merely a peripheral, if ugly, sideshow of the larger diplomacy aimed at promoting an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Dennis Ross, who worked through the 1990s as a special U.S. envoy trying to fashion a Mideast peace settlement, begs to differ.
"No negotiation is going to work if it's divorced from the environment outside the table. Incitement to violence and education textbooks that glorify suicide bombers are inconsistent with what the negotiations are about," Ross says.
An embarrassed Palestinian Authority called on Hamas last week to take Farfur and Saraa off the air pending a review of the program's content. Hamas' defiant Al-Aqsa television station refused. Is it any wonder that prospects for reviving an Israeli-Palestinian peace process appear so bleak?
Robert J. Caldwell is editor of The San Diego Union-Tribune's Sunday Insight section and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.