Watchdog Palestinian Media Watch slams Holland, Denmark for funding news agency Ma'am that glorifies terror
by Gil Hoffman
The Netherlands and Denmark provide funding to a Palestinian news agency that glorifies terrorists, uses biased language and promotes hatred for Israel, Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook of Palestinian Media Watch allege in a report obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post ahead of its official release on Friday.
Marcus and Crook monitored the Ma'an news agency's Arabic and English news coverage of the last few terrorist attacks in Israel and found that it repeatedly honored murderers as "martyrs" and referred to areas of pre-1967 Israel as "occupied Palestine."
They also found that stronger anti-Israel terminology was used in Ma'an's Arabic Web site than in its English one.
"We find it surprising and unfortunate that the governments of the Netherlands and Denmark continue to fund this hate journalism without demanding a change," Marcus and Crook wrote. "Hate incitement, including denial of Israel's existence and glorifying terror, is universally accepted as a paramount cause of continued Palestinian terror. These governments, together with governments who have blindly funded Palestinian schoolbooks, bear direct moral responsibility for the continued hatred that is being ingrained into future Palestinian generations, and bear a moral responsibility for the terror and its victims."
Frans Makken, the head of mission at the Dutch representative office in Ramallah, said such problems were rare at Ma'an and that his office would take steps to ensure that they did not reoccur.
"When this has come up before, we took it up with Ma'an," Makken said. "It was just a mistake of words. It happens rarely, if ever. Our office is involved in connecting people. If there has been a slip-up, we will bring it up with them. They are young journalists and their translations are being improved all the time."
Makken said this was only the second complaint his office had received in his three years in his post, the first being when the suicide bomber in a January 2007 terrorist attack was referred to as a "martyr."
"[The usage of such words] was not on purpose," Makken said. "It is something we are trying to avoid. The charter of the project [funding Ma'an] is to promote mutual understanding, which is the opposite of incitement. It is very far-fetched to say that Denmak and Holland are inciting terrorism."
The Danish Embassy and Foreign Ministry did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Marcus said that by funding Ma'an, Denmark and the Netherlands bore direct moral responsibility for Ma'an's terror promotion.
"I am outraged by the myriad excuses from funding countries that refuse to accept responsibility for the hatred and terror promotion they fund," Marcus said. "Why is the Dutch representative trying to create a smoke screen for terror promotion by writing about 'translations' and 'slip-ups?'
"If Denmark and Holland are serious about not being branded themselves as terror promoters, they will stop making excuses for Ma'an and publicly give them an ultimatum: One more example of terror glorification or hate journalism and the funding is canceled. Until this is done, Denmark and Holland can be included among the countries that are part of the terror problem and not part of the solution."
In the report, Marcus and Crook found that Ma'an's Arabic reports glorified the Palestinian who recently murdered eight students at Jerusalem's Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, February's Dimona suicide terrorist, the killers of the two Israeli hikers and the terrorists who attacked a boys' high school with the very highest Islamic status attainable, elevating them to the status of shahids - "martyrs for Allah."
"In defining terrorist murderers as 'shahids,' Ma'an is by definition sending its readers a straightforward message of honor for the killers, and approval for the many murders," Marcus and Crook wrote.
In its English versions of these reports, according to Palestinian Media Watch, Ma'an neither honored the terrorists as "shahids" nor used the English term "martyrs."
In response, Ma'an noted that "The term shahid, as translated in the Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (page 572), may refer to one killed in action or a martyr." It said that "in the Palestinian cultural/religious tradition, the martyrdom aspect is significantly different from the Judeo-Christian understanding. Those who die as martyrs may be defending their wives or their property, not necessarily engaging in the Western notion of a holy crusade. The PMW interpretation, while undoubtedly held by some religious individuals, is not necessarily the general interpretation of these terms."
It defended its "use of the occupation concept" as stemming "from international law and internationally-recognized boundaries. In simple terms, Israeli forces operating in Tel Aviv may be considered Israeli security forces, while those in Bethlehem are occupying forces. Tel Aviv falls on the Israeli side of the Green Line. Bethlehem does not. That distinction is the crux of our decision-making.
"The example cited from February 29, 2008, uses the terms 'occupation authorities,' 'occupation municipality,' 'residents of... the territories occupied since 1948' and '"Israeli"' identity cards.' Taken out of context," it said, "these certainly sound like biased and offensive terms. When looked at more closely, however, they are terms that reflect both the uneasy ethnic distinctions of Israeli society and Israel's status, under international law, as an occupation force. The article refers to crackdowns on access to the Al-Aksa compound, an area in the Old City of east Jerusalem. Annexed following the 1967 war, east Jerusalem fell on the Palestinian side of the 1949 armistice line, the Green Line. Since 1967 the international community has considered it occupied territory, as do Palestinians.
"Ma'an's Arabic terminology reflects the internationally-recognized reality that the current Jerusalem municipal boundaries include Palestinian territory," it went on.
"In the two hours that The Jerusalem Post gave us to issue a formal response, we were not able to track down each cited article from our archives...
"Finally, our funding is issued through the Dutch and the Danish representative offices in Ramallah, who employ local, native Arabic speakers to assist in coordinating projects. We are fairly certain that they monitor our Arabic site in addition to our English one. Culturally-appropriate differences in terminology are, therefore, merely that and not an attempt to hoodwink our generous donors."