Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: Incitement amidst Cooperation

Apr 1, 2020 | Tzvi Fleischer

Abdul Azim Salhab
Abdul Azim Salhab


By all accounts, cooperation between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli government and military to deal with the coronavirus crisis has been very good. Amos Harel, the veteran military correspondent and defence analyst for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper recently wrote that “Cooperation with the Palestinians is at its tightest ever.”

This is all the more notable because as recently as February, Israeli-Palestinian relations seemed to be unprecedently precarious. In the wake of the release of the Trump Administration’s peace plan in late January, PA President Mahmoud Abbas promised to withdraw all cooperation with Israel, including the vital security cooperation. While similar threats had been made before, this time Palestinian anger seemed more palpable and serious. Israeli government plans to annex the Jordan valley or other parts of the West Bank, as the peace plan allowed, looked set to deepen the crisis in relations. 

Now, that is all gone. No one is talking about the Trump plan or annexations. Coronavirus has swept all such issues aside, as the two sides seek to manage the pandemic which threatens both Israelis and Palestinians who live intermixed with each other. There is even reportedly an Israeli-Palestinian “joint operations room” to oversee the shared response to the pandemic threat. 

Amid the pandemic doom and gloom, this at least is good news, right?

Yes. However… why is it that even in this shared medical emergency the PA cannot stop its official media from engaging in ongoing incitement against Israel?

Here are some examples:

• On March 7, the semi-official PA newspaper Al-Quds published an article titled “Herds of Wild Boars: The Settlers’ New Tool For Seizing Agricultural Lands” which revived an old, absurd form of anti-Israel incitement. This is the claim that Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers release wild boars in parts of the West Bank to supposedly destroy Palestinian crops and intimidate Palestinian villagers and farmers. A PA official was even quoted in the Al-Quds story supporting the “wild boars” claims, and insisting it was “a form of war.”

• Palestinian Authority official sources have repeatedly compared Israel or the “occupation” to the coronavirus. For instance, a cartoon in the official PA daily newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida on March 16 equated Israel with the coronavirus by showing an Israeli tank drawn with bumps to resemble a coronavirus chasing a Palestinian man and baby. In another example, a March 11 editorial from the same paper stated, “Just as we will overcome the coronavirus, we will certainly overcome the occupation’s viruses that are more dangerous than all of nature’s viruses.”

• The Fatah movement, the ruling party of the PA, was quoted in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida on March 17 accusing Israel of “assist[ing] the coronavirus in Jerusalem” and “indifference regarding the spread of the virus among the Palestinians” after Israeli forces arrested some young Palestinians on suspicion of illegal activity, including graffiti. Improbably, Fatah claimed the arrested Palestinians were “disinfecting public institutions.”

• On March 12, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida rapturously praised Palestinian terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, leader of the “coastal road massacre” in 1978. In that attack, the deadliest in Israeli history, terrorists hijacked a bus and murdered 37 Israelis, among them 12 children. The paper lionised Mughrabi for her “daring, courage, well-developed national sentiment, and devotion to Palestine and Fatah” and her “martyrdom” in the “operation” in 1978. 

• On March 22, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida featured a front-page article publicising the claims of the Jerusalem Waqf [Islamic religious trust] Council Chairman Abdul Azim Salhab. Salhab was complaining that Israeli demands he close the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to worshippers because of the coronavirus threat were merely a pretext to close the Mosque. He said, “The goal of these fines and steps is to close the Al-Aqsa Mosque to worshippers… on the pretext of preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Our position in the Waqf is that we oppose closing the mosque…” He also accused Israel of “allowing settlers to break into the Al-Aqsa Mosque each day, but preventing [Muslim] worshippers from entering the mosque…on the pretext of preventing the spread of the coronavirus.” (In fact, contrary to Salhab’s claims, Jewish visitors are also currently forbidden to enter the Temple Mount compound just like Muslim worshippers – and they were never allowed to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque itself.)

What is weird about this is well before this was published, the PA Ministry of Religious Affairs had already ordered Palestinians to pray at home and not go to mosques because of the coronavirus threat. So Salhab’s claims against Israel were being publicised on the front page of the official PA daily even as he was violating the PA’s own instructions to Palestinians. 

And it gets weirder still. That very same edition of Al-Hayat Al-Jadida had an editorial strongly attacking Hamas for not closing the mosques in Gaza (Hamas has subsequently done so). The editorial did not mince words. It said that, by not closing the mosques, Hamas was engaging in “a criminal act, more severe than the crimes of the terror groups and organisations that kill with weapons, gunfire, and explosions.”

Yet what Salhab was advocating in Jerusalem was no different from, and just as “criminal” as, Hamas’ approach. But when it was Israel being condemned, the paper just could not help promoting his claims on the front page – despite the ostensible Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. 

So the cooperation on containing coronavirus is indeed good news. But it is hard to see it having much long term positive effect on relations as long as incitement and demonisation of Israel remain the default settings in PA official media. 


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