Incitement: The Low-Hanging Fruit to Achieving a Peace DealWednesday 27/09/2017

One of our interns recently sat down for an interview with former Israeli Ambassador to Canada Alan Baker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. In line with his role as the organization’s international law expert and Director at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs, the Ambassador has amassed a wealth of experience in dealing with the international legal implications of incitement.

The protracted conflict between Israel, the Palestinians and the wider Arab world has endured for over six decades. One reason for this is that many of the issues up for negotiation in a final peace agreement – refugees, borders, demilitarization and settlements – are notoriously complex. However, the issue of incitement is one point of difference between the two parties that could and should be easily resolved.

Within the context of Israeli-Palestinian relations, incitement refers to either:

  • The act of encouraging or urging another person to commit violence, or
  • Knowingly disseminating false information about a particular group of people with the aim of provoking a violent reaction

When asked about the issue’s centrality in resolving the conflict, Ambassador Baker pointed out that incitement is specifically addressed in the interim agreement of the Oslo Accords. He notes “a committee was set up – the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the Americans, to handle incitement by everyone”. Interestingly, the inclusion within the agreement framework was borrowed from Israel’s peace treaties with Israel and Jordan. Again, the Ambassador points out that “there are specific provisions there calling upon each side to do whatever is necessary – from the point of view of education and one thing or another – to encourage good neighbourliness and prevent incitement”.

The strategic use of incitement has permeated Palestinian leadership since before the inception of the Israeli state. Most infamously, it was employed to horrific effect in the Hebron Massacre of 1929, where between 67-69 Jewish people were killed by Arab mobs who were told of supposed Jewish plans to storm the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. In contemporary times, we have seen a rapid resurgence of these accusations from the upper echelons of the Palestinian Authority. In September 2015, at the height of a wave of car-ramming and stabbing attacks, PA President Mahmoud Abbas alleged Jewish interference at the Muslim holy site. “Al-Aqsa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre”, he proclaimed. “They have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet. We won’t allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem.” As foreign governments – particularly the Obama administration – were urging parties to calm tensions and combat incitement, Abbas continued “each drop of blood that was spilled in Jerusalem is pure blood as long as it’s for the sake of Allah. Every martyr will be in heaven and every wounded person will be rewarded, by Allah’s will”. As recently as July 2017, PA Parliament Member for Fatah, Hatem Abd Al-Qader, stated “we are moving towards an escalation. The Israelis are moving towards an escalation, and we have no problem on our part that there will also be an escalation from the Palestinian side. Escalation is answered with escalation, and violence is answered with violence”.

As it currently stands, access to the site is governed by an arrangement achieved immediately after Israel’s unification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War of 1967. More commonly known as the ‘status quo’, the site is administered by a Jordanian trust known as the waqf and grants access to Muslims, Christians and Jews but forbids prayer by the latter two groups. Apart from the periodic unsubstantiated allegations from Palestinian leaders, no evidence exists suggesting any current or planned changes to the status quo. Member of Knesset Yehuda Glick, who currently serves in the governing Likud party, can attest to this. Prior to his ascension to the Knesset, Glick was a prominent campaigner for Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount and, therefore, alterations to the status quo. During that time, he survived an assassination attempt by a man who believed Glick to be “an enemy of Al-Aqsa”. Ironically, he serves in a governing party that enforces an arrangement to which he is diametrically opposed.

Importantly, the phenomenon of incitement is not limited to perceived incursions on the Temple Mount. Religious clergy play a significant role in shaping their followers’ attitudes to violence. For example, in October 2015, Rafah cleric Sheikh Muhammad Sallah “Abu Rajab” brandished a knife while exclaimingForm stabbing quads. We don’t want just a single stabber. Oh young men of the West Bank: Attack in threes and fours. Some should restrain the victim, while others attack him with axes and butcher knives…Oh men of the West Bank, next time, attack in a group of three, four, or five. Attack them in groups. Cut them into body parts”.

Ambassador Baker became well-known in the international legal community for authoring the Draft International Convention for the Prevention of Incitement to Terror, which borrowed language and preambular paragraphs from other U.N. Conventions addressing terrorism. However, the dissonance between the recognition of the problem and the collective will to act ultimately torpedoed the document’s success. “Everybody admits and accepts the fact that incitement is a central component of terror today but nobody’s prepared to act against it”, argues Baker. “There’s a resolution every year in the General Assembly condemning international terrorism and this includes advocating, inciting… but it’s not a legal document – it’s a political thing accepted by a political majority but it has no teeth.”

Similarly, the Ambassador laments the lack of collective will to combat incitement on the international stage. He was disappointed that his efforts to prosecute former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for inciting genocide against Jews and Israelis – in contravention of Article 3(c) of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide – were unsuccessful. “Not only is Ahmadinejad violating provisions of the ICC Statute, it doesn’t matter because he’s also violating the Convention Against Genocide by advocating genocide and therefore he’s bound, he’s violating international law.” He added that, together with the Canadian B’nei Brith, he even drafted a charge sheet detailing which international crimes he committed.

The elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians will neither be achieved easily nor overnight. Although we may not know the exact nature of any final agreement, we can say which actions will torpedo any progress. It won’t include conspiracies of Jewish hordes swarming Islamic holy sites, nor calls to arms aimed at instigating a religious war. Palestinian leaders and clerics owe it to their children to spread a message of nonviolence. They must reject – not just publicly – the idea of mukawama (armed resistance) and champion the idea that there is no glory in the afterlife for stabbing innocent people or car ramming children. Words matter – particularly with impressionable youth and the age of technology. As such, incitement in all its forms is a disaster for coexistence.

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