Under Yasser Arafat, Palestinian Authority sermons were filled with incitement, including calls to kill Jews and destroy America. Few in the West at the time understood the danger posed by these religious proclamations; those intimately involved in the peace process were often willing to overlook them.
The Khatibs, or preachers, who give such sermons, are paid employees of the PA. Their messages are broadcasted live every Friday at from mosques controlled by the PA and appear on official PA TV.
Sheikh Ibrahim Mudeiris was a favorite Khatib of Arafat. Mr. Mudeiris is based at the Sheikh 'Ijlin Mosque in Gaza and makes regular appearances during the coveted Friday timeslot. One of his notable proclamations about America, from September 5, 2003, was, "America will collapse ... we consider America to be our no. 1." On May 21, 2004, Mr. Mudeiris made reference to America again: "the American dog, the Byzantine dog of our days ... To the Byzantine dog, you son of a bitch, I have brought an enormous army upon you, that starts here and ends here." In sermon from March 21, 2003, he said, "Allah will drown the little Pharaoh, the dwarf, the Pharaoh of all times, of our time, the American president. Allah will drown America in our seas, in our skies, in our land ... America will be destroyed."
When Abu Mazen came to power following Arafat's death, he promised to end incitement. On December 3, 2004, he appeared live on PA TV at the President's Mosque as an audience member of an exceptionally moderate sermon calling for Palestinians to recognize and tolerate others, and to avoid extremism. Mr. Mudeiris was notably absent at the President's Mosque, but quietly reclaimed his pulpit and TV spot soon afterward.
Recent sermons by Mr. Mudeiris include one from April 15, 2005, in which he said that Muslims prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan were forced to convert to Christianity. In his sermon on February 4, 2005, he called for Palestinians to conquer Israel. This year's New Year sermon was devoted to the destruction of America: "America has reached the top and we admit it, but it is headed for a bottomless pit, Allah willing. America, which is being led by its current president, to a bottomless pit. He leads it to death and destruction, Allah willing. America's grave was dug by Bush the day he invaded Afghanistan. Bush prepared this grave on the day he invaded Iraq."
Throughout the year leading up to Arafat's death, Mr. Mudeiris kept busy inciting Palestinians. In reference to Jews and Israel on November 5, he blamed "these apes and pigs" for Arafat's death. On March 12, 2004, he explained "the Jews today ... are avenging their ancient forefathers, the sons of apes and pigs ... They deserve death ... We strike more fear into their hearts than their Maker."
Mr. Mudeiris's sermon from May 13, 2005, claimed Muslims will rule America and called Jews a virus resembling AIDS. With a visit to the White House this week and following criticism of that speech, the PA's information minister, Nabil Shaath, who is in charge of PA TV, promised to "suspend Mudeiris and prevent him from delivering further sermons."
The call for his removal is a positive development, yet it should be taken in context. Mr. Mudeiris has been giving sermons for more than a decade, even during the period of the Oslo Accords when Mr. Shaath was in power. The PA's denouncement of a particular sermon comes not over a fundamental disagreement with Mr. Mudeiris's beliefs, but rather as a prelude to Abu Mazen's upcoming Washington visit. As one press report stated, "A senior PA official expressed fear that the publication of the contents of the sermon would reflect negatively on Mazen's upcoming talks with the U.S. president. 'This is the last thing we need now,' he remarked. 'This preacher has done grave damage to our cause.'"
Unlike American officials involved in the peace process under the Clinton administration, the Bush administration has been clear in its demands that Arab incitement end. When Abu Mazen visits the White House this week, he should be asked why an official religious representative of the PA has not only been inciting Palestinians against Jews and Israel, but also calling for the destruction of America.
Mr. Stalinsky is the executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute.