Hey Kids! Drink milk, study hard...and engage in violent acts of resistance against your Israeli neighbors and America!
Where are Al Sharpton and his outrage brigade when you need them? (Oh right, they're busy doing damage control after Al made insensitive comments about Mitt Romney's religious beliefs.) This one's right up his alley, or it should be.
A children's show produced by Hamas and aired on Palestinian TV called "Tomorrow's Pioneers" made headlines this week. The star of the show is Farfour, a Mickey Mouse-esque character who tells kids to drink their milk and kill the Zionist oppressors (How can you murder Jews without strong bones?)
Early reports said the show was cancelled or at least changed in response to widespread outrage, but Hamas defied the Palestinian government's request and aired the show anyway. A translation of the episode of course reached YouTube. And as if the material weren't controversial enough, the translation of one line in particular brought further controversy.
Farfour says "We will annihilate the Jews" according to one translation. But another translation said Farfour was really saying "The Jews are killing us." This is just one small line that hardly stands out from all the other hateful, dangerous speech aimed at children, intended to recruit suicide bombers and incite violent resistance.
But the conflicting translations struck me. Which is worse? Which is potentially more dangerous? Which, if you had to choose, would you rather have Palestinian children hear?
Right, neither. But for the sake of the discussion, let's explore.
"Annihilate" is a word I associate with Holocaust literature and sports writing. In the case of the Holocaust, it is used to try to quantify an incomprehensible number of lives lost. Also, it best describes Hitler's intention - he didn't just want to kill as many Jews as possible, he wanted to kill them all, to wipe them out. That is an annihilation.
In the case of sports, the word is hyperbole. The Red Sox annihilated the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series because the Cards lost all four games convincingly and never really had a chance to win the series. It was completely one-sided. It was an annihilation.
For Farfour, the usage of Annihilation feels like a combination of both connotations. The prospect of annihilating Israel is consistent with the grandiosity of many of the statements made in "Tomorrow's Pioneers," particularly those that preach a dominance of the Arabic language and global domination by Muslims. Scary as all that sounds, especially when you consider the audience of Palestinian children, it is mostly rhetoric. How are these kids, who hardly have food and electricity and are armed with rickety leftover Soviet rockets, supposed to annihilate anything?
That's why I think the second translation is far scarier. "The Jews are killing us" is the real propaganda and it can be very dangerous. Farfour the fake Mickey Mouse is telling these kids that they must kill or be killed, inciting a level of violence that is attainable for "Tomorrow's Pioneers." Instead of a grand fantasy of world conquest, "the Jews are killing us" is believable, and resistance is possible.
There is one bit of encouragement that comes out of this story. The Palestinian government attempted to block the airing of "Tomorrow's Pioneers" and edit the content so that it stressed the "drink milk, study hard" and pulled back on the "kill all the Jews." There is at least a faction of the Palestinian people that wants its youth to believe in peace in the region and wants to give them hope of growing up to do something other than blow themselves up in a crowded market.
Peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and in the entire region for that matter, is incredibly complex. But instilling messages of tolerance and hope in the youngest members of the population could be a vital first step. With the right messages, the title "Tomorrow's Pioneers" could go from being sadistic irony to possible optimism.