Palestine

Porn and Politics in Palestine

|

When Palestinian residents of the besieged West Bank town of Ramallah turned on their TVs over the weekend, what they encountered was neither news nor any of the usual Palestinian Authority programming; they encountered pornographic movie clips.

Three of the four TV stations in Ramallah, headquarters of Yasser Arafat, had been occupied by Israeli troops. The town's remaining TV station was meanwhile running a crawl at the bottom of the screen explaining that the porn clips were the work of the occupying forces. "We urge parents to take precautions," it read.

An Israeli army spokesman told Agence France-Press that their forces had nothing to do with such clips, and even blamed Arafat for the footage. "Arafat is willing to go low in order to make himself look better in this uncomfortable situation," said the spokesman. However, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, taking into account that the porn-playing stations were after all occupied, was less sweeping in his denial, saying "I cannot believe that Israeli soldiers would engage in such despicable behavior." He called it "shameful."

Why would Israeli troops program porn? If it was a freelance operation by individual soldiers, then it was merely an act of contempt. If it was an act planned by military authorities, however, then it can be read in a variety of ways.

Modern psychological warfare often makes use of unlikely media. When U.S. forces had Panama's Manuel Noriega surrounded a few years ago, they bombarded him around the clock with raucous rock music; FBI agents have done the same in domestic siege situations. The idea, apparently, is to locate a cultural form that discomfits the target, and to subject that target to an unending stream of it. (Some claim that it also masks negotiations with noise.) Pornography is virtually unavailable in most Muslim societies, except on the Internet. With the rise of Islamist values, even belly dancers in such officially secular places as Egypt have been wearing their once-revealing costumes over full dresses. While some Ramallah residents accused the Israelis of attempting to corrupt the town's youth, that is an unlikely stratagem. More likely is that the sudden exposure to hard-core imagery would come as a psychological shock to those unaccustomed to it.

Replacing Palestinian news and other programming with such material also increases the stress and frustration of the populace. Remember, Ramallah's residents were unable to leave their homes, even to buy groceries. Their need for information was intense. Israeli forces had the option of taking the TV stations off the air entirely. Instead, they left them operating, but broadcasting "replacement" imagery. The pornography may well have been even more demoralizing than no programming at all.

Finally, many Israeli critics consider the "normal" programming of Palestinian Authority media to be morally objectionable in its own right. They regard it as a platform for anti-semitic extremism, an encouragement to suicide-bomber "martyrdom," and an outlet for those advocating the annihilation of the Jewish state. According to its critics, official Palestinian television will stage scenes of dead Palestinian children, downplay or ignore Jewish fatalities, and fail to report Arafat's English-language condemnations of Palestinian acts of terror and savagery.

Thus, replacing such programming with porn clips (and clips of Intifada actions played in reverse) may well represent the substitution of one form of reprehensible programming—political porn—with its moral equivalent.