By Dina Jadallah-Taschler
It is relatively easy for many casual observers of Middle East events to be deceived by balanced and ostensibly objective reporting. Simplistic divisions and false dichotomies are often presented. Moderates are juxtaposed against extremists and their identities vary according to current hegemonic agendas. Alternatively, competing narratives are asserted, both of which are assumed to have equal degrees of validity. The aim, of course, is to shape worldviews. Instead of informing readers about asymmetric claims, the reports frequently hide the ugly truth by presenting competing arguments as equivalent.
As consumers of this information, we must be more analytical and factual. It is time to do what mainstream reporting does not want the reader to do: to think. One must strip down the narrative and discover the basic truth. For Palestinians and beneath all the arguments, is a question of Justice. Without an acknowledgement of injustice, there is no truth in balanced competing narratives. Without it, there will be no solutions, no rights, and no peace.
The simple fact is that Israel usurped Palestinians rights. It continues to do them a supreme injustice through the occupation and now war. All else derives from this. Therefore, when a report purports to be objective and presents the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as one of competing narratives, both of which are equally legitimate, this only serves to preserve the original imbalance of power distribution and injustice. There is a complicity in crime, in a lot of balanced reporting.
For those that are sentimental about their attachments to such balanced presentations, it is sometimes helpful to substitute other competing groups and see how well those arguments hold up. As examples, how just is it to assign equal legitimacy to the claims of slave-owners versus slaves and abolitionists; apartheid versus anti-apartheid groups; misogynist Wahhabi clerics versus women; colonialists versus colonized? Historically, in each of these cases, narratives were presented in defense of these now-indefensible positions. Religions, civilizational “white man’s burden” arguments, and traditions were called forth to buttress pre-existing uneven distributions of power so as to perpetuate them. Those who resisted were always branded as ignorant, deluded, uppity, terrorist and so forth. This is not all just historical relic. Let us not forget that until as late as April of 2008, Nelson Mandela was flagged a “terrorist” on US anti-terrorism watch lists. He had been designated as such for having dared to fight apartheid. (1) Similar tactical arguments were used by the French in Algeria, the British in India, Ireland, Kenya, and the Conquistadors against the Native peoples of the New World, to name a few.
Current Middle Eastern affairs amply demonstrate the uses and abuses of balanced, “civilized,” and reasonable discourse. How can we forget that “winning the hearts and minds” of Iraqis and Arabs went hand in hand with “shock and awe”? Similarly, the preaching of democracy also conceals a multi-pronged form of subversive attack. Democracy and liberation have served to justify military occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. They have also been part of a deliberate project of societal fragmentation and religious, sectarian, ethnic and tribal incitement. Witness the Bremer-designed constitution that was foisted on occupied Iraq. It insisted on and reified dividing its citizens into competing sects and tribes. The same thing happened in Afghanistan with the initial reliance on the Northern Alliance as a tool with which to attack the Pashtuns, who were collectively lumped into “Taliban supporters.”
The narrative also accommodates the rule of dictators in every Arab country with the rationalization being that they are “democratizing” as we speak (!). This mirage hides the underlying Western opposition, both historic and present, to any progressive forces in the region. True democracy risks the election of undesirable elements like the FIS in Algeria in 1990 or Hamas in Gaza more recently.
On the regional level, these false dichotomies of balanced discourse have achieved what was previously unthinkable, or at least not publicly flaunted. Effectively, Israel has been integrated within the moderate camp, as part and parcel of the Middle East. The discourse then pits them against rejectionist “Axis of Evil” (emphasis on Shi’i) types. Those who object to the hegemonic agenda are immediately labeled extremist and terrorist. Palestinians who reject occupation and /or actively object to the non-achievements of the peace process experience the dismissal out of hand their legal right to resist. Justification is implied because they are given (more often than not only verbal) support by Axis of Evil Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah. Once again, resistance is narratively impossible.
Conveniently, this coincides with the current uneven distribution of power in favor of Israeli intransigence and refusal to return lands occupied since 1967, or to compensate refugees, or to treat its Palestinian population as equal citizens, etc. The Arab-Israeli conflict is narratively transformed and is no longer about resistance to colonial occupation and ethnic cleansing. Putting Israel on the same side as moderate Arab states renders the Arab-Israeli conflict meaningless and reduces it to a search for the security of the powerful.
This enforced bifurcation has split Palestinian leadership into two camps: the settlement-seeking moderates headed by Mahmoud ‘Abbas in the West Bank and the terrorist, rejectionist, Hamas in the Gaza strip. ‘Abbas’ speeches are penetrated by this narrative. Echoing Israeli and Saudi moderates, he excoriated Hamas for “adventurism” that brought on the massacre of Gazans. He appropriated the language of the occupier denying the occupied’s right to resist. And he ignored evidence that this latest conflagration of violence was planned well in advance by Israel and that it was Israel that first broke the cease-fire on November 4, 2008.
Such discourse of balanced moderation and competing narratives has other uses that perpetuate power imbalances in the region. It obfuscates the over-riding self-interest of the various parties. This often involves saving their seats of power at any cost. Moderate Arab regimes also use the democratically elected Hamas as a tool with which to repel any Western pressure (however superficial) to democratize. Proof of the tactical uses of this narrative abound. An obvious case, is why don’t these moderate regimes denounce the (Shi’i, Iran-affiliated) Maliki government in Iraq? After all, they and their backers, the US and Israel, are constantly harping on the dangers of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas (which is Sunni, but the narrative does not allow for inconvenient truth)? One can only conclude that the resisting Palestinians are not afforded the same tolerance because they refuse to submit to occupation in silence; their struggle continues to inflame the imaginations of Arabs everywhere; and they continue to disrupt and embarrass moderate regimes in their dealings with the West (and Israel).
From Israel’s perspective, this discourse of “moderates” versus “extremists” has made for some strange bedfellows. They are now on the same side as the anti-Semitic Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia. They are also supporting ‘Abbas as leader of the Palestinians, knowing full well that he is also an anti-Semite, who refuses to be addressed as the “doctor /Ph.D.” that he is, for fear that people will discover that his dissertation was about denying the Holocaust. (2)
Gaza: A Recent Illustration of Insidious Balanced Narratives
The recent massacre in Gaza has pulled the mask off balanced talk. I will list a few examples to demonstrate that balance deceptively conceal and actively aid the perpetuation of injustice.
Consider Europe’s position when confronting the attack. Europe had declared that they have learned their lessons after Nazism and that their racism was in the past but never to be forgotten. Contrast this with the fact that in the massacre’s aftermath, the EU’s Human Rights representative, no less, blamed the victim for the attack, and promised the dispatching and coordination of European navies to make sure that the victims cannot import “illegal” weapons with which to fight back. A conference in Copenhagen is currently organizing this. (3)
Likewise, Israel’s moderate peace-seeking stance has been revealed as nothing but a coup de grace of charm with which to demolish Palestinian rights. Israel talks of supporting a political “settlement” supposedly based on the “two state solution”. This discourse is presented as very fairly treating two peoples’ equally valid claims to one land. Balanced reporting ignores Israel’s consistent resort to war as the prime instrument of policy. It also furthers the injustice done to Palestinians by ignoring, the racist basis of a state that is founded on the claim of the superiority of Jews over inhabitants that pre-existed the state’s founding.
It is time to treat the myth of Israel’s support for an independent Palestinian state objectively. The contradictions abound, one of which is the increasing pace of the settlements on Palestinian occupied land. And lest we blame it on some fanatical settlers, a recent Ha’aretz report by Uri Blau presents evidence of collaboration between the various ministries and agencies in Israel to perpetuate and enhance settlements. The World Zionist Organization, when asked about these illegal colonies, replied: “Settlement in Judea and Samaria, as in Israel, has been accompanied by the preparation of regional master plans, […] Steering committees from various government ministries, the Civil Administration and the municipal authorities were involved in the preparation of these plans? The (settlement) department worked solely on lands that were given to it by contract from the authorities in the Civil Administration and all the lands that were allocated to it by contract were properly allocated.” Is it any wonder then that “The defense establishment, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, steadfastly refused to publicize the figures, arguing, for one thing, that publication could endanger state security or harm Israel’s foreign relations”? (4)
Doing so would expose the holes in the narrative.
Moreover, Israel’s real opposition to an independent Palestinian state was exhibited in the latest attack on Gaza (and continues the tradition of expropriating Palestinian land, water, and resources). Israel deliberately destroyed Palestinian farmland, fully cognizant of the extensive poverty in Gaza, thereby enhancing the suffocating embargo. Furthermore, the narratively hidden truth of deliberately targeting civilians, (5) is counterproductive to establishing a “moderate” Palestinian state since it radicalizes its victims.
Other inconvenient facts also contradict this Israeli purported desire for peaceful settlement. Recent Israeli polls indicate that, in the wake of the Gaza attack, Netanyahu, head of the Likud party, is the frontrunner to win the elections, and that the ultra racist and fascist former nightclub bouncer Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beitenu party, has made the largest gains in the race. (6) Conveniently, Western “balanced” reporting ignores some decidedly unbalanced facts.
For one, the Likud Party Charter and platform does not recognize a Palestinian state. It specifically states that the settlements are “the realization of Zionist values” and that it will “prevent their uprooting.” It goes on to say that “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state.” Contrast this with the excoriation of Hamas for not recognizing “Israel’s right to exist.” Similarly, Lieberman’s vitriolic invective against Arabs and Palestinians, both inside and outside Israel, is inheritor of Meir Kahane’s racist enterprise. His advocacy of “transferring” Palestinian citizens of Israel and his vociferous rejection of creating a Palestinian state indicates that what was once fringe has now become mainstream. (7) Credit for this is due to balanced competing narratives discourse, which has effectively lumped all Israelis into the “good” camp opposing the Axis of Evil.
Another discursive myth is Israel’s “most moral army in the world.” The attack on Gaza revealed the IDF valiantly “winning” by massacring hundreds of defenseless women and children. Amnesty International reported that the IDF also engaged in such “professional” behavior as the use of white phosphorus to incinerate civilians, the bombing of UNRWA schools where refugees were seeking shelter, and the looting and desecration (sometimes even with excrement) of Gazans’ homes. The Palestinian Authority estimates the material extent of the damage at $2 billion.
The examples discussed above demonstrate clearly how balanced talk can hide a reality of injustice and a project for its perpetuation. But the secret ugly truth remains. Its repercussions are not limited to continued Palestinian resistance and demands for freedom. Proof is also evident on the flip side of that coin. Israel, the “fair,” the “moderate,” the “peace-loving,” the “good,” is now so afraid of the legal repercussions of their actions in Gaza, that they are now prohibiting the identification of the participants in the “war.” (8)
There is no escaping the consequences of supreme injustice.
– Dina Jadallah-Taschler is an Arab-American of Palestinian and Egyptian descent, a political science graduate and is also an artist. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact her at: email@example.com.
(1) Mimi Hall, “US Has Mandela on Terrorist List,” USA Today (4/30/2008).
(2) I was made aware of this at a recent UCI conference in which I heard Drs. As’ad Abu Khalil and Norman Finkelstein discuss it. See also source for the complicity of the Israeli army in covering up his anti-Semitic rhetoric.
(3) “Denmark Hosts Gaza Arms Smuggling Meeting,” Yahoo (2/4/2009).
(4) Uri Blau, “Secret Israeli Database Reveals Full Extent of Illegal Settlement,” Ha’aretz (1/30/01).
(5) Peter Beaumont, “Gaza Desperately Short of Food After Israel Destroys Farmland,” The Guardian (2/1/2009). Deliberate targeting of civilians is discussed extensively in Norman Finkelstein, “Foiling another Palestinian Peace Offensive,” Counterpunch (1/28/2009).
(6) Uzi Mahnaimi, “Israel’s Nuclear Hawk Avigdor Lieberman in Poll Surge,” Times Online (2/1/2009).
(7) Ira Stoll, “Israel’s Lieberman Calls for Tougher Stance on Israeli Arabs,” New York Sun (12/13/2006).
(8) Uri Avnery, “Israel’s Black Flag,” Counterpunch (2/2/2009).