Truth and fiction of recent events in Israel/Palestine

The American novelist Mark Twain has been quoted as saying “It ‘aint what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ‘aint so.” And much, if not most, of what passes as accepted wisdom about Israel/Palestine, in so far as people have an opinion at all, “just ‘aint so”.

So, I’d like to begin my defence of that rather audacious statement by offering an analogy which I think can be instructive for our understanding of this situation, which is the analogy of an abusive relationship between a man and a woman, in which the man is the abuser and the woman the abuse victim. Let’s call the man Brian and the woman Sandra. And as anyone who knows anything about domestic violence knows, in these types of situations the abuser, in this case Brian, very often tries to claim victimhood status for themselves. And this creates a very dangerous situation, and one which is not easily resolved, because not only is that person engaging in compulsive abusive and controlling behaviour; they are also completely incapable of recognising the wrong that they are doing, because all the while they’re justifying it as being somehow reasonable and proportionate.

And it may well be that in a different context, perhaps when they were a child, that person was a victim. Perhaps Brian was treated very badly by his parents when he was a child, and then later bullied in school. But it’s really very clear that in the current context in which he’s engaging in physical and emotional violence towards Sandra, as well as controlling all of the money and placing draconian restriction on Sandra in terms of where she can or can’t go and what she can or can’t do – that it’s Brian who is the abuser and Sandra who is the victim.

And so we should be very wary and suspicious, about any situation that we come across in life in which a stronger person or group of people are trying to claim victimhood status with respect to a much weaker person or group of people, because we already know from the example of abusive domestic relationships that victimhood status is something that abusers will deliberately seek out for themselves, quite cynically, to provide cover for their abusive behaviour. And it sometimes happens that abusive men can be so convincing in their sob stories about all of the terrible injustices that they have experienced in the past – which they may well have experience and which may well be terrible injustices – that they even manage to convince the woman that they’re abusing that in spite of their horrendous behaviour they are somehow the one who is the victim.

But it’s very rarely the case that they will convince anyone outside of the relationship or outside of their immediate family. And if Sandra were to tell one of her friends or colleagues about her relationship with Brian – the fact that he often hits her, the fact that he doesn’t allow her to work, the fact that he controls all of the money and even when he does give her money to spend controls what she can spend it on, the fact that he doesn’t allow her to meet with family or friends – there can be little doubt that Sandra’s friend would immediately recognise that she was in an abusive relationship and that Brian’s behaviour was completely unacceptable. And the issue of any resistance to Brian’s oppressive and abusive behaviour, on the part of Sandra – the fact that on a number of occasion, after being savagely beaten by him she muttered “I hope you die and rot in hell”, the fact that on a handful of occasions after he had thrown something at her she threw it back at him, or the fact that on a number of occasion she spent money on things that he hadn’t given her permission to spend money on – would be seen as utterly, irrelevant to that assessment of the situation. Her friend simply think that Sandra was being horrendously abused and that she wouldn’t be human if she didn’t put up some sort of resistance to it.

But, let’s suppose for a moment that Brian had friends in high places, and plenty of money behind him, and that because he was so concerned about the potential damage to his reputation from the rumours going around the local areas that he was abusing Sandra that he commissioned a local film company, which for the sake of our analogy we can call the BDC, to stay with the couple for a couple of months and to film their relationship, and afterwards to produce a film about his relationship with Sandra that would show the whole world what a wonderful husband he was to her and how the restrictions that he placed on her were for her benefit, and how he only ever hit her when she really deserved to be hit.

Now the shocking thing is that that film company, The BDC, could actually do that quite easily. Because all they would need to do would be to edit their footage in such a way as to show Brian as the good-guy and Sandra as the baddie. The final version of the film would show footage of Sandra muttering under her breath “I hope you die and go to hell” set to sinister background music, but without showing you that he had been abusing her and putting her down savagely only moments before. We would be shown the occasion on which she threw an object back at him, but without being shown the fact that he threw it at her in the first place. There might also be interviews with Brian’s friends – presented to us as unbiased, neutral observers and commentators — in which they told us what a great husband Brian was, how unstable and untrustworthy Sandra was, and why the restrictions that Brian placed upon her were only there for her own benefit.

People watching that film, especially if they trusted the film company, the BDC, and regarded it as a reliable source of objective information, could easily be convinced that Brian was, essentially, a responsible and husband, and that his actions within the relationship, although they may look a bit oppressive on occasions, were essentially justified and well-intentioned. Someone, like one of Sandra’s long-time friends going around saying “It’s just not like that. Brian is just an abuser – pure and simple” would be regarded as making exaggerated claims. After all, who are you going to believe – one of Sandra’s friends, clearly a biased source who has an angle on this situation, or the respected film company the BDC?

I’m sure the reader will have realized that in the analogy that I’m offering here Brian represents Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli leadership, Sandra represents the Palestinians and their leadership including Hamas, the film company the BDC represents the BBC and the rest of the main-stream media which do a terrific job of misrepresenting what is going on with respect to Israel/Palestine; and Sandra’s friend, trying to tell everyone that Brian is just simply an abuser, represents people like myself and other Palestinian rights activists trying to persuade people that Israel is just simply engaging in oppression of the Palestinian people – pure and simple.

But perhaps you think that I am exaggerating and that the analogy is a misleading one. If so I really can’t blame you, because even after following this issue carefully for over three years I still find myself shaking my head in disbelief in the disparity between what I see reported by the main-stream media, and the full picture of what is happening which can be found out from other sources such as through human rights organisations, books written by experts, and others working on the ground or following events closely.

But at the end of the day it isn’t really particularly difficult to demonstrate this point. All it is necessary to do is to offer a time-line of events of the past year:

29th July 2013 — Start of the so-called Kerry Peace Talks

14th November 2013 – Palestinian team quit negotiations citing the fact that Israel was continuing settlement construction on land in the West Bank that was supposed to be designated for a Palestinian state.

30 December 2013 — Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erehat said that Israel had shown through its actions that it wanted to destroy the possibility of a Palestinian state, and that the Palestinians would be seeking recognition through international bodies (this was on the basis of Palestine being up-graded to non-member observer status by the General Assembly a year previously on 29th November 2012).

Israel insisted that the Palestinians should continue the peace talks, why? Purely as a cynical public relations exercise – because Israel needs ‘peace talks’ in the same way that a bank robber needs a balaclava – to try to prevent the world from recognising what they are doing [an analogy offered by American Professor of history Juan Cole in an article about this matter].

23rd April – Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a unity government and to hold fresh elections. Netanyahu said that Abbas would have to choose between peace with Hamas and Peace with Israel – clearly a threat of violence. The EU and the US offered their support to the unity government. Netanyahu was furious and immediately withdrew Israel from the so-called peace negotiations.

15th May – During Nakba day celebrations Israeli soldiers opened fire on Palestinian youths in the West Bank city of Beitunia near to Ofer prison (a prison for political prisoners in the West Bank). Some of the boys were throwing stones but they were falling on the ground short of where the soldiers were. Two boys, one 16 and one 17, were killed, another was shot in the chest but survived, and eight others were shot in the arms or legs. The incident was caught by security camera, put on-line, and viewed by many Palestinians who were very angry and upset about it.

2nd June – The technocratic unity government of Fatah and Hamas was sworn in. The key positions within it were given to academics who were part of neither party and Abbas was in charge. Hamas held no cabinet posts and had agreed to accept the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. They had effectively sacrificed their political power for the sake of Palestinian unity and the welfare of the Palestinian people. Israel was faced with the prospect of a public-relations disaster as it became increasingly clear to the whole world that all of the main Palestinian factions simply wanted justice and dignity for the Palestinian people, and that it was Israel and Israel alone that was standing in the way of that.

12th June – Three Israeli students were kidnapped. Benjamin Netanyahu announced “Hamas is responsible, Hamas will pay.” This was very much the same as the Bush administration’s attempt to try to lay blame on Saddam Hussein for 9/11 without the slightest shred of evidence – clearly a cynical attempt to find a pretext for launching an attack on Hamas.

Hamas’s senior leadership in Gaza said that they were not behind the kidnapping, calling Netanyahu’s allegations that Hamas masterminded the kidnappings “stupid.” This was later confirmed by the Israeli police themselves when on 25th July Israeli police spokesperson Chief Inspector Mickey Rosenfeld informed BBC journalist Jon Donnison that the two men detained for killing the three Israeli teens were acting on their own initiative. Jon Donnison reported this via Twitter but BBC didn’t run a story on it.

13th June – The very next morning the Israeli police knew that the three had been killed because one of them placed an emergency call, and there was an open recorded line as they were shot. The police soon found a burned-out Hyundai which contained a pair of tefillin (leather-bound texts that religious Jews strap on for prayer), DNA evidence that was quickly matched to the boys’ parents, and eight bullet holes.

The same day Israel launched Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank and over the next ten days arrested approximately 800 Palestinians without charge or trial, killed nine civilians, and raided nearly 1,300 residential, commercial and public buildings. Its military operation targeted Hamas members previously released as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011 – rearresting without any ground at all the people it had released at that time. This was clearly an attack on Hamas and not an attempt to locate the missing teens.

29th June – The Israeli air force carried out strikes on 12 targets in Gaza killing a member of Hamas.

30th June – Further Israeli air strikes took place in Gaza killing one person and injuring three. In response Hamas fired sixteen rockets into Israel which hit open areas in the Eshkol region harming no one. This was the first Hamas rocket fire into Israel since Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012. Although there were some rockets being fired into Israel over 2013 [about 5 per month] these were fired by other groups and the Israeli security establishment had themselves testified to the aggressive anti-rocket efforts made by the new police force that Hamas established specifically for that purpose [as reported by the respected NGO International Crisis Group and the Times of Israel].

The bodies of the three teens were found under rocks close to the West Bank city of Hebron.

1st July — At the funeral for the three killed Israeli teens Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements included vengeful language, speaking of the “horrific darkness of those who seek our destruction – despicable kidnappers of children, heinous murderers whose brothers rejoice at the spilling of innocent blood.” Even the Jewish Forward, an American pro-Israeli newspaper expressed sharp objections to Netanyahu’s comments calling them incitement to violence.

During the day of the funeral there were violent protests in East Jerusalem in which Israelis were chanting ‘Death to Arabs.’ Palestinians were pulled from cars and beaten and a 17 year old Palestinian was abducted and murdered in what appeared to be a revenge attack.

8th July – Israel launches ‘Operation Protective Edge’ against Gaza claiming that they were doing so in response to Hamas rocket fire, which they had obviously provoked.

11th July – During a Press Conference at the Defence Ministry at Tel Aviv speaking only in Hebrew, Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would never, ever, allow a Palestinian state in the West Bank and that Israel would maintain full military control of all of historic Palestine indefinitely and should never have withdrawn from Gaza in 2005.

On 17th July amid escalating, overwhelmingly one-sided violence Benjamin Netanyahu launched a ground invasion, claiming that Israel needed to destroy tunnels, even though it was entirely possible for them to simply block them on the Israeli side and hence no invasion was required for that purpose. But for people following what is happening between Israel and Palestine, it was already quite clear that Benjamin Netanyahu’s real objective was to totally crush any possibility at all of Palestinian self-rule and self-determination. This is entirely consistent with the policy position of the political party to which he belongs, the Likud Party which has always emphasised Israel’s supposed right to occupy and control the whole of historic Palestine.

In exactly the same way that he sought to scupper the peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority by continuing to build Israeli-only settlement housing on stolen Palestinian land during the so-called ‘peace negotiations’, and presenting the Palestinians with increasingly unreasonable demands; he went on to deliberately scupper and destroy the cease-fire agreement that had been in place with Hamas since the end of Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012, and launched a brutal onslaught against the people of Gaza which has cost the lives of over 1,900 Palestinians and wrecked massive destruction upon the Gaza strip, as well as costing the lives of 64 Israeli soldiers who are also, in a sense, victims of Benjamin Netanyahu’s crimes of mass-deception.

This is not a conflict of ‘two sides’ in the manner in which it is depicted by the main-stream media and politicians. It is the brutal and murderous oppression of the indigenous people of the region by one of the most powerful armed forces in the world. Hamas, along with all other Palestinians factions, and the Palestinian people as a whole, are victims of this campaign of brutal oppression. The designation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation is political in nature and is not based upon their actual actions or position, which have changed over time. Although their 1988 charter contains much unacceptable language from 1990 onwards their leaders have stated repeatedly that they bear no animosity whatsoever towards Jews or anyone else on account of their religious beliefs, but merely seek to resist those particular Jews seeking to murder, oppress, and dispossess them. Hamas is a multifaceted social and political organisation engaged in political and democratic processes like any other political party, publically, with well-known leaders. It has never targeted Westerners either inside or outside of Palestine. This is a strict policy of the movement that has been adhered to over the years without a single exception. Selectively editing their statements and citing particular violent actions that they have undertaken without explaining the context in which they took place or the duration of time during which they took place, as the BBC and the rest of the main-stream media does, serves only the interests of the Israeli political elite such as Benjamin Netanyahu who have no wish to make peace with the Palestinians and only wish to oppress them indefinitely. None of this should be taken as a glowing endorsement of Hamas – it is simply pointing out that they are a social and political movement with very little in common with actual terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda, and that the designation of them as terrorist is in reality nothing more than a propaganda ploy by the Israelis and their American allies.

The Palestinians and the people of Gaza need our sympathy and our financial support, especially at this time, but most of all they need us all to stop buying into the propaganda nonsense that they are responsible for their own suffering, offered to us by the pro-Israeli main-stream media. Because, just as the woman who is being beaten by her husband in the analogy given, is hurt not only by her husband himself, but the suggestion made by others that she “brought it upon herself”, so the Palestinians experience only further hurt and grief when people buy into the lying nonsense that they themselves, or their leaders, are to blame for the suffering and misery that the Israelis are inflicting upon them. And unless and until the media starts to report truthfully on this issue Palestinian rights activists and others must make use of whatever channels are available to them to report the truth on this issue for the sake of the Palestinian people who are victims of Israeli oppression, and for the sake of the rest of the watching world who are, in varying degrees, victims of Israeli propaganda lies.