The trade of journalism is facing trouble on all sides these days, mostly because its source of funding – primarily advertising – is going elsewhere. This squeeze is bringing out the worst in people who we used to believe dedicated themselves to the pursuit of truth. Not so today. It’s simply easier to embrace biased narratives than pursue facts, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East, where truth takes a whole lot of work.
But difficulty is simply an excuse, for if I can spot this stuff from my office in Alabama, it ought to be obvious to those still involved in the trade. With that in mind, I need to deconstruct (that tool of the postmodernist) a story by the Associated Press published yesterday that functions as a press release from the Israeli office of information. Oh, there’s a smattering of an opposing point-of-view, but the overall content, writing, and presentation represent the pro-Israel perspective.
The piece is structured in five chunks, so that’s the way I’ll present it here. My commentary will follow each “chunk.”
No end in sight for latest Israeli-Palestinian violence, raising fears of uprising
JERUSALEM – For nearly a month, Israel has been dealing with a wave of Palestinian unrest that shows no signs of stopping. Beginning with clashes at a sensitive Jerusalem holy site, the violence has spread throughout the city, across Israel and into the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Since the Jewish New Year last month, five Israelis have been killed in a shooting, a stoning and a series of stabbings. At least 26 Palestinians been killed by Israeli fire, including 10 identified by Israel as attackers and the rest in clashes between stone-throwers and Israeli troops. Hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded in such confrontations.
The violence comes at a time when prospects for negotiating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appear nil.
While Israelis are on edge over the random nature of the current wave of attacks, many Palestinians feel hopeless because all paths to statehood and ending nearly half a century of Israeli occupation appear blocked.
The long-running diplomatic deadlock coupled with the current violence has raised fears that the region is on the cusp of a major new round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
Anyone schooled in the practice of propaganda knows that how the message is framed determines where you can go with it. Here, the first paragraph frames the whole piece by announcing that what’s happening is a “wave of Palestinian unrest.” Those darned Palestinians, right? If they’d just stop it, everything would be fine. Moreover, the writer explains that this began in Jerusalem and expanded outward, even reaching the West Bank and Gaza strip.
This is entirely false. The “unrest” is a response to Israeli terror, last year in Gaza and this year in the West Bank, where a family, including a sleeping baby, were killed in a firebombing by Israeli settlers who operate as an armed militia with impunity in the occupied territories. Then there are extrajudicial executions by the IDF that have become commonplace, the latest being an 18-year old girl at a West Bank checkpoint.
Let’s also make clear here that this “unrest” involves mostly stone-throwers and an occasional stabbing, whereas the full military might of the government is used daily against Palestinians.
HOW DID THIS START?
Clashes broke out at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site over the Jewish New Year, fueled by rumors that Israel was secretly plotting to take over the spot.
The compound is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, home to the biblical Jewish Temples. Today it houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.
Israel captured the site from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war, but it remained under Muslim administration. Under a decades-old arrangement, non-Muslims are allowed to visit, but not pray there.
A growing number of Jewish visitors in recent years, coupled with calls by religious Jewish activists for a greater presence at the site, have stoked Palestinian fears that Israel is planning to change this arrangement.
Palestinians fiercely defend the site as both a religious and national symbol. Growing Palestinian fears that the shrine is in danger triggered unrest across the region.
Israel has repeatedly said it is committed to the status quo and has accused Palestinian and Muslim religious leaders of inciting violence.
Two things. One, the presentation of this as being started by a “rumor” is absurd on its face, although it fits the Israeli narrative that Palestinians are psychotic. There’s nothing new here, because Israel has always “wanted” all of Jerusalem. What did happen this year was that Israeli security forces aggressively stormed the mosque prior to the Jewish New Year in order to make it safer for Jews to visit the site. Firing stun grenades and rubber coated bullets, many Muslims were injured, and the Palestinians responded. Each year it appears to get worse. This year, Arab men under the age of 50 were forbidden from entering the Mosque.
Moreover, this mess didn’t “start” in Jerusalem. It’s been ongoing, and the current atmosphere was created by Israeli actions in the West Bank. One simply cannot understand the situation without accepting this knowledge, for to do otherwise is to utterly embrace the Israeli narrative in the region.
IS THIS A NEW PALESTINIAN UPRISING?
While some Israeli commentators have begun to call the unrest a new intifada, or uprising, it is premature to say so.
The violence has some things in common with the second Palestinian uprising. In 2000, a visit to the hilltop religious site by Israel’s then opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, helped trigger what turned into an uprising.
Some argue that Palestinian anger over living under Israeli military occupation for nearly 50 years, the collapse of peace efforts and the lack of hope for gaining independence has made the region ripe for a new bout of violence.
Still, there are key differences. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been an outspoken opponent of violence and has maintained security coordination with Israel to prevent the clashes from spinning out of control.
During the previous intifada, organized Palestinian militant groups were behind much of the violence, often with tacit support from their leaders. Most of those groups have been disbanded or their members jailed. The recent stabbings have been carried out by individuals with no known political affiliation acting on their own.
These “lone-wolf” attacks have made it hard for Israel to find a military solution to the unrest, or to predict how long it will continue.
Firstly, the “uprising,” if there is one, is a Palestinian response to the apartheid state within which they live and the escalating violent actions by the IDF in maintaining the status quo, which, again, includes permitting bands of armed Israelis who simply attack (and kill) whoever they like and for whatever reason in the occupied territories. These acts are carried out with absolute impunity.
The “collapse” of peace initiatives is tied to recent statements by the prime minister and defense minister that there will never be a two-state solution in the region. Hopeless? Well, I guess so.
Oh, and let’s leave the Palestinian “leaders” out of this entirely. The idea that any one person or group speaks on behalf of or “for” the oppressed is a straw man used entirely for propaganda purposes. This is entirely a grass roots response to actual Israeli behavior, which can only lead one to the conclusion that Israel does NOT want peace with them.
HOW HAS ISRAEL RESPONDED?
The stabbings have caused widespread panic in Israel, prompting Jerusalem’s mayor and other politicians to encourage licensed gun owners to carry their weapons.
Israeli leaders say the country’s large number of well-trained military veterans provides an extra layer of security. And after several stabbings, assailants have been quickly shot by either police or armed civilians. But critics say such talk only increases tensions, raising the risk that over-eager gun owners or troops will shoot to kill, even when unnecessary.
In one case caught on video, a young Palestinian man wanted in a stabbing was gunned down by a police officer as an angry crowd screamed for him to be shot. In the video, it is not clear whether the youth was armed, and the police car was far away from him, raising the question of whether the youth could have been subdued without being killed.
The “widespread panic” is a response to how this is portrayed in the Israeli media, especially television, because isolated incidents in various places that are then strung together to support a narrative can be and usually are terribly misleading.
The last paragraph points to just one of the many incidents that Palestinians are using to plead the case of Israeli aggression. The boy (not a man) was running TOWARDS police and away from the Israeli mob. Only in Israel – and against Palestinians – is it acceptable to shoot first, ask questions later, and not be held accountable for it. “Wanted in a stabbing” is not justification for extrajudicial execution. Or is it?
Finally, the headline of this section is right out of the Hasbara playbook. Read it. “How has Israel responded?” Again, the narrative being presented is that innocent Israel is, once again, being forced to defend itself against those who would do it harm. If anything, this is a Palestinian response, but that is completely disregarded in a blatant attempt to present the Israeli narrative as “news.”
WHAT ABOUT POLITICAL LEADERS ON BOTH SIDES?
Both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could play key roles in ending the unrest, though both have been limited by external pressure.
Netanyahu is under heavy pressure from the public, and hard-liners in his coalition, to take even tougher action. In addition to his tough rhetoric, the Israeli leader has already beefed up the level of forces in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and loosened the rules on when troops can open fire at protesters.
Yet a severe crackdown risks triggering even more violence and international condemnation. For this reason, he has also taken steps to ease tensions, such as banning lawmakers from visiting the Jerusalem holy site.
Abbas is also interested in restoring quiet. But after years of stalled statehood negotiations — paralysis he blames on Netanyahu’s hard-line approach — he is deeply unpopular. Containing the violence and openly continuing the security cooperation with Israel risks promoting the image that he is weak and ineffective.
In any case, it remains unclear how much control either man has when the violence is emanating from the ground up, carried out by angry teenagers who have little hope for the future.
By presenting this as “Abbas versus Netanyahu,” the Associated Press takes us down a well-worn path that leads to nowhere. Netanyahu could conceivably stop this, but why should he? He was just re-elected by, among other things, scaring voters with last-minute panicky statements that “the Arabs” were voting in droves. He believes he operates with the complete support of Israeli citizens, and there’s nothing to indicate otherwise. Abbas has no power among Palestinians and certainly none with Israel.
Netanyahu is exploiting the response of the “occupied” population to Israeli violence by shoving more violence down their throats in order to maintain control. Sadly, the press – led by articles like this from The Associated Press, and especially the work of the New York Times – is assisting him in getting away with it.
If you believe, as some do, that conqueror Israel has the right to write its own history, then I hope you enjoy your bath in the tarpits. In a networked world, one-sided views of history can’t stand up to scrutiny, because horizontal communications allow us access to the very ground floor that is rising up in the occupied territories.
This will not end well for either “side” unless and until the world intervenes.
I’m not holding my breath.