While watching most Western mainstream news and current events shows, how many times do we activists for Palestine find ourselves arguing with the television, pointing our finger at the screen and saying, “NO! That’s not true,” or “How dare you spread this propaganda?”. We are reacting to someone else’s discourse. The public is continually given a version of information and news that, while occasionally purporting to be balanced, actually is an extension of Israeli Hasbara (propaganda).
We have to be aware of the fact that what news actually reaches the public has already jumped through a dozen hoops before it arrives into millions of homes. The major obstacle is for factual information to even break out of its confines and become “newsworthy”. But overcoming that obstacle is enormously difficult. The selection of what is newsworthy starts before a report gets anywhere near an editorial desk. “News” has its origin in a value system that determines which events are ordinary and which are exceptional, only the latter makes the cut. Editors are in a privileged position because they often promote the interests and values of the society they are part of (national, political or corporate as it may be), as well as being able to create and further adjust the world according to the weight they assign to each argument that makes its way to the general public.
Events in Palestine are generally reported in the West with Israeli framing and an Israeli timetable, using Zionist terminology and tailoring it to suit their ideological needs, which vary, ranging from winning a war to joining the EU. Framing makes the information appear like news, rather than showing its real nature as part of a PR campaign.
Even the solidarity movement hesitates to challenge the positions of some of its ideologues when these positions are “pragmatic” and said to be done in order to “enlarge the movement”. These advocates avoid topics which might “turn some people off” such as those people who do not accept Palestinian Right of Return, who do not believe in the legitimacy of resistance, who do not think there is an Israel lobby running the show or whose idea of Palestine is geographically limited to Gaza and the West Bank.
The fact that disturbs many of us is that the coverage, so blatantly biased in favour of Israel’s interests, is not recognised as the propaganda that it is by most of the general public. Yet, we can rest assured that those producing this coverage are indeed fully cognisant of it. They are able to hide most of this bias with other smokescreens, such as the “Global War on Terror”, campaigns against “weapons smuggling”, interventionist operations labelled as “nation building” and dozens of other newsworthy items that catch the imagination without expecting the public to think too deeply though, since if they did reflect on the meanings of these words, they might become extremely unhappy with these policies. Editors no longer even try to hide behind body shields of objectivity, because now they are “promoting values”.
This is why when there is a report about heavy bombing of Gaza, no time will be wasted in inserting images or phrases that place all the blame on the Palestinians. It was they, after all, if one follows the linear presentation of the report, who launched rockets from Gaza into Sderot. That these claims are highly exaggerated, that the Israeli actions were disproportionate or even were war crimes never gets stated. The public must accept the Israeli logic that is used to justify the shelling. The aggressor becomes the victim and the idea is reinforced of the strikes against Gaza as legitimate “reaction” that anyone would undertake to “defend their families”.
Mainstream coverage then juxtaposes references to Hamas “taking over” Gaza and inferences that they are a terrorist organisation in a rebel region. The context or facts are never explained, and geography and history are turned on their heads, with Israel depicted as “leaving Gaza” which the media then depicts as being abandoned to the marauding fanatics who brought death and destruction upon the land. Thus, facts may be present in the reports someplace (number of deaths), but they are seen through a distorted lens and dished out, steaming hot on a Zionist plate. They are there to serve Zionist needs and they are very successful at doing it too. The public has felt saddened, but at the end of the day, they justified the Israeli aggressor and ignored the fate of the victims, civilians like themselves for the most part. After all, it’s the Israelis whose values are shared. It’s the Israelis who have been painted into a corner in an existential fight for their lives.
This kind of reporting, however, is not in any way new. Looking back at the way the dropping of American atomic bombs on Japanese people or the carpet bombing of a city like Dresden using phosphorus weapons, was justified in the mass media of the time, nothing has changed. It is standard procedure in wartime to utilise the mass media and for it to be at the service of the “patriotic cause”. This is true not only in the West. Political propaganda is an important weapon and it is always well-oiled. Yet, we activists have to be aware of the manipulation that does not serve the causes of humanity and justice because it is only propaganda and, more importantly, we have to make others aware of it. Every time we use any Zionist discourse, the way we should be using it is to debunk it. It only serves us if we are stripping away the propaganda and showing just how empty the rhetoric is. We should never be giving it any legitimacy.
Moving away from a war scenario, though, we can see how the Hasbara permeates very many other aspects of our lives and worse, how we as activists get trapped into it. Our lawmakers have fully adopted the Israeli narrative as “the Truth”. This is demonstrated by their policies and rhetoric. A very recent example of how we have fallen into a Zionist trap is our reaction to the commemoration of the Holocaust in Europe. The politicians and media people take the Zionist cue and stick it between the bookends of “Anti-Semitism” and “Israel”. The issue is framed precisely the way the Zionists can best utilise it to justify Israel’s illegitimate takeover and destruction of Palestine. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and their dispossession, their transformation from Fedayin to refugees and exiles or “fifth columns” (internal enemies) within Israel is totally hidden from view. Israel is not presented as it is, but as an idea, an oasis of democracy and salvation for all the Jews of the world. It is depicted as the victory of good over evil. Israel is a story with a “happy ending”. While victims have every right to be commemorated (we demand the same for our victims), the tragedy of the Jewish victims in Europe is used for the political ends of a racist State that discriminates against non-Jews, yet somehow, enjoys vast international consensus.
We activists should be able to differentiate between a commemoration and a political manipulation. We should be aware of which arguments will make a difference to Palestinians and which ones will fall into the traps Zionists set for us to slide down into.
It’s no secret that Holocaust commemoration has morphed into pro-Israel rallies and festivals using music, film, arts, culture and politics to promote allegiance to Zionism. The linking of the two (a legitimate commemoration and a political/ideological rally) was very clever and it has been outrageously successful. Hats off, sincerely. The indelible connection serves Zionist interests because as soon as someone condemns the Zionist ideology, they are going to be defamed as “negating the Holocaust” and not respecting the victims of a totalitarian regime. The marketing has been spotless, so the connection is here to stay and we better admit it and take stock. If we are pointing out that this coupling is an instrumental manipulation, which we have been doing now for quite a long time, almost as long as the celebrations themselves have been officially adopted in each State, can we claim that this has gotten us anywhere? Anywhere positive? Those controlling the media control how our rhetoric is (mis)interpreted and all that has happened is that new demonising of those who dare make this into their speeches is unleashed, doing zero for those populations, much less for liberating a single Palestinian from his or her oppression? No proof exists that our exposure of this ploy is effective, the contrary is true. More Holocaust museums are built, more air-time is granted to Israel in the way it chooses to be depicted, as the solution to endemic Anti-Semitism and the garrison mentality that it uses to justify all of its actions is reinforced.
A proposal is in order. We should let Holocaust Memorial Day be celebrated without commentary, and let the argument become the terrain of historians and not activists.
The Holocaust should not be our argument unless we are indeed historians who spend our time researching and bringing light to areas that need study. There is a world of Arab history, of Palestinian history that demands to see the light of day. This includes the Palestinian Nakba, and we should not use the Jewish word, it is history they share with Europeans, it is not our history. Palestinians had nothing to do with the crimes in Europe. Every time the issue is at the core of discourse, it brings the topic into the area where Zionists are experts at manipulation and domination of the discourse, twisting the truth and denying any connection between mass immigration of Jews into Palestine and the Nakba.
A way to avoid the manipulation is to simply ignore the event, just like the Zionists ignore our events. They do not commemorate our Nakba or our Naksa, our tragedies and important moments and indeed our very history are black holes to them. Undeniably, we are invisible unless we are framed the way Zionists can obtain gains from, as terrorists, savages, bunglers of peace deals offered on silver platters. Not as a single people with a common past and future. It’s obvious that their “ignore them and they will go away” strategy works! If this is the case, why are we so bullheaded and persist in playing the game their way? Why don’t we try their tactic on for size? Why must we continue arguing over issues that do not concern us such as the Holocaust or Anti-Semitism? Since when are these Palestinian issues? Since when do we think it is good to waste so much of our time on reacting to Zionist issues rather than forcing them to react to ours?
The Palestinian cause should not be reactive. It is an ongoing struggle to reclaim rights, land and dignity that have been destroyed by the Zionist project. That Zionism (“the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel” according to the Jewish Virtual Library) is a racist ideology is not our opinion, that it is based upon ethnic and religious exclusion is stated in their very literature and laws. It only could accomplish and realise this project in the middle of the Arab world by means of violence against Arabs and continued oppression of Palestinians. Zionism does not allow coexistence, and there is no version of Zionism that is not exclusionist.
It can only benefit us to concentrate on being the masters of discourse and not reactive to a discourse that is designed as propaganda or as a diversion to keep us from implementing our own projects. We need to opt for a different approach, one that sets the agenda, that seeks to resolve our problems in a pragmatic way. This requires that we listen to ourselves and set our issues as the themes to dominate the discourse. It requires an active strategy of planning, coordination of actions to achieve all kinds of short-term and long-term goals. It means working on matters that count to us, that keep us focused on our problems and the ways to resolve them and not caught in somebody else’s propaganda web.
We have so many issues on the table and so many people dedicated to their resolution. We need to use that as a resource and our emphasis has to be directed towards our goals and the means to obtain them. Just a list of the top issues on the table can barely scratch the surface, so vast is the range of issues.
Due to the wars waged upon Palestinians, the sanctions and medieval siege against them, their situation has dramatically plummeted in recent years and hopes seem to vanish. Geographically, Palestinians are divided and even as a people, they have been fragmented. All of this can only bode ill for the struggle, and Palestinians need to reclaim their strength and know that they will succeed, in spite of such odds against them. The list of Palestinian needs covers every aspect of life and none of these needs can be met without actively seeking to obtain them. Palestinians are steadfast, patient and courageous in the face of such oppression and tragic circumstances. They are willing to work towards their liberation, they have never given up on that hope, and the last vestiges of belief that sorting things out with the Zionists through negotiation seems to have abandoned them. Illusions are able to sustain hope only until a certain point, then desperation sets in, then… as in all revolutionary struggles, people join together and realise the power they have.
Palestinians, like every other people, will build their own future and use their own society to do it, with their values and heritage as a base. Like every revolutionary movement before it, the message is not to wring one’s hands, cry and commiserate until the storm passes, but to join forces and to DO. The message of Malcolm X, Steve Biko, Che Guevara, Ben Bella, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Michel Aflaq and many others was clear. Their leadership empowered the masses to utilise their own free choice and their own cultures to cast off those who would dominate them and turn them into slaves. The leaders never said, “Just say No”, but they set an agenda, they framed the issues, they empowered the people who were in a weak position of colonialism, oppression, occupation, apartheid. No one ever brought liberation to an oppressed people. It has always been obtained through popular struggle, action and commitment to the goal.
Just saying, “NO” to Israel is meaningless unless one says “YES” to Palestine. Anti-Zionist rhetoric makes activists “find one another”, feel passionate and stirs them to action, but in and of itself can produce nothing useful because it promotes nothing.
To best understand a practical approach, let us think of a corporate board meeting. Each year, the company’s state of affairs is illustrated with detailed specifics to the managers and investors so that they can approve or reject the balance, (of course, audited by a body that has no corporate interests). If they approve it, as most boards do, they then move onto the step of deciding how to utilise their assets, what investment or management choices must be made in order to be profitable in the next period. The board does not focus on what another company is doing, but they take stock of their own liabilities and propose strategies to make the company successful. They study the milieu and make projections. The competition is referred to as a source of stimulus, seen in a strategic basis whose successful strategies should be copied or imitated, but their agenda is not what is on the table. That would make no sense.
Bringing this analogy to Palestine, one can observe that there is a massive need for Palestinian society at every level, and not only the upper echelons, to draw up a balance sheet that reflects the real conditions on the ground. Assets and liabilities need to be known and quantified. A strategy must be developed that can be implemented in a reasonable timeframe so that each action can be tried, judged and corrected.
Actions have to take priority over rhetoric, and the list of possible actions with analysis of their implementation, inter-connection and outcome has to be compiled, factoring in as many variables as possible, even using Game Theory projections (http://palestinethinktank.com/2009/12/03/a-strategy-revolution-a-game-theory-approach-to-palestinian-resistance/). There are many groups and organisations that already exist and should be coordinated so that focus on the problems can be specific and each focus group can take advantage of a wide range of input. All groups in Palestine should be empowered, taking the lead in determining the priorities of the interventions and the goals that each group intends upon obtaining. Then, these actions must be implemented.
Activists around the world need to follow the timetable and the directions of those who are making proposals shared by the widest possible consensus, and the actions need to be economic, cultural, political as well as supported enthusiastically and disseminated properly. The Palestinian agenda is our agenda, resistance actions are our means, boycott is our instrument, the Palestinian voice is the guiding one. We activists have to be willing to follow, and willing to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. When we address those in our societies, let us be valid representatives of the Palestinian struggle, but let us allow them to set the discourse.
There is space for all of us in this struggle, and at least one campaign for every activist to engage with: health and environment issues, human and civil rights, refugee issues, labour rights, freedom of movement, projects for documentation of Palestinian history and protection of its land and heritage, freedom for the PLC and for all political prisoners, rebuilding Palestinian infrastructure and creating jobs, and it only begins there. There is a wall in Palestine that must come down, a siege that must end. Our plates are full and Palestinians need to lead the discourse as protagonists, they must determine the action. Any other direction is a false one and will lead nowhere.
Palestine Think Tank
see the introduction to the series: http://palestinethinktank.com/2010/01/22/common-activist-errors-and-some-proposals-to-rectify-them/
or its abridged version published on Ma'an News Agency: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=257044
Mary Rizzo is an art restorer, translator and writer living in Italy. Editor and co-founder of Palestine Think Tank, co-founder of Tlaxcala translations collective. Her personal blog is Peacepalestine.
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