Israel and Palestine: Making the victim the criminal

Israel and Palestine: Making the victim the criminal
Comment: Israel's masterful use of story in its war against Palestinians demonstrates how language is a powerful weapon in an unequal conflict, writes Amal Awad.
5 min read
07 Jun, 2018
Israel tries to cast itself as both a strong state, and the victim [Anadolu]
A few years ago, during one of Israel's onslaughts against Gaza, media coverage revealed a timbre of narrative that was deeply unbalanced. In recent weeks, we have seen the same language return. When speaking about Palestine, it is common to see the deaths of Palestinians spoken of differently to those of Israelis.

Israelis are "killed", Palestinians "die". The occupier becomes the victim, while the oppressed unfortunately fade, a rising statistic so large it becomes meaningless. Palestinians are collateral damage and consistently held responsible for their difficulties.

Indeed, there is a great deal being said about Palestine right now, and Israel's aggression towards Gazans, in particular. It would be easy to dismiss a lot of it as circular rhetoric. After all, we don't achieve much by talking about a grievous ongoing situation, particularly one as divisive as the occupation - or rather, colonisation - by Israel of Palestine.

Even if genuine solutions were being proffered, enacting them is impossible so long as Palestine's nationhood and status are crippled by Israel's supremacy, and the might of their US-enabled military power.

Still, in every story, there must be a hero, a victim and a villain, and Israel takes a persuasive stab at being all three.

On the one hand, it subsists on the idea of its victimhood - a state under constant threat from uncivilised Arabs (victim becomes hero).

The handy guide to obfuscating a genuine critique of Israel's aggression: Blame Hamas.

On the other, it spruiks its advanced military and take-no-prisoners approach to the people whose lands they have robbed and overtaken. Its Hasbara (propaganda) campaign is an ongoing story that envelopes all of these ideas, and while it's no secret that Israel has this official approach to marketing itself as a superior state in the Middle East, the visibility of the puppet strings could actually be working against them.

Putting aside Israel's longstanding efforts to be perceived as both a strong state but also a victim, it is worth interrogating - in considering the vast range of commentary on the occupation of Palestine - the language of war and occupation, in media, among talking heads, and the people involved in the conflict itself.

Despite the history of the region, Israel's gradual encroachment and settlement of Palestinian lands, and the dehumanising narratives that prop up the occupied as terrorists, we still hear people talking about Palestine as though it's a fair fight.

To be clear, recent events in Gaza have seen no Israeli casualties, only a mounting number of Palestinians killed, injured and further dehumanised on a global stage.

Read more: For real solidarity, stop arming Israel

A protest against their containment in what has been called "the world's largest open air prison" is met with disgust by the same people who cry 'free speech' when they are criticised for offering an opinion. Palestinians shouldn't be protesting; cue the familiar Hamas rhetoric.

Indeed, what would Israel's propaganda be without Hamas as the ultimate bogeyman, the pied piper of vulnerable, unthinking Palestinians.

The conflict in Palestine doesn't just reveal hypocrisy though, it demonstrates the ease with which Arab lives are dismissed, the racist underbelly of conservative media, politicians and even a wider public who have no understanding of the occupation of Palestine.

What would Israel's propaganda be without Hamas as the ultimate bogeyman, the pied piper of vulnerable, unthinking Palestinians?

The insidious effect of Israel's propaganda was thrown into sharper relief following the recent deaths of Gazans on the same day the US audaciously embraced Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

This is the language of making Palestinians not victims but aggressors. It is the use of qualifying statements to obliterate the bloody history of Israel's occupation. It is the disgust that people express against Arabs, which is qualified by support for another oppressed people. They search for ways to place the blame squarely on Palestinians, loyal to the narrative that Israel is at the mercy of the people they occupy.

A baby was killed by tear gas. The response? Why would you bring a baby to a protest? And that this is Hamas' fault. Hamas, the eternal scapegoat.

In the same way Australia's government at the time propagated the idea that refugees were throwing their children overboard in order to be rescued and pitied, Israel markets itself as the blameless victim of clever oppressors - Hamas the puppet masters of an impoverished, desperate nation of people who will do anything, even let their children get killed, in order to tarnish Israel's reputation.

Such is the hubris of the coloniser. And this, while completely ignoring that Gazans have been under siege, and have experienced excruciating losses for decades.

The handy guide to obfuscating a genuine critique of Israel's aggression: Blame Hamas. Pretend this is a war, not an occupation.

As BDS campaigner Yousef Munayyer noted on Twitter: "Accusing Palestinians of "dying for photo ops" "human sacrifice" and "dead baby strategy" is nothing more than a calculated effort to dehumanize Palestinians & suggest they don't care about life so their lives don't matter. This racist garbage should be called out for what it is."

The cleverness in this derision is that the person is asserting moral superiority - they appreciate human rights but their stories are tailored to suit the recipients. There is indeed darkness and evil in the world and they are framing narrative that casts Arabs as the aggressors.

Israel markets itself as the blameless victim of clever oppressors

Glib refusals to acknowledge the seeds of the conflict; criticism of Israel shut down as anti-semitic; selectiveness about who is worthy of compassion. And yet, you can't extract the uncomfortable and inconvenient truth of why this is happening.

It's not history, it's an ongoing trauma, and how we frame it is important.

Amal Awad is a Sydney-based journalist and author. Her latest book, Beyond Veiled Clichés, explores the lives of Arab women. 

Follow her on Twitter: @amalmawad

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.