Propaganda won't shed Israel of its oppressive history

Israeli propaganda can’t mask the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the Nakba will never be forgotten
7 min read

Sarah Amr

28 April, 2023
For 75 years Israel has refined its propaganda, portraying itself as ‘democratic’ & ‘tolerant’ of all faiths whilst omitting and re-writing the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. This only reinforces the state's insecurities, argues Sarah Amr.
Israeli propaganda aimed at creating a specific narrative of the country’s history and national identity is visible not only at Ben Gurion Airport but also in other public spaces such as roads and museums, writes Sarah Amr.

Propaganda has been a defining feature of Israel’s political and cultural landscape since the inception of the state of Israel in 1948, building upon a legacy of such techniques developed during the early days of Zionism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From deception through all sorts of mediums, to censorship and the strategic use of symbols, Israel has got it all down to a science. And, there’s no better location to showcase this uniquely crafted narrative than at the entrance gate to Israel: Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv.

At Ben Gurion airport, travellers heading towards the duty-free and flight gates have to pass by a massive wall covered with grotesque propagandistic images that attempt to narrate the history of Israel while naturally dismissing how the state came to be. It is impossible to miss the wall as it dominates the corridor, almost as if it's trying to remind travellers that they are in Israel and must subscribe to its version of history.

The display is simple yet effective, with black and white, as well as coloured images strategically placed to attract any visitor’s attention. It’s designed to lure them in, tempting them to pause and take a look at the carefully curated images that supposedly highlight the “peaceful” essence of Israel and narrating its history.

While many airports around the world showcase political and historical themes, Ben Gurion Airport’s deliberate emphasis on history and politics is distinctive. Israel recognises that its history is tainted by the ethnic cleansing and displacement of Palestinians, and as such, it utilises these public spaces to conceal its history and construct a new one based on biblical myths and cultural theft.

The Zionist ideology – the driving force behind the state of Israel – has used biblical myths to brainwash its Jewish citizens into believing that Palestine was their ancestral homeland, despite the fact that Jewish communities had existed alongside Muslim and Christian communities in Palestine for centuries. This propaganda trick has helped to rationalise the expulsion and oppression of Palestinians, who have been deprived of their land and rights for over seven decades.

Additionally, Israel has engaged in cultural theft by appropriating Palestinian cuisine, music and other cultural symbols presenting them as Israeli. For example, the airport’s food court features dishes marketed as ‘authentic Israeli cuisine’, despite their origins in Palestinian and Arab cultures.

Israeli propaganda aimed at creating a specific narrative of the country’s history and national identity is visible not only at Ben Gurion Airport but also in other public spaces such as roads and museums. This narrative focuses on Israel as a home to Jewish people from all around the globe; a sanctuary. It focuses on Israel as the ‘beacon of hope’ in a hostile region of primal Arabs. And most importantly, it focuses on Israel as the ‘most tolerant nation in the Middle East’, one that protects and respects Muslim, Christian, and Jewish sites alike.

Oh yes, because what screams “spiritual enlightenment” more than violently assaulting Muslims at the Holy Al Aqsa Mosque during their most sacred time of year? Or Israeli police attacking Christian pilgrims to the Church of Holy Sepulchre? What screams “interfaith harmony” more than attacking the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, one of the most renowned Palestinian journalists who was shot by an Israeli IDF soldier?

The images on the wall are temporary; they change depending on the occasion. In one of my visits, the wall was filled with images depicting the achievements of Israelis in sports, music, and art. One time, they had a series of “native Israeli plants”. However, during my last trip in February 2023, the propaganda wall was dedicated to the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who played a significant role in the Oslo Accords and was assassinated by one of his own people.

The first image that immediately caught my attention was that of young Rabin posing with his soccer team in 1938, a decade before the Nakba. The description, presented in Hebrew, Arabic, and English indicated that it was the Kaduri school’s soccer team and Rabin was positioned third from the right. The image felt like a subtle attempt to portray the Jewish community as peaceful, while erasing the reality of the Nakba, which resulted in the displacement of around 750,000 Palestinians and the destruction of over 500 villages. By focusing on this image, the airport’s propaganda wall attempts to construct a narrative that overlooks the violent dispossession of Palestinians and instead emphasises a false coexistence narrative.

The second image shows Rabin, 64 years old at the time, on a visit to the Druze village, Julis in 1986, as if he was some peace-loving hero. The image conveniently forgets the fact that during Operation Dekel which took place in July of 1948, Israel violently occupied Julis and its neighbouring villages. Of course, Israel omits its role in the violent displacement of Palestinians, and instead includes this image as part of its ongoing propaganda campaign to portray itself as a tolerant nation.

The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on a visit to the Druze village, Julis in 1986. [SARAH AMR]

It is worth noting that many Druze community members identify as Palestinian and refuse to serve in the Israeli military, but I suppose that’s not an important detail for Israel’s propaganda machine. What is further misleading about this image is that it dismisses the long history of suffering by the Druze community due to discriminatory policies. Despite being officially recognised as a distinct religious minority by the Israeli government, the Druze are subject to numerous discriminatory laws and policies that limit their rights and freedoms, including unequal opportunities in education and employment, low funding for infrastructure and constant questioning of their loyalty to the Israeli state.

The third image shows Rabin with some “Arab dignitaries”, because using the word “Palestinian” might acknowledge our existence and that is not exactly part of the narrative. This too is part of Israel’s ongoing propaganda campaign to portray itself as a benevolent force in the region. Palestinian citizens of Israel who resisted and remained in their land after the Nakba are often referred to as "Israeli Arabs" or simply "Arabs", erasing their distinct national identity as Palestinians. This play on language aims to deny the Palestinian narrative and legitimise the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with 'Arab dignitaries'. [SARAH AMR]

It is evident that Israel’s use of propaganda in public places is a deliberate attempt to construct a narrative that is false and overlooks the harsh realities of the Nakba. This effort to rewrite history is rooted in the country’s deep insecurity about its version of events and its legitimacy as a nation-state.

The symbolic significance of Ben Gurion airport cannot be overstated, as it represents the violent creation of borders that continue to divide and oppress Palestinians. The airport was built on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Lydda, which was forcibly depopulated and destroyed by Israeli forces in 1948. This violent act of ethic cleansing was part of a wider strategy to establish a Jewish-majority state in Palestine.

Today, Ben Gurion Airport serves as a gateway to Israel for millions of visitors each year, but for Palestinians, it is a symbol of their ongoing occupation and oppression.

Palestinians and those perceived to be sympathetic to their cause are subjected to humiliating interrogations and deportations, highlighting the hypocrisy and contradiction of Israel’s propaganda. No amount of road name changes, planting of non-native trees, or image hangings can erase the truth about the Nakba so long as Palestinians continue to exist and resist.

Sarah Amr is a Palestinian writer interested in media discourse and liberation movements. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Communications from the University of Sussex.

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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.