Few things ought to perplex us more than the immense energy exerted by state authorities to disguise their most unsavory actions. What are they afraid of? These powerful agents routinely survey the entire planet in terms of who they can or cannot afford to bully.
As ancient Greek historian Thucydides easily deduced, “the powerful do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must.” Drop into an International Relations course anywhere and you’ll get an earful of that cynical sentiment being lauded as the supreme bottom line. Thucydides’ rueful lament is regarded in elite circles as a hearty endorsement, and they rarely bother to hide it among themselves. Anyone who believes otherwise is regarded as a hopeless rube, ripe for exploitation.
Still, if we ordinary mortals all approved, as sheer common sense, the repulsive notion that “might makes right,” there would be no need for crafty leaders to resort to deceit about their uglier self-serving activities. Yet most state leaders do believe that they must prevent embarrassing or incriminating information leaking out.
Even Hitler’s hideous Nazis during the Second World War conscientiously lied not only to the outside world but to the German people, who were totally under their control, about the holocaust and other mass crime sprees. Good PR is deemed almost as vital in international politics as arms manufacturing, and indeed has long been considered a pretty potent weapon in itself.
Every government does its best to daub on beautifying cosmetics: a few indignant denials here, a few frothy distractions there, and shiny humanitarian rhetoric spread everywhere. No one can surpass the state of Israel in fashioning a heroic image of itself as a tiny endangered democracy threatened by surrounding tyrannical regimes and internally by irrationally hostile Palestinians.
That carefully cultivated international image nonetheless is slowly cracking up against Israel’s plainly apartheid reality and its huge military power, both aspects undeniably on display in every major clash. Even sympathetic mass media can’t quite conceal the rougher aspects of Israel anymore.
During the Gaza strip clash last month, the mainstream press offered a fascinating evidence of a subtle shift in reporting practices. A May 23 Associated Press report ~ one could pick many others ~ typified the sly strategic style.
First, the AP announces that Gaza long-range rockets, unprovoked, rained down on perfectly innocent Israel, which was forced to defend itself with artillery and air strikes that managed to kill or wound about 20 Gazans for every Israeli casualty.
This thumbnail narrative usually is the entirety of the account, but this time around the customary attribution of blame on irrational Palestinians was followed in the next few sentences by an amazing admission that the rocket attacks were retaliation for sweeping evictions by Jewish settlers of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and for provocative acts by what AP described as heavy-handed” Israeli police action against Muslim protesters around the Al-Aqsa mosque. Well over 1500 Palestinians were arrested by Israelis since the rockets began firing. Of Israeli arrests only a handful are noted.
US outlets mostly echoed this blithe pattern of contradictory reportage. The facts, or enough of them, were there. It is as if the journalist, or more likely the news agency, was hoping readers woouldn’t notice the connection between the key events.
The regional eruption still was defined by the AP as “the Fourth Israel-Hamas War in a just over a decade” rather than as a conflict since at least 1948 between Israel and Palestinians over the steady ethnic cleansing of the latter.
Israel Defence Minister Benny Gantz is quoted as hailing a “punishing blow” to Hamas, as if Hamas is the source, and not a symptom, of Middle East woes and was around at the time of the Nakba. If you are a hasty reader, the intended impression is that the Palestinians themselves instigate all the agony they suffer. If you read carefully, though, there is plenty of subversive content in the devilish details to alarm Israeli authorities.
Bernie Sanders and legislators such as Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez are the most visible political figures opposing the annual stream of nearly $4 billion to Israel during its latest assaults which occurred, as the Associated Press noted with rare candor, on the “Israeli national holiday that marks the seizure of East Jerusalem in the six day war of 1967.”
Usually unmentioned in the Western press is that annexation of East Jerusalem, let alone efforts to drive out Arab residents, is illegal under UN law. Seven hundred thousand Israeli settlers are usually absent.
A map displaying the pathetic polka dot existence of West Bank Palestinian areas is extremely unlikely to grace front pages. The Western press hardly mentions that outside money poured in to rebuild shattered Palestinian areas is another subsidy to israelis, who can count on complicit Western philanthropy to pay for all the damage they do.
Yet, if ‘might makes right,’ Israel would be hailed internationally for its callous actions, and plainly is not. The press is slowly recognizing what Israel likes to call, when favourable, “facts on the ground,” but these facts expose cruel bigoted practices.
The two-state solution, as journalist Gideon Levy, among others, argues, is now long gone and only a single state with equal rights for all residents is a realistic option. For Israel’s own sake, a reckoning with its own systemic faults may pave, however tortuously, the way for an equitable and genuine peace.
The writers are well-known commentators and the authors of No Clean Hands, Parables of Permanent War and many other books.