This is a translation of an article by Santiago Alba Rico, originally published in diagonalperiodico.net, 17th July. It concerns the way in which mass media are complicit in feeding the Israeli war machine and the destruction of Palestine. It may be of particular interest to an Irish readership given that the ‘syntactical manipulations’ and the ‘bar-room brawl’ framework of understanding have both been used by the Irish government on the floor of the Dáil in recent days, both by the new Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, and by the new Tánaiste Joan Burton. Thus the writer’s warning concerning mainstream media applies equally to the Irish government: that it is following Israel down a path strewn with the corpses of justice, law, democracy, and its own credibility.
Routine apologies for terrorism
Palestine always generates a double and contradictory unanimity: the unanimity of international solidarity, which is appalled by Israel’s crimes, and the unanimity of mainstream media, which justifies and even applauds them. Major media outlets and agencies that may differ on other matters (Le Monde, El País, The New York Times, AFP, Reuters) and even human rights organisations that can be very severe in other cases (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International) accept and transmit as true beyond doubt the two basic myths of Israeli propaganda.
The first is that the bombing raids on Gaza are a “response” to a Palestinian act of aggression. Here, syntactical manipulation plays an essential role: “Israel bombs Gaza following rocket fire on Tel Aviv and Haifa”, or “Hamas launches three rockets into Israel and Israeli air forces hit Gaza”. This syntactical twisting is furthermore applied to mitigate Israel’s responsibility for the deaths of civilian victims. Israel never directly “kills”; rather it appears mysteriously linked to the appearance of Palestinian corpses, who, as the grammatical subject of the sentences, seem somehow guilty for their own deaths: “Ten children die following an Israeli bombardment.” Following! As if the children had perfidiously chosen that moment to die of pneumonia or a playtime accident!
In a bar-room brawl it’s difficult to know who started it. But not in a colonial relation: it is always the occupying power, which controls the life of the natives either directly or indirectly, who started it. The ethical and professional imperative of responsible media outlets who are interested in helping to resolve such a long and painful ‘conflict’ ought to be to remind time and again of the original aggression of the occupation. But at the same time they ought to faithfully reproduce the timelines -the first rockets from Gaza were launched in response to a brutal Army operation conceived to inflict collective punishment on the Palestinians after the murder as yet unclarified of three Israeli colonists [in Spanish, ‘colono’; the usual term in English is ‘settler’]- and help to denounce the policy of Israel, which bombs when it wants and for whatever reason it wants, in a routine act of existential self-affirmation, independently of the resistance of its victims. Instead of this, mainstream outlets broadcast the ‘bar-room brawl’ version when it comes to Israel, in which the historical background is lost and the timelines of violence inverted. The idea that Israel “is defending itself” entails two false tacit assumptions: that Israel is “defensible” as a project, and that it is subjected to the implacable siege of an irrational enemy.
In this ‘bar-room brawl’ it is very important to feed a second illusion: that of balance or equality of forces. There is an ‘escalation’, an ‘exchange’, a ‘war’ between two equivalent armies. To achieve this there is a need, among other things, to turn Qassam rockets into missiles, or, at any rate, exaggerate their destructive potential or focus on the number of launches (600!) as if there were some kind of possible proportion between 600 flies and 600 cans of insecticide (it is as insects that they treat the Palestinians) applied in to a hive. It is scandalous, for example, that Le Monde should publish an article headed “What is Hamas’s military capacity?”, thus turning Hamas into the enemy and moreover into a dangerous enemy, whilst saying nothing about the weapons of the fourth most powerful army in the world. This ‘balance’ moreover requires stripping of importance, if not censoring, the almost 200 Palestinian victims, many of them children and women, and calling attention, by contrast to the Israeli victims: nine injured and 52 panic attacks. The search for ‘balance’ means accepting that a wounded Israeli is worth more than 20 dead Palestinians. If the Palestinians are insects, this can even appear an excessive concession.
One of the pensées of philospher Blaise Pascal is a rhetorical question: why kill me if you are the stronger? One might think that Pascal thinks murder unnecessary wherever one holds sufficient power. But one can also interpret it as if Pascal were suggesting a tautological response: why kill me if you are the stronger? And Israel responds: “It is precisely because of this, because I am the stronger. Because I can kill you, because I have the means to do it, because killing you confirms my existence”.
Worse is when, besides being the strongest, one also wants to be the most moral [el mas bueno]. If one has the means to kill, one kills. If one has the means to kill and one wants to be the most moral, one creates propaganda. A long history of blame for the West and pressure from Israel has configured a gargantuan propaganda apparatus routinely dedicated to turn the lamb into the killer and the killer into the lamb. Our major media outlets still fall for it. Ordinary people do not. Almost no-one believes any more in the lamb-like goodness of a State that flagrantly disregards international laws, has occupied lands that do not belong to it for more than 60 years, turns Gaza into a ghetto with no exit and bombs its hospitals and mosques from the air. It may be the strongest but it is not, by any means, the most moral. The propaganda no longer works. Israel, just like Bashar Al-Assad (his own people’s Netanyahu) relies only on naked force and, the more it conclusively loses the respect of those who cannot be fooled, the more it will use it and in more destructive ways. The mass media should not follow it down that path, in whose ditches there already lie the corpses of justice, law, democracy, and that of its own credibility.