Walls, blackouts and veils in Palestine

Image: Ömer Faruk Yıldız


The selective blindness that operates when it comes to Israel

Nine years ago I wrote the text that follows, detailing what I would have called then, as I call it today, the Selective Blindness that operates when it comes to Israel. The essence of what she said then remains true today.

Last July 9 marked the tenth anniversary of the International Court of Justice's Opinion on the wall built by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Court, by an overwhelming majority, which only failed to convince the American judge, decided that the wall was illegal, because the occupation is illegal, but also because it aims at acquiring territory by force, prevents the self-determination of the Palestinian people and violates the right humanitarian and human rights of the Palestinian population.

Ten years later, the wall is still there, but the Court's decision opened a crack, still timid and little noticed, through which one glimpses the face of Israel as a project of conquest mounted on the erasure of the Palestinian people and the disregard of their rights .


the anti-criticism shield

To this wall of concrete and barbed wire is added a monumental narrative building, whose cornerstones precede the very creation of the Israeli State, continuously developed and sophisticated, which cultivates the myths of wars that are always defensive and of the permanent disposition for peace, peace this always rejected by Palestinians and other Arabs. This discursive arsenal operates to legitimize Israeli actions, but it also functions as a containment dam to bar any criticism directed at the State of Israel.

In this propaganda edifice, some slogans are more intensely used at times when one moves from the daily violence of occupation and siege to the more acute violence of bombings and armed incursions by land.

When it comes to massacres, such as the one we have witnessed for almost two months recently, a system comes into operation that intends to shoot down any speech that denounces the disproportionality of Israeli actions, the taking of civilians as intentional targets, the deaths of children and women, the bombing of hospitals and schools, the war crimes perpetrated.

This barrage of anti-criticism includes the usual self-defense arguments; the use by “terrorists” of civilians as human shields; warnings to civilians to get out of neighborhoods about to be obliterated; of the smart bombs that only occasionally fall on schools full of refugees; that any errors and excesses are duly investigated.

But, from this argumentative arsenal, the most powerful weapon, the one that stands as the most difficult obstacle to overcome, in addition to hovering as a supreme threat over the critics' heads, is that of anti-Semitism.

Equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism or between the latter and any denunciations of Israel operates, first, as a silencer, a filter that strips criticism of some of its vital force, and then, as an attempt, often successful, to of substituting one agenda for another, of substituting the problem of anti-Semitism for massacre as the priority among legitimate concerns.

These arguments and the intense sponsorship they enjoy in the market of ideas function as censorship mechanisms to which more traditional ones are added, which make it difficult for divergent explanations to circulate and predetermine the parameters of what is acceptable as an argument.


The blackout of the critical sense, and the sense of justice

This is greatly helped by the naturalization of concepts and judgments, by those very strong and sedimented judgments that people have about some things at the same time that they have no, or almost no, knowledge about them. As far as the Palestinian question is concerned, Hamas and terrorism are just the easiest examples to remember.

And this naturalization refers to a mysterious phenomenon, to a certain extent fascinating, but to a much greater extent exasperating, which usually occurs when it comes to Palestine and Israel. Many people seem to be affected in these moments by a blackout of critical judgment and rationality, often accompanied by a moral blackout. It is not known for sure if the relative success of some arguments is due to this erasure of intelligence or if, on the contrary, their success is precisely in operating the erasure as in a magic trick.

Anyway, the fact remains that in the eyes of many intelligent people, the absurd appears reasonable, the unjustifiable finds a plausible and acceptable explanation, the incredible becomes unquestionable truth. And these people convince themselves and want to convince us that it is in fact a matter of self-defence, that it is acceptable that 500 children died, since they were hit by smart bombs that wanted to spare them and were only looking for the “terrorists”, who in reality It is true that Palestinians expose children to death to make them marketing tools.

This blind spot of intelligence, this relative blindness, not only victimizes reason, but also obscures the sense of justice.

Edward Said wrote, shortly after the death of Isaiah Berlin, an essay that well illustrates this relative blindness. After pointing to the sharpness of Isaiah Berlin's intelligence, the depth of his gaze and the breadth of his erudition, Edward Said denounces the fundamental contradiction: "Isaiah Berlin was a liberal, a man of justice and compassion, of civilized moderation in everything except where Israel was concerned.”

Isaiah Berlin, a staunch and ardent Zionist, would not, in all that he wrote, refer once to the Palestinians as such. He would not have been able to perceive them as anything other than an impediment to the Zionist project which, in order to be successful, had to get them out of the way. His blindness would not have allowed him to perceive the injustice of the tragedy imposed on the Palestinians and, much more serious, it would not have allowed him to perceive the Palestinians as a people.


The suffocated narrative

The historical denial of the existence of a Palestinian people, necessary to affirm the status of the earth as res nullius, as a land without people destined for the people to whom it was promised, remains constant until today and is accompanied by the vilification of those who are “on the other side”, those less civilized, radicals, lovers of death.

Isaiah Berlin was just one of many distinguished intellectuals and men to lend weight and legitimacy to the Zionist and Israeli narrative, a narrative constructed and maintained with refinements of sophistication.

On the other hand, few voices of comparative caliber have been raised in favor of the Palestinian question, which seems to lack a narrative that is competently and constantly fed, in favor of a Palestinian people whose voice cannot overcome the powerful wind that blows in the opposite direction. .

The same imbalance verified in the field of weapons is reproduced in this clash between competing narratives. And attempts to stifle the Palestinian voice do not just serve to keep injustices covered up, protected by the shadow of the propaganda barrier. What is much more dangerous is that the atrophy of the narrative helps to consummate the erasure of the people and their history.

It is therefore necessary, at the same time, to rescue history, nurture the Palestinians' capacities to tell themselves, and overcome the wall, pierce the veil that covers the true nature of the beast.


The face behind the veil

The first characteristic feature of the Israeli project, as it is being implemented, is ethnic cleansing, now proven both as a factual reality and as an intention. Historians like Ilan Pappe have recovered the real nature of the expulsion of Palestinians from their original land, both in the first moments of the institution of the State of Israel and throughout the decades that followed, as an everyday fact. And an attentive ear to everything that the fathers of Zionism and the founders of the State of Israel said will perceive that the permanence of the Arabs was understood by them as an obstacle to be eliminated.

The second trait is the constant movement towards the war of conquest and the expansion of Israeli territory. This is also evidenced in the work of a new historiography that undoes the myths fed especially around the clashes of 1948 and 1967 and centered on the idea of ​​self-defense and the response to suffered or imminent aggressions. What's more, one only needs to look closely at a series of maps of historic Palestine from the British Mandate to the present day to see the Israeli advance on a shrinking Palestinian territory.

That the intention is the conquest of territory by force cannot be in doubt as, over time, Israel works to make the return of less and less territory acceptable, while at the same time returning none. Israel operates, in fact, with the certainty that the judgment about the face that a solution must have to be considered legitimate, fair, changes with time and in function of the accomplished facts on the ground: at the end of the First War, the solution thought as legitimate by the powers counted a single State in historical Palestine, already in 1947 the Palestinian territory would occupy 48% of that total and, from 1967, 22%. And with each passing year the percentage loses a little fat.

While the conquest is not completely consummated, or while the Israelis cannot convince themselves to give back something significant to the Palestinians, the occupation of the territories that that international court considers, for the time being, should constitute the space of a Palestinian state. The occupation is a verifiable fact, it does not depend on recovery of history or interpretation. And yet, one sometimes has the impression that it does not exist. This must be one of the greatest successes of Israeli propaganda magic. And in the occupation, no matter how much they try to present us with “the parties to the conflict” as equivalent, there is always an occupant and an occupied.

That the occupation is combined with the effort to conquer the territory and with the gradual ethnic cleansing is a fact that is evidenced by the settlements whose inhabitants today represent about 30% of the population of the West Bank, that is, about 700 thousand settlers.

And the settlements constitute, at the same time, the most visible face of an inherent aspect of the occupation, that is, the violation of rights and the oppression of the occupied. These things are a little more obvious, if you want to look at them, when contrasted with the privileges enjoyed by the colonists.

The violation and limitation of rights, widespread in the West Bank, perhaps show their sharpest face in the Gaza Strip, territory that Israeli propaganda insists on telling us has been vacated and from where the settlers were forcibly removed, as if it were a question of a gift made to the Palestinians. Over that territory there has been a terrible siege for years that has turned almost 2 million people into prisoners in the open.

The combination of the siege with the occupation and with a legal framework that concerns non-Jewish Palestinians who are Israeli citizens means that in all territories where the Israeli order prevails – Israel itself, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – a segregationist system that, constituted, as it can only be, by violations of rights, also serves to operate the gradual ethnic cleansing and preserve the purity of the Jewish character of the State.

Against this characterization of apartheid Israel also raises a barrier of protection that insists on presenting Israel as a true democracy, the only one in the entire Middle East region, and which also has its preferred slogans, equal political rights and parliamentary representation being the usual preferred ones. .

But neither does this veil resist a more critically penetrating look, even if it finds this last trait of what has been called the beast, that is, the sophistication with which not only the narrative and rhetoric of advertising are constructed, but which also operates in the own execution of ethnic cleansing, in the implementation of territorial expansion, in the maintenance of the occupation and the siege and in the construction and justification of segregation. It's a sophistication that, leaving outlets, filters the impetus of critics and provides prompt responses to defenders.

* Salem Nasser is a professor at the Faculty of Law of FGV-SP.

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