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The Violence, Crisis and Tragedy of Israeli Propaganda

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In recent weeks the world is witnessing another round of violence in Israel/Palestine. Though we are accustomed to seeing the same tragic and violent scenario repeat itself, this time it is different. The current wave of resistance stems from a new generation of Palestinian activists who are not affiliated with a particular organization or faction. Protests include violent and nonviolent demonstrations as well as attacks on Israeli civilians in both the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and Israel.

The disorganized and sporadic nature of this resistance has caught Israel off guard: whereas the government is accustomed to respond by mobilizing its military and propaganda (aka “Hasbara”) outlets against predefined Palestinian targets such as Hamas, it currently lacks someone to hold directly accountable. As such, Israel has resorted to collective punishment of Palestinian society and inflammatory anti-Palestinian rhetoric. The latter has generated an environment whereby civilian/vigilante violence is currently surging in Israel.

Violence in various forms is necessary to maintain and expand the Israeli occupation in the OPT and for the domination of and discriminatory limitations placed on Palestinians who live as citizens within pre-’67 borders of Israel. For this purpose, the Israeli government enacts policies that have two goals: 1) segregation of Israelis and Palestinians and; 2) fragmentation of Palestinian society.

These are aimed at containing Palestinians within predefined territories on the one hand, while denying them the ability to assemble, organize and thus effectively mount protest on the other. Israel has promoted each of these aims individually but also conjointly; the construction of the separation wall effectively creates a barrier between Israeli and Palestinian societies, but also physically dissects Palestinian villages and separates farmers from their land (for example see here). To implement these policies the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and other branches of Israel’s security forces use violent tactics including curfews, house demolitions, checkpoints, nightly raids, arrests (often without charge) and other routine and often random violence.

Because humans are hard-wired to feel empathy, violence and discrimination need to be morally and ethically justified. For this purpose, Israeli propaganda focuses on two main points: 1) historically linking contested land to Jewish heritage and; 2) dehumanizing Palestinians and their leaders. While the former attempts to provide an inherent Jewish “right” to the land, the latter serves to instill fear and distrust of Palestinians and thus absolve Israelis of any responsibility for their own crimes and those committed in their name.

Quite predictably, because the current wave of resistance does not present the Hasbara with a clear target, it is in crisis. Unaware or indifferent to their underlying racism, Israeli officials have been endorsing vigilante violence and inciting the masses against Palestinians and their leadership of past and present. Some notable examples include the immediate labeling of protesters as suspect of “violence and terrorism”, incendiary remarks by Israeli officials about the current Palestinian leadership, exclusion of Arab-Israeli representatives from official briefings, a call for civilian armament at all times in order to combat “terrorists” and an outrageous claim by Prime Minister Netanyahu claiming that the Mufti of Jerusalem was the impetus behind the Nazi “final solution” for European Jewry.

Segregation and chronic fear lead to an inability to empathize with others’ suffering. When a lack of empathy is combined with incitement of fear and encouragement toward vigilante-style aggression, it produces a dangerous cocktail that leads to unbridled violence. During the past few weeks in Israel these sorts of events have become commonplace including several extra judicial killings of suspects (see here for sample) and a mob-crazed lynching (of a man who happened to be innocent).

If we are to judge by the rhetoric coming from Israeli officials, their inflammatory propaganda will only get worse, and with it more of these vicious and tragic acts of violence. It is clear that in addition to the daily violence of occupation, this escalation in anti-Palestinian rhetoric/propaganda will have tragic consequences not only for Palestinians, but also on Israeli society.

Yoav Litvin is a Doctor of Psychology/ Behavioral Neuroscience.  

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