Manufacturing Excuses for the Inexcusable

Image by Craig Manners.

In the more than 100 days since the Israeli Defense Forces began their operations in Gaza, its ‘unity’ government has resorted to many distortions of language, some new, some long standing, with what seems to be the goal of dehumanizing all Palestinians.

It shows just how much the world has been changed by the unfiltered immediacy of camera phones and social media that Israeli propaganda seems much clumsier and is clearly less influential than it’s been in the past.

One of the chief arguments used to excuse the relentless slaughter of innocents, more than 25,000 as of this writing, is that Hamas, which has controlled the enclave without a vote since 2006, uses civilians as ‘human shields’. Even hospitals have been targeted by the Israeli Defense Forces under this pretense and the evidence presented after the fact would be laughable if the results of these attacks on these and other vital institutions weren’t so grim.

There have also been reports in the past of IDF forces using Palestinian civilians as in precisely this way in Gaza and in support of settlers on the West Bank, a fact that never seems to get mentioned amid all the hand wringing in the Western press about Hamas’ use of residential areas to launch low tech, usually ineffective attacks from one of the most densely populated places on earth.

As much as we might wish it weren’t so, the use of civilian areas by guerrilla groups engaged in asymmetric warfare is hardly novel, including in the context of the creation of the state of Israel.

In a very interesting piece in the London Review of Books, Neve Gordon noted that two separate Zionist paramilitary groups stored weapons in civilian locations when the Palestinian territory was under the British Mandate. The first place she mentions was a synagogue, the second an elementary school. Rather than burying this history, there are plaques at both locations celebrating the part they played in the creation of the country.

At times, what is omitted from language is just as important as the euphemisms used to excuse the inexcusable. Israel’s government no longer uses the term ‘colonization’ to describe the creation of the Zionist nation-state but this term was a point of pride in an earlier era.

As author Isabella Hammad and historian Sahar Huneidi explained in the Nation magazine:

“Until the 1960s and the first wave of successful anti-colonial independence movements, Zionists were not ashamed to call their project colonialism. Established with the aim of creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine, their institutions from 1897 onward included the Jewish Colonization Association, the Society for the Colonization of the Land of Israel, the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, and the Jewish Colonial Trust.”

The erasure of, or at the very least, removal, of Palestinians has always been at the heart of this colonial project.

When it comes to all too common violations of international law, regardless of the perpetrators, we should at least be able to call things what they are, rather than finding convenient distortions to legitimize ethnic cleansing and even genocidal behavior.

Hamas and the IDF both violate humanitarian laws and rules of warfare. Slaughtering civilians is simply a war crime.

Murdering young people at a music festival is not an act of liberation. Killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians and destroying vital infrastructure with military force while also denying over two million people food, water and access to medicine has nothing to do with ‘self defense’.

The many tragic images coming out of Gaza reveal this simple truth.

Derek Royden is a writer based in Montreal, Canada.