File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0109, message 7

Date: Mon, 3 Sep 2001 02:51:52 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Commentaire sur le guerre

     Propaganda and war

     The first step is to restore the Palestinians'
history and humanity, writes Edward Said 

                   Never have the media been so
influential in determining the course of war as during
the Al-Aqsa
                   Intifada, which, as far as the
Western media are concerned, has essentially become a
battle over
                   images and ideas. Israel has
already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into
what in Hebrew is
                   called hasbara, or information for
the outside world (hence, propaganda). This has
included an
                   entire range of efforts: lunches
and free trips for influential journalists; seminars
for Jewish
                   university students who over a week
in a secluded country estate can be primed to "defend"
                   on the campus; bombarding
congressmen and -women with invitations and visits;
pamphlets and,
                   most important, money for election
campaigns; directing (or, as the case requires,
                   photographers and writers of the
current Intifada into producing certain images and not
     lecture and concert tours by prominent Israelis;
training commentators to make frequent references to
the Holocaust
     and Israel's predicament today; many
advertisements in the newspapers attacking Arabs and
praising Israel; and on
     and on. Because so many powerful people in the
media and publishing business are strong supporters of
Israel, the
     task is made vastly easier. 

     Although these are only a few of the devices used
to pursue the aims of every modern government, whether
     democratic or not, since the 1930s and '40s -- to
produce consent and approval on the part of the
consumer of news
     -- no country and no lobby more than Israel's has
used them in the US so effectively and for so long. 

     Orwell called this kind of misinformation
newspeak or doublethink: the intention to cover
criminal actions, especially
     killing people unjustly, with a veneer of
justification and reason. In Israel's case, which has
always had the intention
     to silence or make Palestinians invisible as it
robbed them of their land, this has been in effect a
suppression of the
     truth, or a large part of it, as well as a
massive falsification of history. What for the past
few months Israel has
     successfully wanted to prove to the world is that
it is an innocent victim of Palestinian violence and
terror, and that
     Arabs and Muslims have no other reason to be in
conflict with Israel except for an irreducibly
irrational hatred of
     Jews. Nothing more or less. And what has made
this campaign so effective is a long-standing sense of
Western guilt
     for anti-Semitism. What could be more efficient
than to displace that guilt onto another people, the
Arabs, and
     thereby feel not only justified but positively
assuaged that something good has been done for a
much-maligned and
     harmed people? To defend Israel at all costs --
even though it is in military occupation of
Palestinian land, has a
     powerful military, and has been killing and
wounding Palestinians in a ratio of four or five to
one -- is the goal of
     propaganda. That, plus going on with what it
does, but seeming to be a victim just the same. 

     Without any doubt, however, the extraordinary
success of this unparalleled and immoral effort has
been in large part
     due not only to the campaign's carefully planned
and executed detail, but to the fact that the Arab
side has been
     practically non-existent. When our historians
look back to the first 50 years of Israel's existence,
an enormous
     historical responsibility shall rest damningly on
the shoulders of the Arab leaders who have criminally
-- yes,
     criminally -- allowed this to go on without even
the most meagre and half-hearted response. Instead,
each of them
     has fought each of the others, or has relied on
the hopelessly self-serving theory that by trying to
     themselves with the American government (even
becoming clients of the US) they would assure
themselves of
     longevity in power, regardless of whether Arab
interests were being served or not. So deeply
ingrained has this
     notion become that even the Palestinian
leadership has subscribed to it, with the result that
as the Intifada rolls on,
     the average American hasn't the slightest inkling
that there is a narrative of Palestinian suffering and
dispossession at
     least as old as Israel itself. Meanwhile Arab
leaders come running to Washington begging for
American protection
     without even understanding that three generations
of Americans have been brought up on Israeli
propaganda to
     believe that Arabs are lying terrorists and that
it is wrong to do business with them, let alone
protect them. 

     Since 1948, Arab leaders have never bothered to
confront Israeli propaganda in the US. All the immense
amounts of
     Arab money invested in military spending (first
on Soviet, then Western arms) have come to nought
because Arab
     efforts have been neither protected by
information nor explained by patient, systematic
organising. The result is that
     literally hundred of thousands of lost Arab lives
have gone for nothing, nothing at all. The citizens of
the world's only
     superpower have been led to believe that
everything Arabs do and are is wasteful, violent,
fanatical and anti-Semitic.
     Israel is "our" only ally. And so $92 billion in
aid since 1967 have gone unquestioningly from the US
taxpayer to the
     Jewish state. As I said earlier, a total absence
of planning and thought vis--vis the US political and
cultural arena is
     hugely (but not exclusively) to blame for the
astounding amount of Arab land and lives lost to
Israel (subsidised by
     the US) since 1948, a major political crime which
I hope the Arab leaders one day answer for. 

     I recall that during the siege of Beirut in 1982,
a large non-governmental group of very successful
     businessmen and prominent intellectuals gathered
in London to establish an endowment to help
Palestinians on all
     levels. With the PLO trapped in Beirut and
incapable of doing much, it was felt that a
mobilisation of this sort might
     help us to help ourselves. I also recall that as
the funds were quickly gathered, a decision was made
after much
     discussion that fully half the money would go for
information in the West. It was felt that since -- as
usual --
     Palestinians were being oppressed by Israel with
scarcely a voice lifted in the West to support the
victims, it was
     imperative that money should be spent for
advertisements, media time, tours and the like in
order to make it more
     difficult to kill and further oppress
Palestinians without complaint or awareness. This was
especially important, we
     felt, in America, where taxpayers' money was
being spent to subsidise Israel's illegal wars,
settlements, and
     conquests. For about two years, this policy was
followed; then, for reasons I have never fully
understood, efforts to
     help the Palestinians in the US were abruptly
terminated. When I asked why, I was told by a
Palestinian gentleman
     who had made a fortune in the Gulf that "throwing
money away" in America was a waste. The philanthropy
     continues exclusively for the occupied
territories and Lebanon, where this association does
much good, but very little
     in comparison with the projects funded by the
European Union and numerous American foundations. 

     Some weeks ago the American Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), by far the
largest and most effective
     Arab-American organisation in the United States,
commissioned a public opinion poll on current American
     perspectives on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
A very wide and deep sample of the population was
polled, with quite
     startling, not to say disheartening results.
Israelis are still believed to be a pioneering
democratic people, even though
     no Israeli leader did very well in the poll.
Seventy-three per cent of the American people approve
of the idea of a
     Palestinian state, a very surprising result. The
interpretation of that statistic is that when you ask
an educated
     American who watches television and reads elite
newspapers whether s/he identifies with the
Palestinian struggle
     for independence and freedom, the answer is
mostly yes. But if the same person is asked what his
idea is about
     Palestinians, the answer is almost always
negative -- violence and terrorism. Images of the
Palestinians seem to be
     that they are uncompromising, aggressive, and
"alien," that is, not like "us." Even when asked about
     stone-throwing young people, whom we believe are
Davids fighting against Goliath, most Americans see
     rather than heroism. Americans still blame the
Palestinians for obstructing the peace process, Camp
David most
     particularly. Suicide bombing is viewed as
"inhuman" and is condemned universally. 

     What Americans think of Israelis is not a great
deal better, but there is a much greater
identification with them as
     people. The most disturbing thing is that hardly
any of the questioned Americans knew anything at all
about the
     Palestinian story, nothing about 1948, nothing at
all about Israel's illegal 34-year military
occupation. The main
     narrative model that dominates American thinking
still seems to be Leon Uris's 1950 novel Exodus. Just
as alarming
     is the fact that the most negative things in the
poll were what Americans thought and said about Yasser
Arafat, his
     uniform (seen as needlessly "militant"), his
speech, his presence. 

     Overall, then, the conclusion is that
Palestinians are viewed neither in terms of a story
that is theirs, nor in terms of a
     human image with which people can easily
identify. So successful has Israeli propaganda been
that it would seem
     that Palestinians really have few, if any
positive connotations. They are almost completely

     Fifty years of unopposed Israeli propaganda in
America have brought us to the point where, because we
do not
     resist or contest these terrible
misrepresentations in any significant way with images
and messages of our own, we
     are losing thousands of lives and acres of land
without troubling anyone's conscience. The
correspondent of the
     Independent, Phil Reeves, wrote passionately on
27 August that Palestinians are dying or being crushed
by Israel
     and the world looks on silently. 

     It is therefore up to Arabs and Palestinians
everywhere to break the silence, in a rational,
organised and effective
     way, not by shooting off guns or by wailing or
complaining. God knows we have reason to do all of the
above, but
     cold logic is necessary now. In the American
mind, analogies with South Africa's liberation
struggle or with the
     horrible fate of the Native Americans most
emphatically do not occur. We must make those
analogies above all by
     humanising ourselves and thus reversing the
cynical, ugly process whereby American columnists like
     Krauthammer and George Will audaciously call for
more killing and bombing of Palestinians, a suggestion
they would
     not dare do for any other people. Why should we
passively accept the fate of flies or mosquitoes, to
be killed
     wantonly with American backing any time war
criminal Sharon decides to wipe out a few more of us? 

     To that end I was pleased to learn from ADC
President Ziad Asali that his organisation is about to
embark on an
     unprecedented public information campaign in the
mass media to redress the balance and present the
Palestinians as
     human beings -- can you believe the irony of such
a necessity? -- as women who are teachers and doctors
as well
     as mothers, men who work in the field and are
nuclear engineers, as people who have had years and
years of
     military occupation and are still fighting back.
(Incidentally, one astounding result of the poll is
that less than three or
     four per cent of the sample had any idea that
there was an Israeli occupation in the first place. So
even the main fact
     of Palestinian existence has been obscured by
Israeli propaganda). This effort has never before been
made in the
     US: there have been 50 years of silence, which is
about to be broken. 

     Even though it is modest, the announced ADC
campaign is also a major step forward. Consider that
the Arab world
     seems to be in a state of moral and political
paralysis, its leaders encumbered by their ties both
to Israel and, more
     important, to the US, their people kept in a
state of anxiety and repression. As they and their
brave Lebanese
     comrades did in 1982 when 19,000 were killed by
Israeli military power, Palestinians in Gaza and the
West Bank are
     dying not only because Israel has the power to do
so with impunity, but because for the first time in
modern history,
     the active alliance between propaganda in the
West and military force worked out by Israel and its
supporters, has
     enabled the sustained collective punishment of
Palestinians with American tax dollars, $5 billion of
which go to Israel
     annually. Media representations of Palestinians
show them with neither history nor humanity, as
     rock-throwing people of violence, and have made
it possible for the dim-witted but politically astute
George Bush to
     blame the Palestinians for violence. This new ADC
campaign sets out to restore their history and
humanity, to show
     them (as they have always been) as people "like
us," fighting for the right to live in freedom, to
raise their children, to
     die in peace. Once even the glimmerings of this
story penetrate the American consciousness, the truth
will, I hope,
     begin to dissipate the vast cloud of evil
propaganda with which Israel has covered reality.
Since it is clear that the
     media campaign can only go so far, then the hope
is that Arab Americans will feel empowered enough to
enter the
     political battle in the US to try to break,
modify, or fray the link that binds US policy so
tightly to Israel. And then, we
     can hope again. 

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