Victimhood and media rhetoric on Israeli affairs

By J. Michael Cole  / 

Wed, Apr 18, 2007 - Page 9

Throughout his life, the late Edward Said exposed the grave injustice done to Palestinians under Israeli occupation and through his prolific writing showed how the media has used language in a way that conceals the truth about Israel's depredations in the Occupied Territories.

Aside from the rampant use of the words "terrorist," "hardline," "extremist" and "radical" to describe any type of activity which constitutes resistance to an illegal military occupation (and "moderate" for those who have yielded to Israeli pressure), another, more subtle use of language creeps up every now and then, one that is indicative of the acceptance, however unconscious it may be, that Israel, despite all the evidence to the contrary, continues the be the victim in the conflict.

On April 14, The Associated Press filed a report about revelations, based on video footage shot by a human rights activist, that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has for years used Palestinians -- sometimes mere teenagers -- as human shields while conducting military operations, an act that constitutes a violation of the Geneva Convention, which forbids putting civilians in harm's way during military operations.

While the report seems fair and balanced in its portrayal of the human shield incident, it then provides some historical background in an ostensible attempt to explain why the Israeli military may have engaged in such activities.

One passage is especially worth scrutinizing -- it reads as follows (italics added):

"The multiple incidents underscore the dilemma the army faces after 40 years of occupation in the West Bank. While it says its operations are needed to protect Israel against Palestinian militants, it has been forced to use increasingly tough measures during the last six years of fighting."

Rather than being described for what it is -- a powerful, US-backed military illegally occupying a largely undefended people -- Israel is described as facing a "dilemma," as if it were forced to make a choice by an external force when, in reality, pulling out and ending the long occupation would immediately end that so-called dilemma.

More revealing is the next sentence, which claims that Israel "has been forced to use increasingly tough measures" against Palestinians.

Here again, Israel is being "forced" to act inhumanely and in contravention of international standards of conduct in military situations.

The passage implies, without indicating what they might be, actions on the part of the Palestinians that left no choice to the IDF but to break international law and thereby recklessly endanger the lives of innocent civilians.

As with its illegal war against Lebanon last year, Israel is once again portrayed as the victim -- and this despite all the evidence, statistics, body counts, TV footage and testimonies to the contrary.

No matter what it does and even when its illegal actions are exposed, as with the present case or last year when it used banned cluster bombs in Lebanese civilian areas, resulting in numerous civilian deaths after the hostilities had ended, the repercussions on Israel -- domestically as well as at the international level -- are always minimal.

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was warred against, hunted down, captured, put on trial and ultimately hanged for his cruelty, which included the alleged use of human shields against US aerial bombardment, for which the US press and war-makers at the Pentagon slammed him to no end.

Former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was also accused of making recourse to similar tactics during the Kosovo war in 1999, which US and NATO generals used to deflect criticism when their guided and not-so-guided missiles went astray and killed civilians.

But when the IDF turns to similar tactics, which on at least one occasion resulted in the death of the Palestinian used as a human shield, the repercussions are next to nil and we can expect the investigation launched by the Israeli army to amount to very little. At most, a commander is suspended, as if this were an isolated event.

The only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire lies in a use of language that truly reflects reality and doesn't turn the tables on the aggressor and the victim.

The IDF was not forced to use Palestinian teenagers as human shields, nor is it forced, despite what its propaganda would have us believe, to occupy and repress entire generations of people, as it has done for almost 60 years now. It chooses to do so, just as it should choose to do the right thing and leave.

J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.