The Guardian October 25,2000


"Blaming the victim"

by Dr Hanan Ashrawi

"Blaming the victim" has been the common resort of the guilty in 
rationalising and distorting the horror of the crime itself. Whether 
battered wives, abused children, or Palestinians long subjected to the 
brutality of the horrendous Israeli military occupation, the first (and 
last) resort of the cowardly is in maligning the victim, in accusing 
him/her/them of having brought about the deserved cruelty of the crime.

The essential prerequisite, of course, is the total dehumanisation of the 
victims and the elimination of their most basic rights and attributes as 
well as claims to protection.

Hence, the latest eruption of confrontations between the Israeli occupation 
army and civilian Palestinian protestors became the playing field for the 
full force of the Israeli "spin machine" in a most deliberate, 
concentrated, and racist exercise of deception and dehumanisation directed 
against a whole people.

The most basic form of deception is in fabricating a false symmetry between 
occupier and occupied, between oppressor and victim.

The "violence" of the powerful Israeli occupation army using live 
ammunition, tanks and helicopter gunships is (at best) equated with the 
"violence" of Palestinian civilians protesting their victimisation and 
continued loss of rights, lands, and lives.

In addition, the Palestinians are called upon to be docile, to stop the 
"violence", to end the "siege" of Israel  though the strongest army in 
the region is being "threatened" by the unarmed people's rejection of its 
occupation and brutality.

The obvious and simple solution, of course, is to withdraw the army and end 
the occupation.

Devaluation of Palestinian rights

This, ironically, is accompanied by a devaluation of Palestinian rights and 
lives by translating our objective weakness into a diminution of rights 
whereby the powerful determines the parameters of "justice" for the weak.

Palestinians should be "grateful" for whatever "generous offer" Israel 
chooses to "grant" them, regardless of the glaring injustice and illegality 
of the Israeli negotiating stance.

Both the extreme right and extreme left in Israel (as well as the US) have 
adopted this condescending, patronising approach to peace  Barak has gone 
the "farthest" in "offering" the Palestinians almost 90 per cent of their 
lands with some "responsibilities" in Jerusalem, and those "ungrateful" 
Palestinians are being "intransigent" and hard line.

Having compromised ourselves down to 22 per cent of historical Palestine, 
we are now being asked to be party to Israel's illegal annexation of 
Jerusalem and its settlement policies  i.e. an unholy partnership for the 
violation of international law and the relevant UN resolutions.

Should we be unwilling to self-negate, to refuse the role of good little 
natives, and to continue rejecting the Israeli unilateral version of 
"peace" that "offers" us a subservient statelet of isolated Bantustans 
under Israel's apartheid system, then we will be pounded into submission.

After all, if pressure and threat and political arm-twisting do not work, 
sheer naked military aggression can produce the desired results  since 
"Arabs understand only the language of violence".

Instant scare tactics or panic politics come into play with such labels as 
the "terrorist" or "dictatorial" or "violent" Palestinians, while depicting 
the reality of the Palestinian human will to resist subjugation and 
oppression as proof of such misrepresentations.

A catch-22 situation is clearly visible: Arafat must "control" his people 
(nation of sheep?) and "order" them to calm down and accept their 
enslavement and repression by the Israelis, otherwise he is no longer a 
"peace partner" and cannot be considered a "leader".

At the same time, Israel cannot deal with Arafat or the Palestinians 
because they are inherently "undemocratic" and therefore have nothing in 
common with such "civilised" democracies as Israel and the US.

Dehumanisation

In parallel, other ready-made labels and stereotypical epithets are easily 
pulled out as a convenient branding exercise to reduce the humanity of the 
Palestinians.

The reduction of our humanity to a series of abstractions is nowhere as 
sinister as in the numerical game.

Palestinian victims of Israeli live fire are daily given as "X" numbers 
killed and "Y" numbers wounded. Their names, identities, dashed hopes, and 
shattered dreams are nowhere mentioned.

The visual documentation of the cold-blooded murder of the child Muhammad 
al-Durra shattered the complacency of those who had been comfortable with 
the anonymity of the Palestinians and the invisibility of their suffering.

Even then, the Israeli propaganda machine tried to distort the truth even 
in the face of irrefutable evidence.

First, it was said that he was killed by Palestinian "gun men". Then, he 
was "caught in the crossfire".

The worst version was in the cynical depiction of the child Muhammad as a 
"trouble-maker" or a "mischievous" child who brought it upon himself  as 
though the proper response to a child living his childhood is deliberate 
death.

The last accusation involved a question: "What was he doing there?"

The real question

The real question should have been "what was the Israeli army doing there?" 
in the heart of Palestinian Gaza shooting at civilians including a child 
and his father who had been caught red-handed attempting to indulge in the 
"provocative" act of shopping together.

Note the difference, however, when two Israeli undercover agents, belonging 
to the notorious Israeli death squads were killed by Palestinian 
protestors.

No Palestinian attempted to justify the act. Rather orders were issued to 
investigate and arrest those responsible. After all, there should be such a 
thing as the rule of law and due process.

Instead, Israel moved its tanks and armies even closer to tighten the siege 
and strangulation of Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps.

Then it brought in its Apache helicopter gun ships and shelled Palestinian 
cities and towns in a most senseless and cruel form of collective 
punishment.

Its version of events presented the Israeli agents as reservists who had 
mistakenly "strayed" into Ramallah and then were "lynched" by the mob.

References to "slaughter" and "blood thirsty" and "savagery" became the 
prevalent verbal currency.

While no one would condone the killing of the soldiers, it is important 
however, to deal with the real facts and the context:

Ramallah, as a city under total Israeli military siege, was closed off to 
all movement in or out of the city.

Only one entrance was open, entirely under the control of multiple Israeli 
military checkpoints. Thus to "stray" into Ramallah would require 
deliberate and repeated attempts requiring tenacity, persistence, and even 
guile.

The two Israeli agents were clearly infiltrated and planted into the midst 
of a protest march in the heart of the city.

The occasion was the funeral of a Palestinian man, Issam Joudeh Hamad, from 
the village of Umm Safa, who had been abducted by Israeli settlers and 
tortured to death in a most grisly manner.

Gruesome footage and photographs of the body, plus the testimony of the 
doctors who had examined it, were not repeatedly displayed before the eyes 
of the world for the sake of scoring points or dehumanising the Israelis.

Some Arab stations informed me that the images were so horrific that they 
refrained from using them.

The two undercover Israeli agents that had infiltrated the march were 
recognised by the Palestinians as members of the "Death Squads" that had 
been responsible for assassinations and provocations.

In his moving appeal to his compatriots (Oct. 13, 2000) not to exploit this 
incident to justify existing racism and hatred, Israeli poet Yitzhak Laor 
documents several lynchings of Palestinians by Israeli army and security 
forces.

In all cases the perpetrators were never punished, and no moral outrage was 
expressed by the Israeli public, let alone a shelling of Israeli cities!

The same applies to the Israeli settler reign of terror that targets 
Palestinians in their own homes and towns, with full Israeli military 
protection and collusion.

Settler violence ignored

Presented as helpless "Israeli civilians" surrounded by "hostile" 
Palestinians, the sinister and lethal nature of settler violence, as armed 
extremists on the rampage, is often ignored.

The illegality of Israeli settlements, the fundamentalist extremist 
character of the armed settlers, and the horrific acts of abduction, 
torture, killing and just random violence that are committed with impunity 
 rarely get a mention.

Throughout all this, the Palestinians continue to be blamed.

The most blatantly racist slur is the Israeli theft of our humanity as 
parents. In an attempt to rob us of our most basic feelings for our 
children, we are accused of "sending [our] children out to die" for the 
sake of "scoring media points".

The horror is further compounded by the total and unquestioning equanimity 
with which such a grand national slur is repeated by Israelis of all 
parties, with no critical distance or even awareness of the enormity of 
such a racist charge.

Actually, the 18-month-old baby girl, Sara Abdel-Athim Hassan, was shot in 
the back seat of her father's car, while other child victims were killed in 
or around their own homes. Mu'ayyad al-Jawarish, 12 years old, was shot in 
the garden of his own home.

Most children were shot in the head or upper part of the body, mainly with 
high velocity bullets. The most common targets of rubber-coated steel 
bullets were the eyes of children.

Shoot to kill

A shoot-to-kill (or permanently impair) policy has been in force by the 
Israeli army  claiming the lives of more than 105 Palestinians and 
wounding more than 3000 (many of whom with permanent injuries).

Israeli officials claim that they had exercised restraint".

Of course they can do worse  they can commit genocide or complete the 
ethnic cleansing begun in 1948.

Still, it is Israeli "security" that is at stake.

Israel's powerful army of occupation cowers in fear at the Palestinian 
people's cry for justice and freedom.

The Palestinian people have no need for security on their own land or in 
their own homes since they have been thoroughly dehumanised by their 
oppressor as to deserve whatever happens to them.

Worse than being "non-existent" (as in the myth of the "land without a 
people for a people without a land"  which even Shimon Peres now seems to 
espouse), in the minds of the official Israeli narrative, we now seem to be 
existent on a lower plain as sub-human species, bereft of the most 
elemental qualities and rights that guide the conscience and moral values 
of humanity as a whole.

All this is for the sake of alleviating the guilt and responsibility of the 
real culprit.

Apologists for the Israeli occupation must find an alternative address to 
be blamed for the horror inflicted on the Palestinians  so who better 
than the victims themselves?

(abridged)


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