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Hasbara

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 03.03.2016:

March 3, 2016

Bethlehem

In the last couple of weeks it suddenly became a topic of discussion in Israel. Peace activist Uri Avnery noted that the new Israeli police chief, AlSheikh, said something like this: “Jewish mothers mourn their children. Arab mothers don’t. That’s why they let them throw stones at our soldiers, knowing that they will probably be shot dead.” Then a few days later the Israeli Minister of Defense, Moshe Ya’alon, declared, again in Avnery’s paraphrasing, that “Arab bereavement cannot be compared to Jewish bereavement. That’s because Jews love life, while Arabs love death.”

Avnery suspected that the statements were toeing the lines of hasbara (Hebrew, for the Israeli information, or propaganda, effort).

The statements are actually part of a historical lineage. Remember that Golda Meir, famous for her pieces of homely wisdom, once said in a saintly voice, “When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.”

Or: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” Lately an admirer of Meir reluctantly indicated that he could not find prove that Meir had actually said both “quotes” (Harvey Rachlin, 6/15/2015, Haaretz), though he did not dare to reach the conclusion that hasbara had won from authenticity.

As for more recent history, consider the infamous ad of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel during Israel’s war in Gaza in 2014: “Jews rejected child sacrifice 3500 years ago. Now it is Hamas’ turn.” For those who understandably have difficulty to grasp the meaning of this, it is about Hamas supposedly ‘using’ Palestinian children as ‘human shields’ against Israeli bombs.

Listen also to what Israeli author Amos Oz, speaking usually in a different voice, said in that same period to a journalist of the German Deutsche Welle (30/7/2014): “Well, I am afraid that there can be no way in the world to avoid civilian casualties among the Palestinians as long as the neighbor puts his child on the lap while shooting into your nursery.”

I remember that during the second Intifada, some 15 years ago, it was also common in official Israeli discourse to say that Palestinian parents did not love their children but rather educated them in hatred and therefore allowed or encouraged them to go into the clashes. In this central piece of hasbara, Palestinian parents, curricula, teachers and media are always busy ‘inciting’ kids.

(Speaking about the Palestinian textbooks, I am surprised how little my 14-year old son here in Bethlehem learns about the important subject of occupation).

Notice that kids and youth are presented as the willless recipients of hate messages, subsequently acting as robots following orders and incentives.

Should it be necessary to speak about the famous Palestinian hospitality and mutual support, about the fact that Palestinian society, against the odds, survives primarily because of the strength of the family? Or should we talk about the meaning of sumud or steadfastness/resilience, a core Palestinian value which expresses love for the land, the community and the family?

Obviously, the hasbara is intended to say that it is impossible for Israel to negotiate. Once again there is no one tot talk to, and the occupation becomes a negligible detail in the grand spectre of civilizational clash. There is also no need to start discussing the uncomfortable point that the youth are presently primarily attacking soldiers in the occupied West Bank.

In fact there is something not at all automatic about the role of this youth. When one carefully listens to discussions here in the Palestinian families and community, there emerges a very different reality. It is not the youth following orders, but the opposite – they themselves challenge authority structures. The political and also armed actions of many youth are a resounding ‘no’ to not only the occupation but also political factions, PNA, media, teachers, sometimes even parents.

It is not possible to generalize here, but what I hear is suggested is that the present-day youth involved in clashes, in stabbing and attacks, challenge all authority structures.

Those structures certainly also include the traditional kind of ‘talking politics’ while watching powerlessly how lands and other resources are taken away from under one’s feet.

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