Edward Said: American Zionism -3

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at SPAMbom4.vsnl.net.in
Wed Nov 8 06:41:23 MST 2000


03 November 2000 Friday 06 Shaban 1421

American Zionism-3: For US media, Israel is the victim

By Edward W. Said

THE events of the past four weeks in Palestine have been a near-total
triumph for Zionism in the United States for the first time since the modern
re-emergence of the Palestinian national movement in the late 1960s.

Political as well as public discourse has so definitively transformed Israel
into the victim during the recent clashes, that even though 140 Palestinian
lives were lost and close to 5000 casualties have been reported, it is still
something called "Palestinian violence" that has disrupted the smooth and
orderly flow of the "peace process."

There is now a small litany of phrases that every editorial commentator
either repeats verbatim or relies on as an unspoken assumption: these have
been engraved in ears, minds, and memories as a guide for the perplexed, a
manual or machine for turning out phrases that have clogged the air for at
least a month. I can recite most of them by heart: Barak offered more
concessions at Camp David than any Israeli Prime minister before him (90% of
the territories and partial sovereignty over East Jerusalem); Arafat was
cowardly and lacked the necessary courage to accept Israeli offers to end
the conflict; Palestinian violence, directed by Arafat, has threatened
Israel (all sorts of variations on this, including the wish to eliminate
Israel, anti-semitism, suicidal rage in order to get on television, putting
children in the front lines so that they would become martyrs) and proved
that an ancient "hatred" of the Jews motivates Palestinians; Arafat is a
weak leader who allows his people to attack Jews and incite against them by
releasing terrorists and producing schoolbooks that deny Israel's existence.

The general picture painted by the US media is that Israel is so surrounded
by rock-throwing "barbarians" that even the missiles, tanks and helicopter
gunships that have been used to "defend" Israelis from the violence are
simply warding off a terrible force. Bill Clinton's injunctions (dutifully
parroted by his Secretary of State) for Palestinians to "pull back" goes a
long way to suggest that it is Palestinians who are encroaching on Israeli
territory, not the other way round.

So successful has this Zionization of the media been that not a single map
has been published or shown on television to remind American viewers and
readers - notoriously ignorant both of geography and of history - that
Israeli encampments, settlements, roads and barricades crisscross
Palestinian land in Gaza and the West Bank. Forgotten are the catastrophe of
1948, ethnic cleansing and massacres, the devastation of Qibya, Kafr Qassem,
Sabra and Shatila, the long years of military government for non-Jewish
Israeli citizens to say nothing of their continued oppression as a
persecuted 20% minority within the Jewish state. Ariel Sharon at best is a
provocation, never a war criminal, Ehud Barak a statesman, never the
assassin of Beirut. Terrorism is always on the Palestinian side of the
ledger, defence on the Israeli.

What pro-Israeli "peaceniks" fail to mention when they extol Barak's
unprecedented generosity is the real substance of it. We are not reminded
that his commitment to a third withdrawal (of about 12%) made at Wye 18
months ago has never occurred. Of what value then are more such
"concessions?" We are told that he was willing to give back 90% of the
territory. What gets left out is that the 90% is of what Israel has no
intention of giving back. Greater Jerusalem is well over 30 % of the West
Bank; large settlements to be annexed are another 15%; military roads of
areas have yet to be determined. So after all this is deducted 90% of the
balance isn't so much, after all.

I have made a survey of the major newspapers. Ever since September 28 there
have been anywhere between one and three opinion articles per average day in
The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Los
Angeles Times and The Boston Globe. With the exception of perhaps three
articles written from a pro-Palestinian point of view in the Los Angeles
Times, and two (one by an Israeli lawyer, Alegra Pacheco, the other by a
pro-Oslo liberal Jordanian journalist, Rami Khoury) in The New York Times,
all the articles - (including those by regular columnists like Friedman,
William Safire, Charles Krauthammer and others like them), have all been in
support of Israel, the US sponsored peace process, and the idea that
Palestinian violence, Arafat's lack of cooperation, and Islamic
fundamentalism are to blame. The writers have been former US military as
well as civilian officials, Israeli apologists and officials, think tank
specialists and experts, officials of pro-Israeli lobbies and organizations.
This is simply without precedent in the annals of US journalism, and is a
direct reflection of a Zionist mindset that makes Israel the norm in human
behaviour, thereby excluding from equal consideration the existence of 300
million Arabs and 1.2 billion Muslims.

The mindset I have described is truly staggering in its recklessness and
were it not very much a practical, as well as actual distortion of reality
one could quite easily be talking about a form of private mental
derangement. But it corresponds very closely to the official Israeli policy
of dealing with Palestinians not as a people with a history of dispossession
for which in large measure Israel is directly responsible, but as a periodic
nuisance for whom force, and neither understanding nor full accommodation,
is the only possible response. Everything else is literally unthinkable.

A few days ago Hillary Clinton announced in a gesture of the most revolting
hypocrisy that she was returning a $50,000 donation from an American-Muslim
group because, she said, they supported terrorism; this in fact was an
outright lie, since the group in question had only said that it supported
Palestinian resistance against Israel during the current crisis, not in
itself an untoward position but criminalized in the American system only
because a totalitarian Zionism requires that any - and I mean literally
any - criticism of what Israel does is simply intolerable and the rankest

The further peculiarity of American Zionism, which is a system of
antithetical thought and Orwellian distortion, is that it is impermissible
to speak of Jewish violence, or Jewish actions when it comes to Israel, even
though everything done by Israel is done in the name of the Jewish people
for and by a Jewish state. That such a state is a misnomer since almost 20%
of the population is not Jewish, is never mentioned and this too accounts
for the amazing, entirely deliberate discrepancy between what the media
calls "Israeli Arabs" and "the Palestinians": no reader or viewer could
possibly know that they are the same people in fact divided by Zionist
policy, or that both communities represent the result of Israeli policy,
apartheid in one case, military occupation and ethnic cleansing in the

In fine, American Zionism has made any serious public discussion of Israel,
by far the largest ever recipient of US foreign aid, its past and its
future, a taboo not be broken in any circumstance. To call this literally
the last taboo in American discourse is by no means an exaggeration.
Abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, even the sacrosanct military
budget have been talked about with some freedom (although always within
limits). The American flag can be burned in public, whereas the systematic
continuity of Israel's fifty two year old treatment of the Palestinians is
virtually unimaginable, a narrative with no permission to appear.

This consensus might be somehow tolerable were it not for the fact that it
makes the continuing punishment and dehumanization of the Palestinian people
an actual virtue. There is simply no people in the world today whose killing
on television screens seems to be considered by most American viewers to be
acceptable as well-deserved punishment. This is the case with Palestinians
whose daily loss of life in the past month is herded under the rubric "the
violence on both sides," as if the stones and slings of young men thoroughly
tired of injustice and repression were a major offence rather than the
courageous resistance to a demeaning fate meted out to them not just by
Israeli soldiers armed by America, but by a peace process designed to coop
them up in Bantustans and reservations fit for animals.

That the US supporters of Israel could have plotted for seven years to
produce a document designed essentially to cage people like inmates in an
asylum or prison - that is the real crime. And that this could be passed off
as peace instead of the desolation that it really has been all along, that
surpasses my powers to understand or adequately describe as anything less
than untrammelled immorality. The worst thing of all is that so iron-like is
the wall protecting American discourse about Israel that no questions can be
put to the minds that produced Oslo and that for seven years have been
passing off their scheme to the world as peace.

Were this the whole it would be bad enough. But our miserable status as far
as US Zionism is concerned is compounded by the absence of any institution
in the US or in the Arab world ready and able to produce an alternative. I
fear that the coverage of those stone-throwing protesters in Bethlehem,
Gaza, Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron may not be adequately reflected in the
dithering Palestinian leadership, unable either to retire or to go forward.
That is the ultimate pity of it.-Copyright Edward W. Said, 2000.

© The DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2000

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