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Israeli Terrorists, Palestinian Victims and the Masters of PR

"Terrorist" has become a brand name in the grand American PR tradition of Kleenex and Xerox

by Michael A. Hoffman II

Copyright ©2004 by

Think of the name "Palestinian" and what comes to mind? "Terrorism." Conjure the word Israeli and what do you think of? "Victim of terror." The images are searing: skeletal Jerusalem buses with shards of flesh and twisted metal hanging from the twisted wreckage; detailed accounts of the misery and suffering of Israeli families caught in a suicide bombing; graphic photos of the Israeli dead and injured, the funerals, the anguished faces and the heart-breaking weeping of the survivors.

But while these episodic bombings were being inflicted by Palestinian kamikazes, the Israeli military was routinely terrorizing the civilian population of Gaza and slaughtering hundreds of Palestinian civilians. Yet not a cubic centimeter of the scope of this Israeli terrorism was reported in America. For all Americans know, a few dozen Hamas terrorists have died in pinpoint "targeted killings" (assassinations) and a handful of Palestinian civilians have been "regrettably" killed, "caught in a crossfire" or "collaterally damaged" in an "air-strike."

The media's description of the combatants is also instructive. Israeli terrorists are called "troops" and "helicopter pilots" while every member of the Palestinian resistance is a "gunman." In a battle between "troops" and "gunmen" the criminological connotations of the latter will engender automatic sympathy for the former. The casualty figures, which are almost never referenced by the US media, tell another story, however. According to data compiled by Amnesty International, during the whole of 2003, Israeli terrorists ("troops, pilots") killed at least 600 Palestinians, including more than 100 Palestinian children "in random and reckless shooting, shelling and bombings."

In the same period, as a reaction to the Israeli occupation, the Palestinian resistance killed 200 Israelis, including 70 soldiers and 21 children. The Israelis killed almost five times as many children as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Overall, for every Israeli killed, three Palestinians were killed. There will be those who will say that this is an arithmetic of slaughter that can have no meaningful symmetry; that terrorism on the Palestinian or Israeli side is equally monstrous. But an "equality of monstrosity" is not present in American reporting. The clear impression conveyed by the Establishment media is that most of the monstrosity is on the Palestinian side.

Moreover, if both occupier and occupied are equally monstrous, if both the aggressor who has the means to withdraw and end the conflict, and the victim of occupation who is nearly powerless against a relentless military machine, bear equal guilt and responsibility, what happens to the sacred mythology the West has built around the conflict with Nazi Germany, in which any act of terror committed against German armed forces or German civilians was not only justified as necessary but celebrated as a glorious act of liberation? However much Israelis may be offended by the analogy, the fact is, the Palestinians see their struggle in precisely these terms. As the Arab Knesset member Taleb a-Sana remarked with regard to the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in May, "What happened in Rafah proves that you don't have to be German to be a Nazi."

If "Jews" in the Warsaw ghetto were entitled to resist the Nazi occupiers by any means at hand, however bloody or indiscriminate, why is this holy Allied doctrine voided when it comes to the Palestinian resistance to Zionist occupation of the Gaza ghetto?

The Israeli public relations (PR) masters have artfully transformed the slow motion genocide against the Palestinians into "the war on terror." This transvaluation is made possible in part because gruesome images of Palestinian children shot in the head or blown to bits by Israelis are seldom plastered across the pages of USA Today or Newsweek, or broadcast on the major American TV networks. On the rare occasion when they are shown, they are depicted only fleetingly.

The operant PR tactic here is amnesia: past Israeli war crimes are virtually never recalled. The mass murder and destruction in Rafah's Tel Sultan neighborhood in May 2004 is not placed in the context of the mass murder and destruction in Jenin in April of 2002. The systemic nature of Israeli war crimes and collective punishment of an entire people is thereby missed and the masses are led to believe in the "accidental" or "unavoidable" (collateral) nature of every Israeli attack on civlians. Israeli crimes appear to have no track record and are perceived as momentary indiscretions rather than policy. The American people have no way of knowing that as a matter of halacha (religious law) the influential chairman of the Yesha rabbinic council, Rabbi Dov Lior, has ruled that "the IDF (Israeli army) are allowed to hurt so-called innocent civilians."

Even when Israeli crimes are mentioned in the news they are often bedecked in ambiguous moral shades of gray and shoulder-shrugging about a "war zone" and the "difficulty in distinguishing civilians from combatants." The larger questions -- of a state's deliberate intent to punish an entire nation of people collectively; of Judaism's injunction to exterminate "Amalek" and its identification of the Arabs with Amalek; along with the propriety of devastating whole cities as a police action against selected perpetrators -- are never asked.

Hundreds of civilians were killed by the US military in the Iraqi city of Falluja last month, ostensibly as part of a search for a few dozen miscreants responsible for the deaths of four US "contractors." But the slaying of hundreds of Arabs does not register on the scale of moral outrage of most Americans. When al-Jazeera attempts to cover the bloodbath with the same level of intensity Fox News accords Israeli casualties, the Arab medium is scorned and derided for its "outrageous propaganda."

"Terrorist" has become a brand name in the grand American PR tradition of Kleenex and Xerox. Branding ensures that it is difficult to think of a generic item without conjuring the name of a particular product intended to dominate the category. The same process has been imposed upon the Middle East, where a terrorist can only be thought of as a Muslim or an Arab.

Public relations determines what is real in America and the Israeli PR machine, aided by their brethren in New York and Hollywood, continues to maintain the hallucination of exclusive Israeli victimhood, even as Arab civilians die at the hands of state-sanctioned terrorists out of all proportion to Israeli casualties. Last year over a hundred Palestinian children were dispatched to early graves by the Israeli armed forces, yet it is only their parents and siblings who bear the stigma of "terrorist." This is the genius of the masters of perusasion -- any delusion can be sold through the wizardry of their PR.

Hoffman is a former reporter for the New York bureau of the Associated Press and co-author, with Moshe Lieberman, of The Israeli Holocaust Against the Palestinians (Independent History & Research, 2002).

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