“The First Casualty of War…
…is truth.” Aeschylus may have originated that saying. But there is an equal and concurrent casualty, the ability to empathize with people on the opposing side. When members of another tribe kill members of your tribe, kill your neighbors, friends, and relatives, you begin to hate those others. You might come to regard them as subhuman and their culture or religion as inferior to yours. I’ve heard many—though not all—Israelis and American Zionists express such attitudes toward Arabs. The Palestinians I met certainly wouldn’t tell me to my face that they hated people like me, but I’m sure the feelings are mutual. How could it be otherwise?
Along with hatred and contempt is a willingness to believe the propaganda that justifies whatever cruelty your own side inflicts on your opponents. Since I don’t know Arabic, I can’t speak to what the Arabic leaders and media are teaching their people about Jews, except to note that various Muslim clerics have referred to Jews as “descendants of apes and pigs.” As a secular person I find this bit of bunkum, which has its origins in some Koranic verses, only laughable. But Allah knows what more serious vilifications the Arab press spews out.
Looking at our side’s propaganda, the lies that most upset me have been disseminated by the Israeli military—and repeated by pro-Zionists in the United States. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, and an unusually high proportion—around 48%—of its residents are children. When Israeli airstrikes kill children there, the military says that it’s because the Palestinians use their kids as “human shields.” That they let their own children be killed, to make Israel look bad to the rest of the world.
Think about it. Would any of you use your children that way? Would anyone? Are the Palestinians so depraved, so—subhuman?
Another excuse that a Zionist friend offered for the ill treatment of Palestinians is the amount of Arab-on-Arab crime in the occupied territories. It’s the same pretext that white Americans use to support police brutality against Blacks.
I am also reminded of a prevarication that was used to justify the United States’ invasion of Iraq: that when Iraqi soldiers invaded Kuwait, they threw hundreds of babies out of incubators and left them to die. It was a complete fabrication, along with the lie about weapons of mass destruction, but the United States media repeated it, and even Amnesty International bought into it. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, many of them children, died as a result of our invasion.
And for those old enough to remember, our government invented another fabrication, that the Vietnamese had attacked us in the Gulf of Tonkin. This was the pretext for our invasion of Vietnam and the neighboring countries, Laos and Cambodia, and the slaughter of an estimated 1,326,494–3,447,494 Indochinese. But we only mourn the 58,281 U.S. soldiers who died in that conflict, just as we only mourn the 2,983 Americans killed on 9/11, and not the hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis we killed in revenge, citizens of countries that had nothing to do with 9/11.
I don’t buy any of it.
In the first part of this series I wrote that in 1983 my boss, Stephen Thewlis, had asked me if I thought Israel had the right to exist. My answer then, in a roundabout way, was yes. It still is. And so do the Palestinians. How that works out, how those residing on that small strip of land can manage to coexist, if they ever do, is up to them. I can only share my thoughts and experiences and hope, as people have hoped for millennia, that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Coming up Next
I’ll be writing about the changing situation for women in Israel–and elsewhere.