|Systematically applying the language of racism
to dehumanize the Palestinians
by Hanan Ashrawi
Blaming the victim has been the common resort of the guilty in
rationalizing 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 dehumanization of the victims and the
elimination of their most basic rights and attributes as well as
claims to protection. Inevitably, the resultant compound
victimization is further enhanced by increased vulnerability,
distortion, and exclusion from the protection of human consideration
and moral imperatives.
Hence, the latest eruption of
confrontations between the Israeli occupation army and civilian
Palestinian protesters became the playing field for the full force
of the Israeli spin machine in a most deliberate, concentrated, and
racist exercise of deception and dehumanization directed against a
The most basic form of deception is in fabricating
a false symmetry between occupier and occupied, between oppressor
and victim. The “violence” of Israel’s powerful occupation army
using live ammunition, tanks and helicopter gunships is at
best equated with the “violence” of Palestinian civilians
protesting their victimization and continued loss of rights, lands,
In addition, the Palestinians are called upon to be
docile, to stop the “violence,” to end the “siege” of Israel as
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.
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.
presentation constantly exhibits the “white man’s burden” syndrome.
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.
extreme right and extreme left in Israel as well as the United
States have adopted this condescending, patronizing approach
to peace. Barak has gone the “farthest” in “offering” the
Palestinians almost 90 percent of their lands with some
“responsibilities” in Jerusalem, and those “ungrateful” Palestinians
are being “intransigent” and hard-line.
ourselves down to a mere fragment 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 United
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
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 “civilized” democracies
as Israel and the United States. 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 historical and familiar slurs used by Israeli
officials and public figures including cockroaches, two-legged
vermin, dogs have been expanded to include snakes and
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,
shattered hopes and dreams are nowhere mentioned. Absent too are the
grief and anguish of their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and
other loved ones who will have to live with that tragic loss.
The visual documentation of the coldblooded murder of the child
Mohammed 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
First, it was said that he was killed by Palestinian
“gunmen.” Then, he was “caught in the crossfire.” The worst version
was in the cynical depiction of the child Mohammed as a
“troublemaker” 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 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
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 gunships
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 “savagery” became the prevalent verbal
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
dehumanizing the Israelis. Some Arab stations informed me that the
images were so horrific that they refrained from using them.
Most of the people participating in the march in the
besieged Palestinian city of Ramallah knew the victim, and
some had seen the body. The two undercover Israeli agents who had
infiltrated the march were recognized by the Palestinians as members
of the death squads that had been responsible for assassinations and
Despite the fact that the Palestinian police tried
to protect them, the two were killed before the cameras.
immediately became an instant justification for branding all
Palestinians as murderers, and for the most systematic, venomous,
hate campaign in recent history. It was also used as a justification
for the Israeli aerial attacks on Ramallah and other Palestinian
In his moving Oct. 13 appeal to his compatriots not to
exploit this incident to justify existing racism and hatred, Israeli
poet Yitzhak Laor documents several lynchings of Palestinians by the
Israeli Army and security forces. In all cases the perpetrators were
never punished, and no moral outrage was expressed by the Israeli
public. 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.
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
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.
When Palestinian children became
targets for Israeli snipers and other army violence, the Ministry of
Education had no option but to close down the schools temporarily to
minimize the students’ exposure on the way to and from school.
That was immediately latched on by the Israeli spin machine as
proof that we closed down the schools to “release” our children to
go out and “riot,” thereby obstructing the free path of Israeli
The safety of home and parents’ attempts at protecting
their children are not even considered.
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.
A shoot-to-kill (or permanently impair)
policy has been in force by the Israeli Army claiming the lives of
more than 110 Palestinians and wounding more than 3,000, many of
whom have permanent injuries. Israeli officials claim that they had
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.
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 dehumanized 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?
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi wrote this commentary in Jerusalem and
contributed it to The Daily Star
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