Many Jews and ordinary, decent people of various persuasions have been outraged by the vile and dishonest letter regarding Operation Protective Edge in Gaza from Jesse Duarte under the imprimateur of the ANC. They have every reason to be. But I am even more disturbed by the lazy and uninformed treatment of this operation by our media.
There are two sides to this coin. One is the moral: the deliberate or casual reduction of the conflict to toting up civilian deaths and publishing graphic images (all taken at face value) which, without adequate contextualisation, inevitably casts Israel as militarily the stronger party into the role of villain.
This reportage is equivalent to assessing the moral balance of World War Two in terms of the relative deaths and destruction suffered by the combatants on each side. It is morally reprehensible in every sense of the term and cannot be adequately condemned. Ignorant and sloppy commentary by our pervasive talking heads on both broadcast and print media fall into the same moral category.
Mindless repetition of slogans like “cycles of violence”, “retaliation”, “settlers”, “occupation”, “Israeli intransigence” and “disproportionate”, substitute for informed and intelligent analysis and reduce two utterly different societies to the same common denominator. Such glib commentary serves to hide ignorance and to ensure moral acceptability in terms of the reigning South African media narrative. It misinforms the public and reinforces South Africa in its role of servile supporter of tyrannical and dysfunctional regimes across the globe.
That raises the second side of the coin. Undoubtedly for our corrupt ruling elite, the promotion of ignorance and moral posturing serves a useful purpose. But for the future of this country public stupidity can only be bad news. So let’s get away from emotion for now to deal in reality; firstly, in the global context.
The Economist, traditionally no friend of Israel, has this to say about the Arab-Muslim world on 7 July 2014 “All too many of the Arab world’s 350m people are stuck in similar binds, caught between rotten governments and even more rotten and often violent oppositions. Its would-be reformers have retreated to the condition described laconically by the late Syrian playwright Saadallah Wannous as “condemned to hope. Trapped either in stagnant repression or cycles of strife, they are unable to make progress.” And “Leaving out the damage directly caused by America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, the combined toll from a decade of bloodletting in Iraq and the civil war that erupted in Syria in 2011 so far exceeds 300,000 dead; perhaps 13m people have become refugees. With hundreds of archaeological sites pillaged and cities like Aleppo gutted, no conflict since the second world war has caused such widespread damage to the world’s cultural heritage.” When one adds all the other Muslim killings, the figures are in the millions.
These two quotes summarise the reality that everyone knows but are, often, too cowardly, confused or biased to mention: that the Arab-Muslim world is currently being consumed by a social-political fever which threatens to consume it entirely and much of the world besides. In the epicentre of that tumult stands Israel, democratic Israel which, in the brief 60 years of its existence with 7 million people and beset by strife, is approaching France in its per capita income (Arab and Jew) and beats France in innovation, longevity and human development indices.
The Palestinian-Hamas-Israeli conflict is emblemic of the conflict in every way. Every Western leader knows that Israel stands at the furnace edge of a conflict which threatens them. Hamas and Fatah, equivalent in corruption, tyranny, anti-Semitism and incompetence, differ only in that Hamas is openly committed to violence and terror. The West Bank and Gaza, right on Israel’s borders, share in the dysfunctionality of the region. In the words of the chief editor of al-Jazeera, currently in the vanguard of the propaganda onslaught, “…It’s because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab”.
That is the broad background. Why, specifically, is there a hot conflict in progress at this moment? The answer lies with the threatening collapse of Hamas as the voice of the militant Palestinian factions. It is being challenged at the periphery by more extreme Jihadist groups, by the collapse and disunity of its sponsors and by the effective cleansing of its leadership and cells in the West Bank by Israel following the kidnap and murder of 3 Israeli teenagers.
So Hamas, which desperately needs to burnish its fading image if it is to hold onto power and its perks, has embarked on a high-risk venture: provoke Israel into action by incessant, indiscriminate rocket fire at civilian targets, couple this to its well-oiled publicity machine in the media (Western and local) and hope for a lucky strike on an Israeli target.
If this fails, as it is almost certain to do, there is always the role of victim, buttressed by al-Jazeera and its clones everywhere, in the hope that the USA or Europe will intervene to prevent its eradication in an Israeli ground offensive. If a few Gaza civilians meet their untimely death it is no skin off Hamas’s nose and can be amplified by a hypocritical media to its advantage.
The more likely outcome, however, is that Israel will press ahead with its determination to destroy the power of Hamas, covertly supported by the West and many in the Middle East. Israel, or at least its leadership, has become hardened to the outcries of uninformed and manipulated public opinion.
But I, along with many others in the Diaspora and Israel itself, are less forgiving and less sanguine. Stupid and bad narratives, even when they fail, can do much harm and I am outraged by Israel serving as the whipping boy for prejudice, ignorance and plain envy.