The other day I was reading the Israeli press on the website of the leading Israeli paper Haaretz when the juxtaposition of two stories struck me as highly ironic and I almost burst out laughing. The headings on the big stories of the day were arranged vertically and next to them also arranged vertically, but in a smaller characters, there were links to other stories.
A heading on the main column caught my attention. It read that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that peace is necessary. At about the same level in the adjacent smaller column, another story’s heading read: ‘Israel bombs Syria’.
After I overcame the temptation and the urge to laugh out loud, I marvelled at the irony. I thought to myself, how remarkable that a random juxtaposition of two headlines expressed cogently myriad dimensions of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Its Orwellian dimension was so striking, its concision so sharp, and its propagandistic value so high. But perhaps its most astounding feature was its ability to penetrate the psyche of the reader or the listener without encountering any resistance.
Long years of manufacturing consent, as the leading American intellectual Noam Chomsky would say, has dulled the senses and neutralised critical thinking skills. Propaganda is truth; the oppressor is the victim and the victim is the oppressor. Under these circumstances, the conflict is redefined; its cause is re-imagined; and the prescription to end it is reinvented; divorced from the principles of justice and law.
Driven by an impulse to blame the victim, it seeks domination, and perpetuates oppression. Blaming the victim, as the title of a book by the late Arab-American intellectual Edward Said suggests, makes it possible to rationalise oppression.
Some of these aspects came to the fore last week. For example, on the occasion of the visit by his Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni to Washington to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Netanyahu gave a novel definition of the cause of the Palestine conflict. Despite public statements by American and Israel officials praising a more flexible Arab peace plan, which a delegation from the Arab League had presented to Kerry, Netanyahu gave it a cool reception and went on to redefine the cause of the conflict.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, was never about territories. It was, he said, about the refusal of the Palestinian people to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and the home of the Jewish people.
If indeed the roots of the conflict were not territorial, as he claims, why is he refusing to accept the 1967 line as the basis for negotiating a peaceful end to the conflict? And why is he bent on dispossessing Palestinians of their land? And why is he defying his most important benefactor and protector and refusing to halt colony construction in the Occupied Territories, including occupied east Jerusalem?
Inarguably, there is a territorial dimension to the Palestine conflict, but Netanyahu is also pursuing the yet-to-be realised dream of a Greater Israeli, which will require more land to accommodate the Jews of the world who are expected to gather in Israel.
There is also another dimension to the strategy, which Netanyahu is pursuing. Getting Palestinian recognition for the Jewish character of Israel means conceding to Israel the right to refuse the return of Palestinian refugees to the homes and land the Palestinians left behind when they were expelled or fled Zionist terror. If Israel were to accept the right of return of the Palestinian refugees and these refugees were to exercise that right, Israel would eventually become a bi-national state.
In effect, what Netanyahu wants to accomplish in negotiations is what the Zionist armies failed to achieve in the 1947-49 war: The total exclusion of the Palestinians as contenders for the same land in order to establish in Palestine a country as “Jewish as England is English”.
But the dream of ethnic purity and complete homogeneity is anachronistic — just like 19th century European nationalism, which partly stimulated political Zionism, or 20th century Pan-Arabism or Arab nationalism.
Nationalistic sentiments, other than those expressed by groups still fighting for independence and self-determination, are likely to collide with the multicultural individual and the global citizen. These are increasingly defined, no longer by their national loyalty to their country of residence, but by their appurtenance to various social groups mediated by the sociology of the communication revolution.
Humanism will eventually replace nationalism; and when we look back we will wonder why so much blood had to be shed, before we could understand a simple truism: All people yearn for life in freedom and human dignity.
Adel Safty is distinguished professor adjunct at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Russia. His new book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky.