Jeff Halper is Minnesota born, an Israeli citizen for the past three decades, and the founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an Israeli peace group that concentrates on helping to rebuild Palestinian houses that have been destroyed by the Israeli government over the past twenty years either arbitrarily or in retaliation. It is one of the more egregious sins of the Israeli government. (Information about ICAHD can be obtained by clicking on the ICAHD widget on the right of this blog or by clicking on the hyperlink above.) The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions is based in Jerusalem and has chapters in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Halper is an outspoken critic of the right wing government of Israel, and he, along with other members of the Israeli Peace Movement, has been attempting to counter the propaganda machine of the government in the latest continuing atrocity against Gaza. Halper is a great proponent of the work of George Lakoff, whose work on "framing" and diction has been so useful in arguing against the Republican and Neo-C0nservative elements in the US. thought I would post his complete commentary taking on the Israeli public relations distortions and manipulations.
I will give Halper's ten important reframings in two installments. The second will be posted tomorrow. Here is his introduction, the first four Israeli Government talking points and Halper's commentary for reframing:
ISRAEL IN GAZA: A CRITICAL REFRAMING
Israel's core messages, listed below, argue for the justice of its invasion of Gaza in late December, 2008, cast Israel as the victim and endeavor that its "war on Hamas" not be seen against the background of prolonged occupation, closure and sanctions, but of the broader Western "War on Terror." The alternative view presented below argues otherwise.
As Israelis committed to human rights, international law and a just peace as the only way out of our interminable and bloody conflict with the Palestinians, we contend that security cannot be achieved unilaterally, especially as Israel shows no signs of fully relinquishing its 41 year Occupation so that a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian may emerge. In that context, Israel's attack on Gaza can be considered merely another attempt to render its Occupation permanent by destroying any source of effective resistance.
The immediate pretext of Israel's attack, rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, does not explain the disproportionality of its attack, especially given the unrelenting sanctions, attacks and assassinations carried out by Israel throughout the cease-fire. Indeed, we argue that Israel could have avoided all attacks upon it over the last twenty years, as well as the rise of Hamas to power, if it had accepted the PLO's offer of a two-state solution proffered already in 1988 and has entered into negotiations in good faith. Instead, Israel, the strong party in the conflict and the sole Occupying Power, chose to dramatically increase its settler population, construct a permanent infrastructure of separation and control, remove "Greater Jerusalem" from Palestine and encircle the West Bank with its expanded borders: that of the Separation Barrier incorporating Israel's major settlement blocs and the "security border" of the Jordan River.
Israel is not a victim; it is the active perpetrator of a permanent apartheid regime over all of Israel/Palestine. It is toward that goal that Gaza is being violently pacified today, Israel's killing with impunity scores of Palestinian civilians constituting nothing less than State Terrorism.
The following pages present the essential elements of the Israeli government's framing of its assault on Gaza, followed by a critical re-framing that introduces context, policies and aims which the government's version purposely omits.
- Israeli PR : Like all countries, it has a right and duty to defend its citizens. An alternative framing: To pursue offensive policies of prolonged occupation as well as sanctions, boycotts and closures which rob another people of its rights, aspirations and very livelihood, and to then refuse to truly engage with that people's elected leaders (a policy preceding Hamas's rise to power), is what puts your own people at risk. To expect your citizens to live in security while a million and a half subjugated people just a few kilometers away live in misery is both unrealistic and presumptive. Israel will only be able to defend its citizens – which is indeed its duty – if it addresses the causes of their insecurity, which is a 41 year-old occupation which the oppressed will resist, by "legitimate" means or not.
- Israeli PR: Israel had no choice but to attack in response to the barrage of 8,500 Hamas rockets fired from Gaza into Israel over the past eight years that have killed 20 Israeli civilians. An alternative framing: Israel had a choice. In the past three years alone Israel – together with the US, Europe and Japan – imposed an inhumane siege of Gaza while conducting a campaign of targeted assassinations and attacks throughout the cease-fire that left 1,700 Palestinians dead. This war is no "response:" it is merely a more deadly round of the tit-for-tat arising out of a political vacuum. Hamas firings on Israel were for the most part, if not exclusively, responses to Israeli actions either not reported in the press or discounted as legitimate unilateral action – such as assassinating leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian organizations, often with a high toll in civilian casualties. To present the "barrage" as an independent variable disassociated from wider Israeli policies that led to them is disingenuous. Indeed, had there been a genuine political process which offered the Palestinians hope for self-determination, the rocket firings could have been avoided altogether.
- Israeli PR: Hamas is a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel or enter into a political process. An alternative framing: "Terrorist" is a problematic term. States always use it to delegitimize and demonize non-state actors who resist their oppressive policies, as apartheid South Africa did, for example, with the ANC. The term assumes that states, bad as they may be, have the right to employ military force as they see fit. If, however, we take "terrorism" to mean the killing, harming or intimidation of non-combatant civilian populations, then states are far more terroristic, kill far more innocent civilians, than do non-state groups. In the eight years since the second Intifada broke out (September 2000), almost 500 Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinians while almost 5000 Palestinians have died at the hands of Israelis. All attacks on civilians are unacceptable, no matter how just the cause. Yet it is only the Palestinians to whom the term "terrorist" is applied.
An alternative framing: Presenting Hamas as merely a "terrorist organization" removes the political element from their struggle and presents them as a criminal organization. This not only distorts reality in a fundamental way but, by preventing negotiations, it ensures the perpetuation of mutual suffering. Hamas has its military wing – though nothing compared to the Israeli army – but it is essentially a grassroots religious-political movement that democratically won the Palestinian elections in 2006 and earned the right to establish a government – which was denied it by Israel, the US…and the Fatah part of the Palestinian Authority. It does deny Israel's legitimacy, as any colonized people would, and there is no reason why it should accept the loss of 78% (or more) of its historic homeland. But Hamas has agreed, as a signatory to the "Prisoners' Document" and in repeated public pronouncements, to respect the outcome of negotiations of other Palestinian parties (like Fatah) with Israel, if they result in a complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. So despite its militant and scary image, despite the fact that it will not legitimize what it considers another people's colonization of its homeland, Hamas does accept, as a practical political matter, a two-state solution. Given the fact that negotiations with Israel since the Madrid Conference of 1991 have yielded nothing – indeed, Israel's massive settlement enterprise has perhaps eliminated the possibility of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel – Hamas's resort to armed resistance is understandable. All attacks on civilians are prohibited in international law. In this regard both Hamas and Israel engage in terrorism, with the later taking by far the greatest of civilian dead, injured and traumatized.
- Israeli PR: There is no occupation – in general, but specifically in Gaza. Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005 with the "disengagement." Gaza could have flourished as the basis of a Palestinian state, but its inhabitants chose conflict. An alternative framing: Israel claims there has never been an occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza; instead, these are "disputed" territories with no clear claimant – and certainly not the Palestinians who, in Israel's view, do not constitute a people with rights of self-determination in the Land of Israel and who never exercised sovereignty over any part of Palestine. This position is rejected utterly by the international community. Indeed, the Road Map initiative uses the term "occupation" explicitly. Neither does it accept Israel's claim that the occupation of Gaza really ended with "disengagement" in 2005, since occupation is defined in international law as exercising effective control of a foreign territory, which Israel obviously does over Gaza.
To then argue that Gaza could have developed under these conditions is unfair and unreasonable. Neither Israeli control exerted over Gaza since 1967 nor the economic closure imposed upon it in 1989 ever ceased, even if Israel removed its settlers and army. Gazans were never allowed to open their sea or air ports, nor were any conditions conducive to economic development allowed to develop. And then, in early 2006, less than six months after "disengagement," Gaza was sanctioned and hermetically isolated by Israel and the international community as punishment for voting the wrong way. John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, wrote that this was the first time in history the oppressed was sanctioned and the Occupying Power freed of any responsibility. Economic development, not to mention a political process which might have prevented the violence on both sides, was actively prevented by both Israel and its international supporters, which share responsibility for the present tragedy in Gaza.
Let us also remember Israel's special responsibility towards the people of Gaza. These "civilians" are, for the most part, refugees driven from their homes in Israel in 1948 and their descendants, people dying and suffering at the hands of Israel for the past 41, if not 60, years. This adds a particular poignancy to the assault – yet another assault.