In addition to peace and justice, which most observers assumed were lost in the battle in the recent Gaza War, not only empathy but truth as a fourth dimension must be introduced to measure and assess the Gaza-Israel story for a “balanced” report. In the new predominant narrative of Palestinian loss and exploitation and of Jewish usurpation, oppression, displacement, replacement and apartheid, a map circulated and was published in The New York Times supposedly showing how “Historic Palestine” had been taken over by Israel. “As a technical matter, the map is a confusing mélange of images: it includes something that did not exist (Palestinian control over all the territory), something that did not happen (the proposed United Nations partition) and something odd (pre-1967 occupations by Jordan and Egypt are depicted as Palestinian-controlled).” (Glenn Kessler “The dueling histories in the debate over ‘historic Palestine’,” The Washington Post 28.05.2021)
Images are supposedly far more powerful than words. Another example of misleading and false imagery also was provided by The New York Times. In its 26 May 2021 edition on the front page appeared a story headlined, “They Were Only Children” with thumbnail photos of 69 youths under 18 years of age – 67 Palestinians and two Israelis, one Arab and one Jewish – killed in the 11 days of conflict of Israel versus Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The representation, other than intended to touch our sympathetic heart strings, was misleading in the following respects:
- Child soldiers of 16 and 17 are not innocent children and some were definitively killed as militant participants; the Israeli actions were depicted as an offensive operation when they were a defensive response to militant provocation;
Causation of Death:
- All 67 Gazan children were not killed by Israeli bombs since a number of Gazan rockets fell short and landed in densely populated Gaza;
Immediate Causation of War:
- The immediate proximate causes of the war were the instability in the Israeli government that seemed to be on the verge of being resolved with the installation of a right, centre and left anti-Netanyahu coalition, at the same time as Abbas cancelled the Palestinian elections on the pretext of Israel’s failure to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority in providing voting opportunities in East Jerusalem post offices for East Jerusalemites, giving Hamas an opportunity to rain rockets down on Jerusalem in ostensible response to the troubles at al-Aqsa Mosque but, more immediately, the opportunity for Hamas to leap ahead as the leader of the Palestinian cause;
Intermediate Cause of the War
- Netanyahu’s policies of supporting Palestinian displacement in Jerusalem, his undermining of Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority in favour of Hamas, and his alliance with evangelicals and the American right while allowing a rift in the Democratic Party between Progressives and Liberals to deepen and widen, limiting Biden’s leverage to short-circuit the war and take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the back burner of simmering animosity where he preferred to leave it to the front burner of explosive violence;
Longer Term Cause of the War
- Netanyahu’s neglect of the peace process in favour of peace with Arab states that bypassed Palestinians. Presumably to leave them in the dustbin of history while Israel pursued creeping annexation;
Distorted Consequentialist Analysis:
- Though two Israeli children were killed by Gazan missiles, the article did not discuss the psychological trauma on Israeli children hiding in safe rooms for 11 days as over 4,400 missiles were fired from Gaza but only the “post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fear and anxiety” of the Palestinian children;
Distorted Analysis of Accountability:
- The role of Hamas in initiating the rockets sent to Jerusalem while attributing the deaths of Gazan children to Israeli airstrikes;
Absence of Reference to Expected Defensive Actions
- These include the failure to build bomb shelters for civilians in Gaza, to ensure children were collected in facilities clearly identified as such for the Israeli military, the failure to ensure children were not near possible military targets and, the biggest failure of all, the failure to make sure missile launching sites were not near civilians;
Authentication and Verification Procedures:
- These were not included if they were carried out at all;
Absence of Context:
- Did the children die as a result of proximity to militant targets, as in the case of the death of fifteen-year-old Muhammad Saber Ibrahim Suleiman, whose father, who was targeted, was a commander in the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, or children inadvertently killed as a result of shrapnel or of the collapse of buildings when terror tunnels were exploded;
Absence of Reference to Israeli Warnings:
- As was its practice, in an example offered, were warnings issued by Israel about the attack on the building that went unheeded?
The misuse of evaluative terminology
- IDF firepower was represented as indiscriminate when, by all accounts, in this war they were marked by very accurate targeting, deaths were referred to as disproportionate, which they were if one uses the ratio of Palestinian children killed compared to Israelis or of British deaths from the blitz (only 40,000) compared to the half million Germans killed by allied bombs, whereas in just war assessments, proportionality refers to the amount of lethal force used relative to the military target and the risk to civilians;
Citing sources without evaluating the claims:
- As in the above illustration.
The enormous asymmetries (not disproportion) in death and destruction to the two sides as well as in armaments and wealth are matched by other asymmetries which are often omitted from stories:
· Hamas intends to wipe Israel off the map; Israel has no equivalent intentions re Gaza;
· Hamas considers Israel totally illegitimate; Israel does not consider Gaza in that way;
· Hamas engages in antisemitic tropes; though some Israelis do, Israel itself does not apply Islamophobic stereotypes to Gazans;
· Hamas is an anti-liberal, anti-modern and undemocratic theocracy whereas Israel is a democratic relatively liberal state that embraces modernism, even though a portion of its own society is also anti-liberal, anti-modern and prefers an undemocratic theocracy;
· Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, are characterized as a terrorist organization by most western states, but Israel is characterized as a state under constant threat of terrorism.
There is a greater overarching set of factors in weakening truth as a dimension for dealing with and understanding violent conflict, the questioning by postmodernist methodology of enlightenment rationality, objective neutrality to be balanced with the quest for legal equality of justice. Instead of a constellation of forces peculiar to a specific conflict being understood and managed, the operation of the world is characterized in terms of power struggles – white over black, colonists over the colonized – and the effort to perpetuate that power. All violence is rooted in this fundamental conflict and through this frame, all analysis must be filtered through the lens of power rivalry, thereby undercutting pluralism in the quest for objective knowledge. Claims to truth are merely claims to power and must entail competing narratives rather than the effort to establish an overarching single narrative.
The enlightenment is a fraud. Liberalism is a lie. The quest for objective truth is a chimera. We live in a world of oppression in which the oppressed are duty bound to use their energies to overthrow the oppressors. Thus, by definition, Israel as the much stronger party must be an oppressor. Oppression is the essence of Zionism. Liberal epistemology is an even bigger lie than liberalism, as are procedural rules and demands for consistency and coherence, but most of all, the principle of falsifiability. Liberals respond by declaring that the governing norm – all group relations are about power – is to be ruled out simply because there is no test that could falsify this. The response – the rule of falsifiability is but a tool for retaining power. In that effort, Israel is the junior colonizer to America in the senior lead.
These assertions are a priori and not subject to refutation for they are ones in terms of which a proper analysis must be carried out. Any other rival overarching frame is but an effort in camouflage and deceit. Thus, not only must Israel be relegated to the ash heap of history, so also must be the epistemology of the enlightenment. Postmodernism does not accomplish this by winning the debate but by ending the debate altogether and discarding the practices that have been established over the last four centuries. Instead, subjective lived experience and emotional identification trump facts, trump empiricism and trump the search for objectivity.
Next: Connecting Truth and Empathy with Justice and Peace as Competing Categories for Depicting and Understanding Violent Conflict