Allies and customers don’t commit war crimes! Putting Palestine and Occupation into context

Alongside its long conflict with Palestinians, the state of Israel has mounted an increasingly successful campaign to control public discourse around what is happening in the region. Building on the understandably immense reservoir of goodwill towards Jewish people arising from their unspeakable suffering in the Holocaust, a host of political, media and lobby groups, such as, in the US, Christians United for Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and in the UK the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, have created an environment where criticism of Israel is routinely conflated with anti-Semitism. British media coverage largely reflects this reluctance to criticise Israel, and Jason Burke’s article in The Observer of 24th of March 2024 (There will be no day after’: hopes fade to end war in shattered, traumatised Gaza’) is a good example of this reluctance. 

[see also In numbers: How UK right-wing media’s pro-Israel Gaza war coverage dehumanises Palestinians – Ed]

The anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism sleight-of-hand has, unarguably, worked very well for Israel, creating a climate of fear which has closed down much of the criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people, criticism only recently re-energised by the sheer scale and inhumanity of the slaughter being visited upon the people of Gaza.

Jason Burke’s article is a good example of the way UK journalists too often default to an essentially pro-Israel stance in their news reporting. The headline itself is misleading. Who exactly are these people who hoped that Israel would ‘end war in shattered, traumatised Gaza’? Burke’s premise – that Israelis are only now realising that there will be no quick solution to the conflict – is entirely debatable.

If it is true, it is only true because most Israelis refuse to contemplate the one thing that might bring about genuine peace – a root and branch reassessment of the relationship between the indigenous Palestinian people and the Jewish people who have arrived there since the Second World War (largely – Jewish communities already lived there peacefully alongside their Arab neighbours, as they did all over the Middle East and elsewhere ). Such a reassessment would involve a willingness on the part of Israel to dismantle its current apartheid system, and to somehow re-invent a state founded on a sectarianism which would be completely unacceptable almost anywhere else. The calculated plantation of 750,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, the putative heart of a Palestinian state, makes a two-state solution now almost impossible to imagine. So just how does Israel see the future of the region?    

Burke’s article misleads in different ways. Certain premises are never interrogated or challenged. For example, the idea that ‘among Israelis…a slow and painful realisation is gaining ground (that)…there will be no ‘day after’. Of course there will be no ‘day after’, and people in Israel must know this. The current brutalisation of civilians in Gaza is just the latest in a long series of such interventions, stretching back to the original catastrophe of 1948 and before. Palestinians are suffered to exist for precisely as long as they stay quiet about their situation: perpetual imprisonment, permanent blockade, the ongoing settler land grab. They must accept lives of poverty, hopelessness and arbitrary control, for themselves and their children and their children’s children. Every few years the Israelis will launch routine airstrikes as a reminder of who is in charge. Breaking the Silence, the organisation representing some ex-IDF personnel, says that in Israel this is known cynically as ‘mowing the lawn’. 

Journalists do not, in general, challenge Netanyahu’s ludicrous mantra that Israel can and will eliminate Hamas and win a ‘total victory’, and Burke is no exception. The glaring absence of an Israeli exit-strategy and the media silence surrounding this (Israel wants the land of Gaza but needs an excuse to ethnically cleanse the unwanted population there) is not mentioned.  Laughably, it is rendered in this article as: ‘In Israel, the idea that Israeli officials should run Gaza directly is gathering momentum’. Israel taking (even more) control of Gaza?   Was that not always the point of the invasion? Nadav Shragai, writing in pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom, would seem to think so: “The best plan for the day after is … [Israeli] boots on the ground and [an Israeli] civil administration that operates in the Gaza Strip”.

The article, predictably, gives undue weight to pro-Israel voices, both government and individual. To be fair to James Burke, there is mention of the slaughter, starvation, and despair in Gaza (how could there not be?), and there is an argument that half-way intelligent readers should be able to read between the lines and join the dots for themselves (was there any similar reluctance to apportion responsibility when Russia invaded Ukraine?). Description of the situation in Gaza is immediately ‘balanced’ by renewed focus on October 7th, with no attempt to lay the blame for the suffering on the actions of the Israeli government and its military.

Predictably, no Palestinian voices are heard, but several pro- Israeli voices are quoted. First, a lengthy paraphrase of yet another of Netanyahu’s defiant and outbursts. Then a quotation from the former Head of Research at Shin-Bet, the Israeli security agency, followed by the quotation given above from Israel Hayom. Finally, the words of a relative of one of the Israeli hostages. All of this paints a picture of Israel as victim, forced to defend itself against a relentless enemy, a peaceful neighbour who simply wants to get along with its neighbours. 

Of course, in wartime, language has always been deployed by UK media to support a UK narrative. But the UK is not at war. Burke continually reminds us that the ‘war’ is ‘retaliatory’ and the conflict is ‘ensuing’ from October 7th. Israel takes prisoners – Palestinians take hostages.  And when Hamas is mentioned, we must be reminded that they are ‘Islamist militants’. Israeli settlers terrorising Palestinians in the West Bank are never called militants, or extremists, or fanatics.  It is also suggested that thousands of Palestinians have been killed in some kind of regrettable accident.  Those blown to pieces in apartment blocks were living near ‘underground targets’ that ‘attract’ Israeli airstrikes. These are only a few examples of how language is used to lead us away from the glaringly obvious conclusion – that a massively powerful and sophisticated military is deliberately wiping out whole families and permanently destroying infrastructure, and then blaming the victims for it. After all, they were warned. Warned to abandon their homes and walk for miles through a blasted hellhole with no food, water, power or transport. Look at your own family and imagine this. 

Burke’s article, like much of the coverage, carefully omits any reference to background and the only necessary context is the terrible attack on October 7th. There was, apparently, peace before that. But what kind of peace is it that encourages young Israelis to dance in the shadow of the barbed wire and concrete walls that surround their bothers and sisters? Any reporting of Israel and Palestine that conspicuously avoids inconvenient terms such as ‘illegal occupation’, ‘apartheid’, ‘settler colonialism’, ‘collective punishment’, ‘man -made famine’ and ‘genocide’, is surely presenting us with what is, at best, a partial account of the current nightmare in Gaza. And at worst, a deliberately misleading one.  




Comments (9)

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  1. Mr Peter Breingan says:

    Spot on – thank you

  2. Roland Chaplain says:

    John. I’m sad that after several hours you only have a single endorsement for the important truths you articulated. One small correction: All this started a long time before 1948. 100 years ago my father from a prominent Zionist family was disowned and disinherited by them for speaking out against both the diversion of water away from Palestinian farmers AND for their extractivist mentality through their businesses that exploited the resources and people of what we now speak of as the “Global South”.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I question your assertion about the ‘increasingly successful campaign to control public discourse”.

    I think that the public discourse in the U.K. since the foundation of the state of Israel has been largely controlled by perceptions prompted by Israel, but I think the current conflict has shaken this.

    Undoubtedly, like the Observer article you discuss, much of the discourse is as you describe, but, given the persistence of demonstrations both pro-Palestinian and pro-ceasefire the narrative in the media is much more critical of the actions of the state of Israel and the actions of the IDF, than I can remember and that goes back to the ‘Suez crisis’.

    The International Court of Justice action by South Africa got a fair amount of publicity. The disgraceful shenanigans by Labour and the Speaker is seeking to blunt the SNP motion calling for a ceasefire and condemning collective punishment of the general Palestinian people disgusted many people who recognised thatLabour was doing Israel’s bidding. The recent vote in the UN Security Council with the US abstaining is a further example of the media being required to print criticism of Israel. Netanyahu’s thuggish and murderous attitude is increasingly perceived as making wider war likely.

    The equating of criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism is no longer as inhibiting as it formerly was.

    Longer term, I do not think a two state solution is achievable. There has to be serious consideration of a one state solution in the way Douth Africa has been able to achieve.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Alasdair Macdonald, which public, which discourse?
      Should you be thinking in terms of the UK or the British Empire?

  4. Joe says:

    Excellent article. Thanks for this, proper journalism, unlike the MSM. Joe

  5. John says:

    Thank you for this article- sorely missing from majority of media.
    The narrative of equivalence between October 7th atrocities and subsequent collective punishment of Palestinian people is looking increasingly threadbare with each passing day.
    The simplistic platitudes repeated by many politicians around eradicating HAMAS are ridiculous. HAMAS has military, political and social structures in Palestine and even USA intelligence sources realise it cannot be eradicated.
    HAMAS has no capability to destroy Israel which is most powerful military in region and is backed by most powerful military nation in world. Israel is meanwhile eradicating Palestinians in real time.
    The longer this conflict persists the more isolated Israel will become. This is of little conciliation to the increasing number of Palestinian citizens homeless, starving and dying.
    The fact that the UK is still arming Israel and not funding UNWRA is something that makes me ashamed of UK government.

  6. Phil Butler says:

    Thank you for an excellent article. I’ve just finished reading an essay by Indian writer Pankaj Mishra in the London Review of Books.
    This is a long and quite difficult read which looks into the way perception of the Shoah has been manipulated into a powerful tool for controlling the attitudes of Western media. Well worth the effort for anyone who finds John McIntosh’s article ring true.

    1. Phil Butler says:

      I did put a link to the LRB article, which seems to come without a paywall, but it has not appeared in my comment. I’ll try again:

      1. Thanks Phil for the link, we also featured the video of Pankaj Mishra’s lecture here:

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