One moment before the Sons of Light wage war on the Sons of Darkness, when the former are purported to be “the Judeo-Christian Culture,” whereas the latter, “the Arab-Moslem Culture,” is identified with suicide bombers as its inherent, constitutive trait, let us commemorate the first suicide bomber, who prayed to God to die killing thousands.
“Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport. And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.” (Judges 16:27-30, King James version)
Neither Moslem nor Arab, the first suicide bomber was Samson, adored as hero in both Christian and Jewish tradition through the ages.
Just a few hours after the attacks in New York and Washington, pictures of celebrating Palestinians filled Western media. It took days before we heard of the rejoicing in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and so on, usually with no pictures. We can assume that there were people rejoicing throughout the Third World, but only Palestinians were pictured. Why?
There is a practical reason: no country on earth is so filled up with agents of the Western media as Israel. One of the numerous Western cameras will always find some bunch of poor idiots rejoicing when those who they see as their enemy é the US, with its automatic support for Israel é falls. If rejoicing when your enemy falls were not a natural human reaction, the bible would not have bothered to deplore it (Proverbs 24:17).
In fact, screening pictures of dancing Palestinians follows the same logic. Many Israelis and supporters of Israel were rejoicing watching the Palestinians falling once again on the most important front of post-modern warfare: television.
While some Palestinians were vainly rejoicing, Israel immediately started to reap the real harvest. The very first night, Israel killed 9 Palestinians while invading the town of Jenin, formally under full Palestinians control. Later on, F-16 bombers were again used. With world’s attention fixed on the US, Israel’s hands are free to kill and destroy. “The attack in the U.S. presumably extends Israel’s ability to conduct military operations,” Haaretz correspondent Uzi Benziman noted.
The propaganda front was not abandoned either. Benziman reports that:
“The terrorist attack on the U.S. provided the government in Jerusalem with valuable leverage, with which it intends to try to impart to the Western world the argument that Israel is fighting terror, rather than against the Palestinian people’s war of liberation. The ground rules for the image battle, which Israel has been conducting for a year, have been to its disadvantage until now. Israel was seen in the community of democratic nations as an occupying regime that was fighting with tanks against the Palestinian freedom fighters, who were armed only with stones. […] The world considered Palestinian terrorism the legitimate nationalist uprising of a subjugated minority. […] The severe blow suffered by the U.S. this week at the hands of the coalition of terrorism has created an opportunity for Israel to try to enlist Western public opinion to its side in its struggle against Palestinian aggression.”
First, an analogy was drawn between the attacks on the US and the Palestinian resistance to the Israeli Occupation. The French ambassador to Israel, who dared resist this analogy, saying the terror in Israel cannot be detached from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was condemned by a right-wing Knesset member in a typical Israeli understatement as, “Petain [a Vichy government official] of the first decade of the 21st century, an anti-Semitic racist whose diplomatic credentials should be revoked, and who should be sent back to Paris immediately.”
As with all analogies, this one has some convincing aspects: the innocent victims, the suicidal element. But as with so many political analogies, it is manipulative: its aim is to obscure the fact that the Palestinians’ land is occupied by Israel. The Palestinian claim is based on a morally and internationally acknowledged right to resist occupation and illegal settlements. Israel could have obeyed international law and decisions in the first place, and could leave the occupied territories, thus removing the reason for the Palestinian violence. Instead, it uses murderous violence and terror to impose its occupation, and complains when the Palestinians also use violence. The claims of the terrorists in the USA, on the other hand, are left to speculation, and it is obviously not based on any internationally acknowledged right. The difference is that the one is mere aggression and the other is (sometimes excessive) self-defense.
Having established this false analogy, two main propaganda arguments were formulated by the Cabinet: “First, in the strong wording of a message transmitted to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat: He must decide to which camp he belongs é to the basement of terrorism or to the living room of the civilized nations”; second, “the disaster has not prevented decision makers in Jerusalem from making a concerted effort to give Israel the image of a country that is part of the community of the Sons of Light, fighting against the Sons of Darkness,” to quote Benziman again.
These were not the original Israeli propaganda themes. They were set by the US, and Israel just produced a localized version é an Israeli translation if you like. Let’s see how it works.
A reliable mouthpiece of the American government, columnist Thomas Friedman, wrote from Jerusalem(!) for the New York Times: “A country like Syria has to decide: Does it want a Hezbollah embassy in Damascus or an American one? If it wants a U.S. embassy, then it cannot play host to a rogue’s gallery of terrorist groups.” The theme “He Must Decide” was born in America; it was then adopted by Israel with a slight modification, making it refer to Arafat; and in this localized version it is cultivated by the Israeli media, especially by the “free,” “critical” and “pluralistic” daily Haaretz. Its editorial column on Thursday just hinted:
“Washington, as a victim, and as it readies for a counter-attack, will face a simple question that it will state clearly to countries and organizations worldwide: Are you for us or against us? Those who want to be considered friends of the U.S. will no longer be able to hide behind their pretenses.”
But the Friday editorial was explicit:
“The Palestinian Authority, which the IDF has wanted declared a “terrorist entity” for a very long time now, will have to abandon its hypocritical stance and clearly show where it stands. If it continues to be involved in terrorism.”
That very Friday, senior political columnist Yoel Marcus also had a strikingly innovative idea, which he felt obliged to share with his unprepared readers: “PA Chairman Yasser Arafat will have to decide which side he is on: good or evil.”
And finally then on Sunday (Haaretz rests on Saturday), a fully developed editorial for the yet uninitiated:
“Leaders of local movements and organizations must now declare anew their position. Are they part of global terrorism through their acceptance of local terror as a legitimate method, or are they part of those fighting terror as it is now understood and defined in light of the destroyed American buildings? Among those who must make this decision is Yasser Arafat, who must decide whether he is prepared to withdraw his support for all terrorist organizations and acts of terror.”
That’s how the Sons of Light’s free, critical and pluralistic media works é how very different from primitive propaganda machines of the Sons of Darkness, that just repeat the same clichés over and over again.
The demagoguery of Sons of Light against Sons of Darkness is a banal Hollywood myth, used to justify the Sons of Light when they actually behave as Sons of Darkness, as we are likely to see soon in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Its Israeli localization must stress a rather delicate point, namely, that Israel belongs to the Sons of Light. A Haaretz editorial of September 12 talks pathetically of “all freedom-loving countries, including Israel, which are not ready to bow their heads before extremists who enlist God to justify their murderous activities. […] It is possible to point the blame at all those who are ready to accept a solution made up of violence and murder as a path to justice. Those will be the ones America will fight, with its partners who share America’s values.”
“Freedom-loving countries”, says the editorial; and hastens to add, to avoid mistake: “including Israel.” Whose freedom does Israel love so much? Is it the freedom of every person to marry his beloved one, a freedom still denied to couples of mixed religions? Is it the freedom of foreign workers, hundreds of thousands of whom are living in Israel in conditions of near-slavery? Or is it the freedom of the occupied Palestinians, who have been living under Israeli military regime for 34 years, without nationality, without human, political and social rights, and in the last decade even without the basic freedom of movement beyond the nearest Israeli checkpoint, never more than a couple of miles away?
And who are those who enlist God to justify their murderous activities? Are they just Moslem fundamentalists, or do murderous Jewish settlers who terrorize the occupied territories do the very same thing? Who are “all those who are ready to accept a solution made up of violence and murder as a path to justice”? Are they the evil Palestinians, who are using violence as a path to the just cause of ending the occupation é or is it virtuous Israel, that has been using a much more murderous violence as a path é not to justice, but rather to injustice, to impose occupation and illegal settlements?
Meanwhile, a controversy has occurred between PM Sharon and Foreign Minister Peres. Sharon draws the analogy to its end, compares Arafat to bin Laden, and has vetoed a meeting between him and Peres. Peres called Sharon “part of the rejectionist front” for this veto. Peres would not have dared to make such a charge, unless he was aware of American support for such a meeting. Indeed, President Bush seems to be considering including the Palestinians in his “coalition.” At such a moment, very much depends on so-called Arab and Moslem solidarity.
If such solidarity exists, Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia should join forces and convince Bush that ending the Israeli occupation is a vital American interest. In this case, we might witness another solution for Samson’s riddle: “Out of the strong came forth sweetness,” with strong American pressure on Israel. If, on the other hand, Arab and Moslem solidarity proves non-existent once more, and Israel convinces Bush that it will be able to contain the Palestinians with no damage to American interests, we might all face many more suicide bombers to come, with an ever-destabilizing Middle-East.
Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and has grown up in Israel. He has B.A. in Computer Science, M.A. in Comparative Literature and he presently works on his PhD thesis. He lives in Tel-Aviv, teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature in Tel-Aviv University. He also works as literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. His work has been published widely in Israel. His column appears monthly at Antiwar.com.