Over the many years that I have addressed the topic of Palestine, I have repeatedly been confronted by people as to why has it been almost impossible to overcome the barriers to understanding the Palestine question. My response has always been constructed around three words: obfuscation, mythology and mendacity.
Since the question of Palestine has dominated the UN agenda from 1947, not only South Africans but the world at large, including the American population, has been treated to this staple diet of propaganda – obfuscation, mythology and mendacity. The most obvious recent specimen is the article by David Saks of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies.
What amazes me further, and it wont surprise me in the least if this amazement is shared by many readers, is the fact that the continuing saga of an entire nation uprooted and dismembered by a European national movement 54 year ago and still deprived of statehood, can be dismissed so caustically by Saks. Does it not perhaps reflect a failure on the part of public officials, the media and academics to tell the truth about the tragedy of the Palestinian people?
Whenever it is claimed by remnants of Israel supporters, that the establishment of the state of Israel was justice for the Jews, they forget though to acknowledge that it was accompanied by a terrible injustice to the Palestinians. It is for this reason that Said has insisted that unlike other people who have suffered a colonial experience, the Palestinians do not primarily feel they have been exploited but they have been excluded, denied the right to have a history of their own.
The obscenity of arguments which seek to prevail over historical truths is an indictment of impotent intellectuals. Like the earlier Orientalists of the British and French Empires, one gets the impression that our liberal intellectuals prefer to follow a research paradigm that guarantees consultancies, jobs, promotions and the like.
It is as a consequence of not confronting obfuscation, mythology and mendacity, that policy makers, media commentators and academics will be exposed as conspirators in the perpetual enslavement of the Palestinian people. Indeed, they will find it extremely difficult to extricate themselves from being identified as Israeli lap-dogs. Harsh as it may sound, the inevitable result of mute scholarship certifies mutilation of facts.
A senior American diplomat expressed US policy on the Middle East as follows:
“The Israelis are our allies and we are here to support them. The Palestinians are the weaker party and they will just have to take it on the chin. They have to do what we tell them. Its not fair, but that’s the way it is.”
Reading this passage, a Canadian professor of Political Science, Dr John Sigler, says he was reminded of Martin Buber’s profound criticism of Zionist practice:
“(We were) overrun by the consequences of the most frightful happening of modern history, the extermination of millions of Jews by Adolph Hitler… (These new immigrants) saw in this land merely safety and security. But that hour in world history in which evil seemed to have become al1-powerful, able to extirpate everything odious to it with impunity, also exercised harmful inner influence. The most pernicious of all false teachings, that according to which the way of history is determined by power alone, insinuated itself everywhere into the thinking of people and their governments, while faith in the spirit retained only a mere phraseology. ln a part of the Jewish peopleé the false teaching continued to prevail even when the subhuman was overthrown. And here in Jewry, in an altogether special way, it meant the betrayal of faith.”
Fortunately, there is now in Israel an important rethinking of its own history. This new band of historians like Benny Morris, Noam Chomsky, Teddy Katz, researchers and sociologists, who have researched Israeli archives, have argued for ending the myths and telling the truth about the conflict. This new perspective challenges existing stereotypes and places emphasis on what exactly happened to the Palestinians.
Hence, Said’s appeal about dealing candidly and in detail about the displacement of Palestinians (quoted above) cannot be ignored if we need to defeat obfuscation, mythology and mendacity.
(Mr. Iqbal Jasarat is Chairman of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)