collective blame for Palestinians, never for Israelis

If you want to see exactly why our media is, comprehensively and in every sense, complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people, you could do much worse that observing the way in which the attack on a synagogue last night is being discussed. Because almost without exception, in every kind of publication, across the terribly limited ideological spectrum that is permitted in our corporate media, you will find one assumption: that all Palestinians bear the moral and practical responsibility of acts committed by any Palestinians, no matter how small their number. Two lunatics walk into a synagogue and do something terrible, and millions of Palestinians will be made to suffer for it. Generations of Israelis undertake a campaign of violence and apartheid against the Palestinian people, and no one will endorse collective blame or collective punishment against them, and thank god for that. Here, in our liberal media, the basic logic of collective blame will be endorsed again and again, if only against the Palestinians, and our liberals will find themselves throwing up their hands, which is all they seem good for anymore.

Consider, for example, this missive by Charles Pierce. Here he is, beard-scratching, stuffed with portentous wisdom, affecting a pose of exhaustion and melancholy. “This was purely an act of religious war,” writes Pierce, compelling the question, by whom? By which religion? Where was the convocation of Palestinian Muslims where this religious war was agreed upon? When did the Palestinians get together and vote for  the actions of these two men? How can two men armed with knives ever represent the will of millions? Pierce’s little essay is a master class in hiding the subject; the two men are barely mentioned, his piece instead filled with “it”s, “the choice of targets” without the choosers. No time to stop and ask: who are these men, and who do you claim they represent, and how, and why?

That the Israeli people are not responsible for the murderous, cruel, and illegal occupation of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government is a matter of media consensus. And, indeed, it’s true– despite the fact that Israeli government is an elected government, despite the fact that Israel’s democratic polity is in the main vociferously committed to the greatest crime of this young century, no individuals deserve to bear the blame for the sins of their government or their military. That is as clear a lesson as any the 20th century taught to us: the notion of collective blame is the first step on the staircase to genocide. And yet when it comes to the actions of two desperate madmen, there is no similar consensus, for the simple, plain, unavoidable fact that to the American media, Palestinians don’t deserve human rights because Palestinians are not human.

You will hear two types of rhetoric in the days to come: you will read the flat language of dehumanization and subjugation, the calls for extermination, the straightforward endorsement of the destruction of the Palestinian people, which is perfectly common and not even noteworthy in our media. You are allowed to call for death from above for the Palestinians, you are allowed to call for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, you are allowed to endorse permanent apartheid, and retain your post at tony publications like the Atlantic. On the other side, you will hear the sighing chorus, dispensing cliches about a cycle of violence, lying about the moral equivalence of the occupied and the occupiers that brutalize them. The latter is almost worse than the former, because it’s so much less honest.

Pierce writes about “the ex post facto justifications of both sides,” but as he well knows, there will be no justifications of these murders, not from anyone with prominence, an audience, or power. Every time the IDF kills civilians, or undertakes more banal tortures like spraying schools with the overwhelming scent of excrement, the internet alights with justifications, with defenses, with deflections, with support. I run in a pretty radical circle, when it comes to Palestine, and I know no one — not a soul — who will defend these killings. That is the most consistent and clear dynamic, here in America, when it comes to this issue: one side is permitted to mourn its dead without the noise of justification.

There is one fact that precedes all others in this debate: the cause of violence is the occupation. The occupation is a crime of historic proportions. The government of Israel is to blame. Only the government of Israel can end the occupation, and thus only the government of Israel can stop the violence. I find the reflexive demands for condemnation of atrocities like this so thoroughly phony I can’t stand it, coming as they do from those who will justify the Israeli slaughter of innocents again and again. These murders were vile, the murderers pathetic, in every sense, moral cretins whose violence was as ineffective as it was indefensible, human meat cleavers in a world of laser-guided bombs. What a world, indeed, when the deaths of 2,000 civilians was greeted with hand waving and throat clearing, but the deaths of 4 is expected to shake the heavens. I would like to build that world, but it comes first and only through an accounting for the 2000, and human rights can only be defended when they are for all humans, everywhere, forever. So you think the world should be unanimous in condemning this atrocity, this crime. Me too. Maybe you should ask yourself: what have you done to stain the fragile sheet of peace yourself?