The Filter of War
While I continue to believe that our national conversation is far from an equitable or fair one, I have to admit that things have changed; there is more criticism and questioning of Israel and its actions than I would have felt possible before the conflict began.
I wonder if this is the case, actually. Looking back at the 2006 assault on Lebanon, I recall a great deal of criticism of Israel’s moves, though to be sure, much of it fell within the realm of “is it good for Israel?” or “is it strategically wise?” rather than over the plight of the Lebonese, and Freddie is correct that much of the current criticism of Israel falls within this vein.
I think two things cause Americans to view the Israel/Palestine conflict through this lens. First, American news media is extraordinarily reluctant to show images of war in too graphic a detail. I recall the night we invaded Iraq, the Shock and Awe playing on my friend’s television, the green explosions and video-game quality of it all, the surreality of watching a war unfold and yet feeling as though the entire event was little more than another episode in a war game, or a television show. Shock and Awe certainly sounds like a video game title, or a pay-per-view boxing match.
The fact is, night-vision airstrikes are sterile enough to show on American television. The fallout from those strikes is not. So when we are shown images of far-off explosions and told that Israel has moved troops into Gaza to stop Hamas from firing rockets into Israel, we have that same sterile, pc vision of what the war must be like. Certainly there are the CNN clips of wounded Palestinians rushed off to ambulances, but even they seem at the most PG-13. In essence, war seems very abstract, very clean, very distant.
Terrorism, on the other hand, feels very visceral, very real. We can empathize with those Israeli citizens who have endured terror at the hands of groups like Hamas, who live in fear of attack. I think 9/11 is largely responsible for this sense of affinity. Then again, perhaps it is just the nature of terror that makes us so much more able to empathize. Perhaps because terrorism inspires fear that it could happen to us too, whereas war has always been off-shored for Americans, that makes this our reality.
All of which is to say that perhaps it is the medium by which we get our news that makes us so much more receptive of an Israeli perspective, even when we are criticizing them. Perhaps it is this and a sense that in some way, either through shared citizenship, shared ideals, or democratic principles, that we are more inclined to view things through a pro-Israel lens.
Of course, the very term “pro-Israel” is a misnomer. As Freddie mentions, what Israel wants, and what they need may be two very different things. He writes that:
only America ultimately can broker peace in Palestine. This is because the deep economic, military and diplomatic investment of the United States in Israel gives us the power to deeply influence Israeli policy moving forward. As much as countries like Egypt and Jordan can provide legitimacy in the Palestinian street, and as much as the European Union can act as a powerful third-party arbiter, the simple fact is that there is no other country on earth that has the power and legitimacy within Israel to generally effect change.
Indeed, in every significant move toward peace America has had at least a hand in the matter. Carter, for all his flaws as President, at least played a part in brokering Israel’s peace with Egypt. Massive aid packages to Egypt and Jordan from the United States have been instrumental in securing a lasting peace between Israel and those nations. Always this balanced approach, with America naturally more amicable with Israel than with her neighbors or the Palestinians, but still acting as a broker, as a go-between for the various parties, has worked the best. Which is why I think Scott is simply on the wrong track when he writes:
That America is in a unique position to help usher along peace negotiations due to its relationship with Israel is indeed essentially indisputable . But I would argue that in many ways, now is the perfect time for America to resist taking that front and centre role and exercise a more “behind the scenes” effect on this conflict.
Just as the Bush administrations refusal to ever deal with so-called enemies, or their stubborness in pushing for democratic elections in Palestine and then refusing to acknowledge the not-so-surprising results, has led to a one-sided and ultimately unhelpful handling of the conflict, I think a “behind the scenes” America would only lead to questions, suspicion, and ultimately illegitimacy in the process.
America needs to do everything out in the open air. The Obama administration needs to sit down with all sides, even Hamas, and get the dialogue as public as possible. True, Hamas states in their charter that they will acecpt nothing less than the destruction of Israel. Very well, then when we sit down with Hamas and with Israel and try to dialogue we can hold that against them. We can say, “How do you expect us to help you if you don’t renounce this?” and if we do so openly, in the most public matter possible, then the whole world can watch as they either reform, or refuse.
Similarly, America is in a position to ask Israel how they expect to achieve a two-state solution while Israeli settlements stripe the West Bank, and the Israelis will have to respond. The more open these talks are, the more above-board these diplomatic efforts become, the better.
The media has a role in this as well, by giving us the news in whatever gory detail it may arrive, and letting us truly decide whether this is even a discussion that merits “sides” or not. Perhaps the end-goal is not pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, but simply pro-peace and an end to the madenning cycle. Without a newscore willing to show the ugly details, or a Government willing to speak openly with all sides of the debate, how can we hope to achieve anything at all?
UPDATE: This video with Jon Stewart and Al-Jazeera correspondent Abderrahim Foukara is worth watching, and touches on some of these themes. Note when Foukara mentions that the only country Al-Jazeera has never been shut-down in is Israel. Perhaps this is another reason we hold them in our esteem–they reflect some of our shared values.