REBRANDING THE PALESTINIAN STRUGGLE

Angela Miller (St. Louis, Missouri)

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The Israeli security apparatus is everywhere: checkpoints, Israeli soldiers casually swinging assault weapons, guard towers with surveillance cameras, electrified and razor wire fences, concrete barriers between neighborhoods, and, of course, the so-called “security wall.” Israeli settlers are assigned military protection for every major event and gathering, at every bus-stop in the illegal settlements throughout confiscated Palestinian lands.

Military security is ubiquitous, at huge collective cost to Israel.

The perceived need for such security has to be manufactured, through a variety of channels that together constitute Israel’s internal and international campaign to control the image of the occupation to its own citizens and to the world. The climate of fear and the narrative of a small embattled nation beset by Arab terrorists intent on extermination must be actively constructed and maintained.

The system is implemented for each new Israeli citizen from the moment of birth forward, through a variety of means. The 20 shekel Israeli currency bill has a guard tower equipped with surveillance cameras; schoolchildren learn math by a calculus of patriotic symbols - flags, stars of David, menorahs - side by side with tanks and guns. These everyday examples of a militarized culture in service to the Israeli defense narrative underwrite a security and surveillance apparatus that rivals North Korea.

From the founding of the state of Israel, the security narrative has been fundamental to Israel’s rationalization of the cruelest features of the Occupation.

At the visual heart of the security narrative is the image of the young “Arab” terrorist, head wrapped in a Keffiyeh covering most of his face. To international movements for indigenous rights, this image has become a symbol - like Che Guevara - of solidarity and struggle. But to mainstream media in the US, the image signifies everything that threatens the tiny besieged nation of Israel in its efforts - since 1948 - to seize and control “a land without people for a people without land.” 

Israel’s nationalist myth of an empty land conveniently erases the centuries’ long Palestinian presence there, much like the myth of American wilderness.

One myth – of the empty land - sits uneasily with the other myth - of an embattled nation beset by Arabs hurling rocks, intent on destroying Israel, the land that - according to the messianic Zionism of the settlement movement - never belonged to the Palestinians in the first place.

Jewish settlers from the US suburbs, in their quest for their Biblical homeland, claim right of place over those who have built terraced hillsides and families and massive stone villages and mosques. The rocky hills of the West Bank map their careful cultivation and labor: rocks laboriously assembled to stop the slow erosion of nature and to form to the land; practices that date back centuries.

To see this humanized landscape with its record of labor is also to throw into doubt the narrative of Israel as a land without people.

The contradictions multiply. For the ‘Arab’ threat is a small fly buzzing around the head of the colossus that is the Israeli security state. Palestinians have stones and slingshots; Israelis have assault rifles, phosphorus that burns holes in the flesh, and bullets that explode once they enter the body, tear gas, tanks, surveillance drones, and long range missiles carrying bombs that destroyed Gaza in 2009 and again in 2014. They rule the seas around Gaza, the air space, and all the borders to the territories.

The claim that Palestinians - imprisoned in their own land, their routes of communication with one another blocked, and their daily struggle to live consuming most of their energies - might pose a threat to this colossus evaporates as soon as it is exposed to the realities on the ground.  However it lives and flourishes in the US atmosphere of ignorance about the actual conditions of life under Israeli occupation, and the blanket rhetoric of suicide bombers and terrorists that blinds Americans to these conditions.

Mainstream media thrives today on instantly consumable news lacking context, analysis, and documentation; it thrives on memes that conveniently flatten complex realities for those who don’t realize how blinkered and blinded by self-serving Israeli narratives their thinking is.

Maybe therefore it is time to substitute a different image for that of the young Arab resistance fighter, one that captures the history of dispossession, of families separated and children detained.

The stoic grieving mothers of Palestine, those who have lost sons and husbands and brothers, who put aside their own pain to fan into life a sense of hope and resilience in the face of violence and dehumanization - perhaps their image would speak a different reality, along with the photographs and words and colors and textures of old Palestine where Jews and Arabs shared a common history and land before the rise of a divisive ethnic nationalism violently separated them.