Sunday, January 2, 2011

It's Always the Occupation, Stupid

The trouble with corporate news reporting on violent incidents in occupied Palestine is that it so often fails to contextualise those incidents, chiefly by omitting use of the words 'Israeli occupation/Israeli-occupied', or any reference to the legality or length of the occupation. I find myself wondering at times whether reporters and/or editors are even aware that we are dealing here with an illegal, 43-year old occupation. I also wonder at times, and this is scary, whether they have any idea at all what it means to live under a military occupation.

I was reminded of this matter yet again when ABC Radio's Background Briefing program replayed an interview with US foreign correspondent Megan Stack by the 7.30 Report's Kerry O'Brien, recorded at last year's Byron Bay Writers Festival:

KO: You flash back at this point to the first intifada and you talk about the stories of breaking bones. The [then Israeli] Defense Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was supposed to have told Israeli soldiers, 'Break their bones, but don't kill them; beat them, but don't shoot them'. And there was talk of systematically working through a place, breaking chidren's arms.

MS: Well I have a friend who saw that. I have a friend who was a reporter at The New York Times who had been -

KO: Child after child, after child.

MS: Well, he said this. I was a kid at the first intifada. I read about that, because it's one of these famous ambiguities in Jerusalem, that Rabin said, 'Break their bones'. And there's two interpretations of that statement... Did he mean, 'Don't shoot them, just break their bones, just beat them'? Or did he mean, you know, 'Crush them'? And so there are two ways of looking at that, which is often the case in Jerusalem."

Which nonsense prompted this reaction on my part: For God's sake, stop pussyfooting around, Ms Stack. Isn't it bleedingly obvious that, whatever Rabin's exact words*, we're dealing here with the Suppression of Acts of Resistance by an Occuping Power, and whichever way you slice the cake, it's going to be a very dirty business indeed? And all that rot about famous ambiguities in Jerusalem and two interpretation and two ways of looking at things which is often the case in Jerusalem, isn't that just typical of how this particular Occupying Power deals with revelations of its crimes: deny, deny, deny, or fog us all up with mystifying, obfuscating weasel words, words, words?

What if Stack had simply said, I thought, 'Yes, Kerry, this is typical of the brutal reality that always characterises miltary occupations, and Israel is no different in that respect. Of course, I don't need to tell you they try bloody hard to spin it away there - Israel's propaganda efforts are second to none - but an occupation is always and inevitably about broken bones... and worse, much worse.'

I know, fat chance!

Chris Floyd's haunting meditation, The Obscure Ruination of a Single Human Life (, 16/11/10), about one tiny drop in the sea of suffering which is Israel's criminal occupation of the Palestinian territories, one whose name and experience never, of course, surfaced in the Australian or (I imagine) any other foreign media, goes directly to the dark heart of our subject, and is, I'll wager, worth every word ever spoken or written by the Megan Stacks of this world. (Her book, incidentally, is titled, Every Man in the Village is a Liar. When a ME correspondent writes a book called Every Israeli Official is a Liar, maybe then I'll sit up and take notice!):

"Decades before you were born, an invading army occupied your native land. The army of occupation has blighted and repressed your people for generations. You have heard your parents and your grandparents talk of all that they have lost, all that was taken from them, the friends and relatives they have seen killed, how the brutal, stifling occupation has bred extremism (often funded and promoted by the occupiers) that has riven your society, and how all hope of an ordinary peaceful life has been taken from your family, and from you.

"You are 13 years old. One day, you see some soldiers of the occupation army. They are bristling with weapons and body armor, they are protected by watchtowers, helicopters, they are equipped with radios that can call down a missile or an airplane to destroy your home in a matter of minutes. Their very presence is a harsh, mocking, inescapable emblem of your family's pain and degradation. And so, on this day, you pick up a stone - a stone - and throw it, in a weak and futile gesture, at these impregnable figures.

"And for throwing this stone - a stone, a small, hand-sized fragment of stone - this is what happens to you. From Israel's ynetnews:

Karim, a 13-year old boy from Hebron, was arrested in late September on suspicion of hurling stones at Israel Defense Forces soldiers. After spending 6 days in the Ofer Prison, he was placed under house arrest for 5 months in his uncle's home and can't even go to school. The boy's relatives say he is in a serious emotional state and is finding it difficult to recover from his days in prison. All he told his family members was that he was handcuffed and chained, and was sometimes left alone in a room or in solitary... The boy himself refuses to talk. Asked what he went through during the interrogation and in jail, he responds, 'I don't know, I don't know'. Karim's grandmother says his mental state has influenced his health. 'You can tell that he is afraid and frightened from his days in jail. He has fungus on his body and his skin has peeled from all the pressure, fear and nerves. He barely talks. Today we looked for him and found him hiding in the chicken coop because he didn't want to talk to anyone'.

"It's just a small story; what does it matter? It's just a tiny incident, far from the worst, in a vast, world-roiling conflict; what does it matter? I't's just the scarcely noticed ruination of one obscure child's life; what does it matter? Only losers and lamesters, only those on the margins, only those who aren't serious, who aren't savvy - only those who are struggling to keep hold of their humanity in the face of implacable systems of power, systems which seek at every turn to degrade and destroy what Arthur Silber calls 'the sacred value of a single human life' - would care about such discarded wretches. But it doesn't matter at all to anyone who 'matters' in the small, gilded circles of domination and sycophancy that oversway our lives and our discourse. And so these little stories will keep on playing out, everywhere, all the time, in the monstrous waste we make of our common humanity - and its brief, beautiful, absolutely unique individual expressions."

[*FYI: "Israel's Parliament decided today not to investigate charges that former Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered soldiers to break the bones of Arab militants [!] at the beginning of the Palestinian uprising... The proposal was prompted by testimony in recent courts-martial of several soldiers charged with beating Palestinians and breaking their bones. The soldiers have testified that they were simply following orders..." (Israel declines to study Rabin tie to beatings, New York Times, 12/7/90)

"Israeli forces are carrying out a policy of shooting at the legs of peaceful demonstrators who protest the separation wall each Friday in towns across the West Bank, demonstrators are reporting. The accounts of the Palestinian demonstrators who have been wounded by Israeli fire in recent weeks are raising the legacy of the first Palestinian Intifada, when Israeli then-defense minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered his soldiers to 'break the bones' of young protestors." (Rabin's legacy: Protestors' accounts show Israel 'breaking the bones' of peaceful demonstrators,, 10/2/09)]

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