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The First Word War – Palestine Think Tank and Tlaxcala declare war against disinformation
Monday, 05 October 2009 18:44
by Mary Rizzo

There are some words that are used as emotional triggers and mental blinders. They serve the purpose of directing the mind to a specific direction where its critical faculties are set in temporary congealment so that the terminology itself remains vivid and indeed obtains an emotional response from the listener, but its connotations are modified either wholly or in part by whoever is propagating the message. There are many terms and short phrases that are part of our lexicon and which have been utilised for the purpose of influencing our opinions and thus, obtaining our “moral” backing of certain political or ideological goals, obviously, with an intent in mind, gaining our consensus either implicitly or explicitly, since consensus is required by the dictates of “democracy”.The use of linguistic instruments of persuasion is true especially in the most sophisticated fields of Psyops (psychological operations enacted by governments, particularly during wartime or crisis), but it is also utilised in basic journalistic communication and becomes part of the “public discourse”. Since language is the instrument we all use, its codification is essential so that there is no need to define all terms, facilitating the communication of ideas, but there are those whose task is to bend these terms into weapons and functional propaganda devices. Experience tells us that Israeli Hasbara (“Propaganda Plus”, a term that a psychologist friend of mine has coined), is organised at many levels in creating consensus that reiterates their own bias, which can be defined as “Israel first and foremost”, and they do it through the use of rhetoric and language.

This language is so thoroughly imbued in contemporary Western thought that Orwell’s Ministry of Truth seems to be nothing less than the prediction of what the Hasbara Ministry (and all of its more or less formal or official off-shoots around the world) does all in a day’s work. While watching the evening news, one barely raises an eyebrow anymore when becoming aware of acts committed against civilian populations living under military occupation – war crimes under any circumstances, reported as if they are legitimate and necessary acts when not even outright humanitarian deeds. These same atrocities are being bandied as steps towards peace and co-existence and the element of human suffering is wiped out or negated. Yet, when the victim of the suffering is a Westerner or “in the same Democratic camp”, the opposite mechanism is set off and we are to feel moral indignation.

We who are the clients of the Western Media are spoon-fed certain information that would be morally repugnant if the tables were turned and rather than being the perpetrators, we would be the victims. Those who compose and compile their reports give higher intrinsic value to the lives of those they feel are within their constituencies and they assemble the information to reinforce this bias and turn it into normative thought. When a Western Soldier falls he is treated as a hero, no matter where he was or what he was doing at the time, the same is true of Israelis who occupy lands “cleansed” of the non-Jewish population. Whenever the target of any violent action is shown, their moral stature is commensurate with how closely they fit into our own image of ourselves. When the victims reported number among the official “bad guys”, we almost are expected to feel relief and a surge of patriotism that tells us a message indicating that “good is indeed prevailing”. Likewise, we are expected to “root for” someone living in Sderot, treated as if their hardships, nervous cats and “defiance” are naturally our primary concern. During the war waged against Gaza, a group of teenagers complaining that they felt confined between their schools, homes and bomb shelters was given the same space and gravitas in the mainstream mass media as Palestinian parents mourning in grief at the destruction of their homes and the murder of their children by Israeli soldiers and weapons. It would be absurd in any context to make any kind of equivalence between these two levels of suffering, but we are expected to not blink an eye at this kind of reporting.

It is exactly the same as the way we are expected to accept Israeli justifications of their status as “the most moral army in the world” no matter what the photos filtering out of the inferno of Gaza were showing us. In the words of the Prime Minister of Israel immediately following some public outcry: “As a moral army without peer, the IDF took care to act in accordance with international law and did its utmost to prevent harming civilians who were not involved in the fighting, including their property, and to this end, inter alia, distributed very many flyers and also used the local media and the local telephone network in order to deliver timely general and detailed warnings to the civilian population. The IDF also acted to provide for the humanitarian needs of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip during the fighting.”

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What is hidden in that press briefing, besides the value judgment about being a moral army without peer, is the wickedness of the content of these “humanitarian” flyers and the “use” of the local media and telephone network. The flyers warned people of the intent of destruction that would soon follow if the people (trapped as they were) did not simply “leave”. This demonstrated pre-meditated intent to cause harm and the warning of death and destruction of property belonging to civilians. Regarding the use of phones, in an article published in USA Today, it was reported that Palestinians received calls on both cellular phones and land lines, warning them that their home was about to be bombed. The calls could not be traced or blocked because they came from international carriers. The Israeli officials claimed this was a service towards Palestinians, (prior obviously to the real service rendered), yet, Maj. Jacob Dallal, the military spokesman interviewed, declined discussing just how the Israeli military obtains cell phone numbers in Gaza, which are not listed anywhere.

The “use” of local media was actually the IDF hacking into Al Aqsa TV as well as breaking into local radio stations including those of Hamas, the PFLP and the Islamic Jihad. According to accounts by Kamal Abu Nasser, during broadcasts on the Voice of Jerusalem, the IDF would break the signal on an hourly basis and broadcast messages blaming Hamas for all the problems in Gaza. This claim was backed by many Gazans who had become dependent upon the radio for a connection with the world, and instead were bombarded with propaganda by those dropping bombs over their heads.

The detailed warnings and humanitarian aid is also easily debunked. The IDF did not explain even to the doctors what type of weapons were being used and how to treat the very strange wounds that were typical of DIME and white phosphorus use. As everyone is by now aware, the Gaza Strip was under total blockade by land, sea and air, with any goods entering coming in through the tunnels, which the Israelis and Americans ran to quickly define as being used for “arms smuggling”, and not simply the only way to move goods of all sorts when all above-ground access was cut off by both Israel and Egypt, where the security forces responding to Fatah were also located. Reading any statement made by Israel always takes a great deal of effort. The truth is there, but it is the opposite of what is stated. Yet, these statements are taken at face value and even elevated to humanitarian status.

Do those who write them and disseminate them take us for blind, deaf and dumb? Or are we all of these things and more? Has our placement on the globe as privileged beings “outside the axis of evil” eliminated the possibility of seeing ourselves how others might see us, and make us exempt from being thoroughly disgusted at the importance we give ourselves and the disregard for others? Have we become the insensitive monsters we must look like or are we just indoctrinated and brainwashed enough to prohibit us from thinking critically?

Since the mass media can’t censor and prevent everything from coming to the surface, those who control it run for cover in furnishing the canonic interpretation of events that we are expected to accept as “fact” or even as “truth”. If we are still able to see, the goal of the Hasbara experts is to prevent us from thinking. This is why these fear triggers and catch phrases are so handy. They do the work for our brains. It is necessary for us to feel “informed” but not necessary for us (and actually detrimental to them) to elaborate and think. Once we have stopped thinking, we will remain silent in the face of the violence used to oppress the weak.

Totalitarian regimes have always depended on either ignorance or fear to help them carry out their work of establishing, consolidating and maintaining their dominion over those who otherwise would rebel against them. The same appears to be true in today’s “democracies”. Pressure is put on Islamic charities, groups that combat occupation are categorised as being terrorist movements and diplomatic relations are also dependent upon the blessing of whoever holds the purse strings. Conditions are set that prohibit openly supporting political movements and even governments that are critical of the Zionist state, as if this itself is the barometer of the validity of an entire nation in the global spectrum. In short, even democracies (again, quoting my psychologist friend, “demonocracies”) implement strong indoctrination to instil their hegemonic advantage politically, economically and even morally. They utilise the media, both as information and entertainment, to brainwash and form their model of a good citizen so that the society is fully supportive of whatever political plans their government will back. The effects filter down all the way to the bottom, even to our children, who are asked to a-critically salute “heroes of peace” armed to the teeth in Afghanistan and Iraq. It seems that Orwell had gotten it right after all.

Fighting the empty rhetoric, deconstructing the lies one by one and taking back the power of our critical thinking is something that is no longer a luxury, but an absolute necessity. To contribute to this ideal of consciousness-building, Palestine Think Tank and Tlaxcala are launching a series of essays that examine many of these terms and phrases, one at a time, in order to construct an alternative lexicon and to present a more accurate reading of the words that surround us at the moment primarily as propagandistic emotional triggers. We ask our contributors, members and affiliates to reflect upon and write about these issues, and we also invite our readers to contribute essays for publication, translation and dissemination.

Which terms interest us? There are actually very many to choose from, so the choice is left to the writers. By no means do we wish to limit the essays to one alone on each theme, as each author may wish to contribute his or her own point of view or argumentation to deal with a theme already touched upon. We hope that this international collaborative effort can contribute to a better understanding of world issues, and a greater awareness of how we play an active role, and not only can we reject the flawed definitions given to us, but we are able to fill these terms with content and understand them in their true dimensions.

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