Confronting ourselves

The Independent’s Johann Hari interviews Gideon Levy, a controversial Israeli critic of Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territories. An excerpt:

He reported that day on a killing, another of the hundreds he has documented over the years. As twenty little children pulled up in their school bus at the Indira Gandhi kindergarten, their 20 year-old teacher, Najawa Khalif, waved to them – and an Israel shell hit her and she was blasted to pieces in front of them. He arrived a day later, to find the shaking children drawing pictures of the chunks of her corpse. The children were “astonished to see a Jew without weapons. All they had ever seen were soldiers and settlers.”

And another:

Levy uses a simple technique. He asks his fellow Israelis: how would we feel, if this was done to us by a vastly superior military power? Once, in Jenin, his car was stuck behind an ambulance at a checkpoint for an hour. He saw there was a sick woman in the back and asked the driver what was going on, and he was told the ambulances were always made to wait this long. Furious, he asked the Israeli soldiers how they would feel if it was their mother in the ambulance – and they looked bemused at first, then angry, pointing their guns at him and telling him to shut up.

“I am amazed again and again at how little Israelis know of what’s going on fifteen minutes away from their homes,” he says. “The brainwashing machinery is so efficient that trying [to undo it is] almost like trying to turn an omelette back to an egg. It makes people so full of ignorance and cruelty.” He gives an example. During Operation Cast Lead, the Israel bombing of blockaded Gaza in 2008-9, “a dog – an Israeli dog – was killed by a Qassam rocket and it on the front page of the most popular newspaper in Israel. On the very same day, there were tens of Palestinians killed, they were on page 16, in two lines.”

I’m trying to imagine how the American public would react if the front pages always carried news of the latest Afghan “collateral damage” — not just the numbers, but real, humanizing stories. For that matter, if we saw graphic coverage of the damage done to US soldiers and contractors, might things change?

Certainly one reason the American polity has been able to happily go about its business while we’ve waged devastating wars in two countries is that, by and large, Americans don’t hear about the damage we inflict. Yes, we see a bit of political analysis (“How will this affect the election?”) and occasional stories about US casualties (“Three soldiers killed in a helicopter crash”), but we’re not forced to confront the hundreds of civilian casualties from stray bombs and bullets and germs in any serious, compelling way. That complete lack of confrontation, more than any bias in the stories that do get coverage, allows the tragedy of our foreign adventures to continue.

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09 2010

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