When journalists use the word "apparently,"
or another favorite "reportedly," they are usually distancing themselves
from an event or an interpretation in the supposed interests of balance. But I
think we should read the "apparently" contained in a statement from
the head of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, relating to the killing this week
of four unarmed UN monitors by the Israeli army in its other sense.
When Annan says that those four deaths were "apparently deliberate,"
I take him to mean that the evidence shows that the killings were deliberate.
And who can disagree with him? At least 10 phone calls were made to Israeli commanders
over a period of six hours warning that artillery and aerial bombardments were
either dangerously close to or hitting the monitors' building.
The UN post, in Khaim just inside south Lebanon, was clearly marked and well-known
to the army, but nonetheless it was hit directly four times in the last hour before
an Israeli helicopter fired a precision-guided missile that tore through the roof
of an underground shelter, killing the monitors inside. A UN convoy that arrived
too late to rescue the peacekeepers was also fired on. From the evidence, it does
not get much more deliberate than that.
The problem, however, is that Western leaders, diplomats, and the media take the
"apparently" in its first sense as a way to avoid holding Israel
to account for its actions. For "apparently deliberate," read "almost
certainly accidental." That was why the best the UN Security Council could
manage after a day and a half of deliberation was a weaselly statement of "shock
and distress" at the killings, as though they were an act of God.
Our media are no less responsible for this evasiveness. They make sure "we"
the publics of the West never countenance the thought that a society like
our own, one we are always being reminded is a democracy, could sink to the depths
of inhumanity required to murder unarmed peacekeepers. Who can be taken seriously
challenging the Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni's assertion that "There
will never be an [Israeli] army commander that will intentionally aim at civilians
or UN soldiers [sic]"?
Even the minority in the West who have started to fear that Israel is "apparently"
slaughtering civilians across Lebanon or that it is "apparently" intending
to make refugees of a million Lebanese must presumably shrink from the idea that
Israel is also capable of killing unarmed UN monitors.
After all, our media insinuate, the two cases are not comparable.
There may be good reasons why Lebanese civilians need to suffer. Let's not forget
that they belong to a people (or is it a race or, maybe, a religion?) that gave
birth to Hezbollah. "We" can cast aside our concerns for the moment
and take it on trust that Israel has cause to kill the Lebanese or make them homeless.
Doubtless the justifications will emerge later, when we have lost interest in
the "Lebanon crisis." We may never hear what those reasons were, but
who can doubt that they exist?
The "apparent" murder of four UN monitors, however, is a deeper challenge
to our faith in our moral superiority, which is why that "apparently"
is held on to as desperately as a talisman. No civilized country could kill peacekeepers,
especially ones drawn from our own societies, from Canada, Finland, and Austria.
That is the moral separation line that divides us from the terrorists. Were that
line to be erased, we would be no different from those whom we must fight.
An iconic image of this war that our media have managed to expunge from the official
record but which keeps popping up in e-mail inboxes like a guilty secret is of
young Israeli girls, lipsticked and nail-polished as if on their way to a party,
drawing messages of death and hatred on the sides of the missiles about to be
loaded on to army trucks and tanks. In one, an out-of-focus soldier stands on
a tank paternally watching over the girls as they address another death threat
to Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
Is this the truer face of Israeli society, even if it is the one we are never
shown and refuse to believe in? And are "we" in the West hurtling down
the same path?
Driving through the Jewish city of Upper Nazareth this week, I realized how inured
I am becoming to this triumphal militarism and the racism that feeds it.
Nothing surprising about the posters of "We will win" on every hoarding.
But it takes me more than a few seconds to notice that the Magen David ambulance
in front of me is flying a little national flag, the blue Star of David, from
its window. I have heard that American fire engines flew U.S. flags after 9/11,
but this somehow seems worse. How is it possible for an ambulance, the embodiment
of our neutral, civilized, universal, "Western," humanitarian values,
to fly a national flag, I think to myself? And does it make a difference that
only a few months ago Magen David joined the International Committee of the Red
Only slowly do my thoughts grow more disturbed: how many hospital administrators,
doctors, and nurses have seen that ambulance arrive at their emergency departments
and thought nothing of it? And is that the only Israeli ambulance flying the flag,
or are many others doing the same? Later, the BBC TV news answers my question.
I see two ambulances with the same flags going to the front line to collect casualties.
Will others soon cross over the border into southern Lebanon, after it is "secured,"
and will no one mention those little flags fluttering from the window?
A psychologist tells me how upset she is about a meeting she attended a few days
ago of the northern coordinating committee of her profession. They were discussing
how best to treat the shock and trauma suffered by Israeli children under the
bombardment from Hezbollah. The meeting concluded with an agreement that the psychologists
would reassure the children with the statement: "The army is there to protect
And so, the seeds of fascism are unthinkingly sown for another generation of children,
children like our own.
No one agreed with my friend when she dissented, arguing that this was not the
message to be telling impressionable minds, and that violence against the Other
is not a panacea for our problems. Parents, not soldiers, are responsible for
protecting their children, she pointed out. Tanks, planes, and guns bring only
fear and more hatred, hatred that will one day return to haunt us.
The slow, gentle indoctrination continues day in, day out, reinforcing the idea
among Israel's Jewish population that the army can do no wrong and that it needs
no oversight, not even from politicians (most of whom are former generals anyway,
or like Prime Minister Ehud Olmert too frightened to stand up to the chiefs of
staff if they wanted to). "We will win." How do we know we will win?
Because "the army is there to protect us." Add into the mix that faceless
"Arab" enemy, those sub-beings, and you have a recipe for fascism
even if it is of the democratically elected variety.
The Israeli media, of course, are the key to providing the second half of that
equation or rather not providing it. You can sit watching the main Israeli
channels all day, flicking between channels 1, 2, and 10, and not see a Lebanese
face, apart from that of Hassan Nasrallah, the new Hitler. I don't mean the charred
faces of corpses, or the bandaged babies, or the amputees lying in hospital beds.
I mean any Lebanese faces. Just as you almost never see a Palestinian face on
Israeli TV unless they are the mob, disfigured with hatred as they hold aloft
another martyr on his way to burial.
Lebanon only swings in to view on Israeli television through the black and white
footage of an aerial gun sight, or through the long shot of a distant urban landscape
seconds before it is "pulverized" by a dropped bomb. The buildings crumble,
flames shoot up, clouds of dust billow into the air. Another shot of arcade-game
The humanitarian stories exist, but they do not concern Lebanon. Animal welfare
societies plead on behalf of the dogs and cats left alone to face the rocket fire
on deserted Kiryat Shmona, just as they did before for foxes and deer when Israel
began building its mammoth walls of concrete and steel across their migration
routes in the West Bank, walls that are also imprisoning, unseen, hundreds of
thousands of Palestinians.
The rest of the coverage is dedicated to Israeli army spokespeople, including
the national heartthrob Miri Regev, and media "commentators" and "analysts."
Who are these people? They are from the same pool of former military intelligence
and security service officers who once did this job in the closed rooms of army
HQ but now wallow in the limelight. One favored pundit is even subtitled "Expert
on psychological warfare against Hassan Nasrallah."
And who are the presenters and anchors who interview them? The other day an aging
expert on Apache helicopters interrupted his interviewer irritatedly to tell him
his question was stupid. "We were in the army together and both know the
answer. Don't play dumb." It was a rare reminder that these anchors too are
just soldiers in suits. One of the most popular, Ehud Yaari of Channel 2, barely
conceals his military credentials as he condones yet more violence against the
Lebanese or, if he can be deflected for a moment, the people of Gaza.
That is what comes of having a "citizen army," where teenagers learn
to use a gun before they can drive and men do reserve duty until their late 40s.
It means every male teacher, professor, psychologist, and journalist thinks as
a soldier because that is what he has been for most of his life.
Israel is not unique, far from it, though it is in a darker place, and has been
for some time, than "we" in the West can fully appreciate. It is a mirror
of what our own societies are capable of, despite our democratic values. It shows
how a cult of victimhood makes one heartless and cruel, and how racism can be
repackaged as civilized values.
Maybe those UN monitors, with their lookout post above the battlefield where Israel
wants to use any means it can to destroy Hezbollah and Lebanese civilians who
get in the way, had to be removed simply because they are a nuisance, a restraint
when Israel needs to get on with the job of asserting "our" values.
Maybe Israel does not want the scrutiny of peacekeepers as it fights our war on
terror for us. Maybe it feared that the monitors' reports might help to give back
to the Lebanese, even to Hezbollah, their faces, their history, their suffering.
And, if we are honest, Israel is not alone. How many of us want the Arabs to remain
faceless so we can keep believing we are the victims of a new ideology that wants
only our evisceration, just as the "Red Indians" once supposedly wanted
our scalps? How many many of us believe that our values demand that we fall in
behind a new world order in which Arab deaths are not real deaths because "they"
are not fully human?
And how many of us believe that deliberate barbarity, at least when we do it,
is only "apparently" a crime against humanity?