Writing in The Guardian newspaper this week, Arab-American author Moustafa Bayoumi decried the language used in his country’s press to describe the killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces this week.
Moustafa cited the use of passive phrases such as “dozens of Palestinians have died in protests”, “Gaza buries its dead”, “leave dozens dead” and “clashes” among those that give the impression that there is no perpetrator.
“It’s almost as if bullets just hang in the air, waiting for Palestinians to walk deliberately into them … Such language works not only to buffer Israel from criticism, but also, and more fundamentally, to shield Israel from accountability,” wrote Moustafa.
In South Africa, we know all about the use of language to sanitise atrocities. In the old days, the apartheid propaganda machine, with the aid of a large section of the media, belittled the anti-apartheid uprisings by labelling them “unrest”. The government and its spin doctors refused to use the word ‘massacre’ when referring to the mass killings that occurred with regularity between 1960 and 1994. The language was always passive and did not acknowledge the cold, calculated brutality of the killings.
This habit appears to have continued into the new order, as the ANC’s response to the Marikana massacre attests. The party’s immediate response to the killing of 34 mine workers by police was to pronounce that it was “shocked and saddened at the killings that resulted from the labour dispute in the Lonmin mines in Marikana”. To this day, the ANC and government refer to the Marikana massacre merely as “a tragedy”.
Back to Israel, a country whose government must rank as the most cossetted and pampered evil regime in recent history.
In apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and direct British rule in Northern Ireland were regarded as the world’s most intractable problems. Today, apartheid is no more and South Africa is a fully fledged constitutional democracy. Northern Ireland enjoys a level of autonomy following the 1999 Good Friday Agreement that gave it devolved power. These are two good stories that the human race can tell about the 1990s.
The situation for Palestinians, however, just gets worse. The oppressive yoke of Israel remains firmly on their necks. Massacres, mass arrests, injuries on a massive scale, detention of young children, the starvation of communities and the stripping of peoples’ dignity are the order of the day. In fact, so routine is the meting out of cruelty to Palestinians that a death toll has to be in the double digits before anyone pays attention.
Protected by its big brother the US, Israel acts with such untrammelled impunity that it makes PW Botha a candidate for a posthumous Nobel peace prize. In the past six to eight weeks, Israel’s security forces have been shooting at Palestinians as if they were antelope in one of those hunting enclaves at a game park.
The death toll since early April now stands at more than 100 – sixtysomething of these people were killed this week. Monday’s death toll alone was more than 50. Reports from Gaza health authorities, corroborated by international aid agencies and humanitarian groups, put the cumulative injury rate (which includes repeat injuries) at nearly 13 000, with 5 000 people having been affected. The World Health Organisation says 350 people have been permanently disabled.
Most of the civilised world is appalled by this behaviour by a government that purports to lead a modern democratic state. Only the US gives the Israeli regime unquestioning support even when it commits barbaric acts. Defenders of Israel’s actions always try to shut critics up by saying they are anti-Semitic. It is a cheap trick because they well know that only the worst extremists have a problem with the existence of the State of Israel. The issue here is the injustice that the Israeli government – not necessarily the Israeli people – visit on fellow humans.
This week, US President Donald Trump rewarded the Israeli regime for its monstrous behaviour by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to disputed Jerusalem. This just added fuel to the fire and was responsible for much of this week’s inferno.
As his forces were picking off the inferior species with live ammunition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was toasting the moment with Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner.
Incensed by Netanyahu’s wide celebratory grin, Bradley Burston, a correspondent for the liberal Haaretz newspaper, penned the following: “What kind of man is this? What kind of man says these things? Does these things? What kind of man grins like a kid in a candy store, knowing that, in Gaza, the death toll is rising by 10 Palestinians every hour? Knowing that, just outside Gaza, thousands of Israelis are under grave trepidation for their families, their neighbours, their future.
“Okay, he was busy at the time, helping the Donald Trump administration formally open a US embassy in Jerusalem. But what kind of man talks like this at a time like this?”
What nailed it for Burston was Netanyahu’s gleeful proclamation: “Dear friends, what a glorious day! Remember this moment!”
This is the kind of man who does not see other humans as humans. An evil man.