Thursday, July 29, 2010
Israel and the Language of Acquiescence
When is the news no longer news but something else? Consider an article that appeared in the New York Times on Wednesday. Here's how it begins:
"Student Injury at Protest Leads to Battle in Israel
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — A macabre legal wrangle is under way over who should pay the hospital bill for an American art student who lost an eye after being struck by a tear-gas canister fired by an Israeli border police officer at a Palestinian-led protest in the West Bank.
The student, Emily Henochowicz, 21, was injured on May 31 after she joined Palestinian and foreign activists protesting that morning’s deadly raid by Israeli naval commandos on a Turkish boat trying to breach the blockade of Gaza. Israeli security forces fired tear gas to disperse the demonstration after a few Palestinian youths threw rocks...."
Now here's what happened. The Israeli security forces shot Emily Henochowicz in the head with a tear-gas canister at a demonstration. She was carrying flags at the demonstration and was not throwing stones at anybody. The Israeli military blinded a young American woman by shooting her in the eye. Let's say that again: The Israeli military shot Ms. Henochowicz in the head, blinding her in one eye. The headline calls this a "student injury." That first paragraph uses a bizarrely ungainly sentence with multiple passive constructions to say a chain of three things just happened to Ms. Henochowicz, completely distancing the horror that was done to Ms. Henochowicz by the Israelis. The action in the second paragraph, again passively asserting that she "was injured," is that Ms. Henochowicz joined a demonstration...that the Israeli border police needed to disperse because Palestinians were throwing rocks. Ms. Henochowicz, it seems, has brought this injury upon herself because she joined a demonstration. It's so neat, right? You almost don't see it happening.
Israel and its armed security forces are thus absolved of responsibility. What I would like to know is why is the New York Times' Isabel Kershner writing such hasbara , the necessary official Israeli (propaganda) explanation of how reality is insufficient to describe what happened.
So it's bad enough that this story is about how the Israeli government refuses to pay Ms. Henochowicz's medical bills because it claims she was "injured" (not wounded? Not shot in the head by a police officer?) of her own free will by joining civil unrest, but the article itself begins by insinuating that premise through linguisitic slight of hand.
Let me repeat the facts in case they're still not clear: Armed Israelis shot Ms. Henochowicz in the head with a teargas canister, blinding her in one eye. Do you remember when you were small and you knocked something precious off the table, causing it to break? "I didn't do it!" You cried out. "It fell!" Chances are your own linguistic slight of hand made your parents rather angry. Chances are you were punished for, well, failing to take responsibility for your actions; in effect for lying. THIS is what the New York Times is doing here.
It's what small children say when accused of doing something bad. Not "I did it," but "It happened." But this is not what reputable newspapers say. This is not what independent media says. This is, on the contrary, how propaganda excuses the repressive force of the State of Israel.
Emily Henochowicz, a visual artist, returned from Israel and maintains a blog called Thirsty Pixels. Her self-portrait above is from her blog.