Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Kuntar and Israeli propaganda

The attack by Israel on Lebanon recently has brought up history of a 1979 attack by the PLF, the events,  motives and significance of which are contested, but widely used as a rallying cry for a militant state. There are some important comments to make on this.

The following is a comment I posted on a blog by a very good journalist Richard Silverstein who I slightly disagree with on what to make of the story. The comment is mildly revised. I think Silverstein's suspicions are not unwarranted but require a more careful reading of the facts than his source gives, and much of this in the end can only be speculation. Unfortunately also for Silverstein, he is a target on Twitter and in his own comment section of trolls who do everything to tempt him with neutered political philosophy to threaten to "wrap terrorist in pigskin and feed 2 dogs" (mike28tt ) and remind him that "Palestinians are acting like animals and should be put down as such!" (Steambuilder1). It's largely due to this harassment I followed him in the first place, assuming he was -- in his harassers eyes -- someone defying state hegemony, and thus likely telling necessary truths.
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The most pressing questions are not being answered. Does the government handle hostages situations effectively? How does the government try suspects, and is it an open and fair process? Finally, in what way does the intention to go to war corrupt the understanding and beliefs about threats the society faces? Haaretz writes that "In September 1979, a year and a half after the IDF’s Litani Operation [in south Lebanon], Weizman concluded a discussion on the objectives of the war, defining them as “breaking up the terrorist groups in southern Lebanon and the coastal areas.” (brackets in original) (1)

I think these are more important than who in fact was responsible. That said, I think it would be doing a disservice to the cause of the independence and anti-war movements to create a conspiracy theory. The last thing we should do is discredit ourselves by becoming myopic. I'm unconvinced by the testimony of the psychologist, although I don't think the story being told about Kuntar/Qintar is a neutural one. Part of his motivation is to sell a book, which he plugged in the interview. Should we listen to Bill O'Reilly or Samantha Power with as much reverence? Much of his evidence seems to come down to "He told me and I believe him." But everyone in jail is innocent, and truly believes it. In my opinion, to deny your own crime is a sign of humanity, that your conscience cannot handle accusing itself. A true psychopath would not care to deny it.
In its last large offensive on Gaza, Israel obliterated entire families. Israeli propaganda is well-served to have this crime projected onto a foreigner. If one were to sink as low as the IDF's knee-jerk defenders, one could even argue Kuntar was targeting the daughter as an unfortunate  human shield.

Similar motivated reasoning is almost certainly involved in the standard version of the events, and its mirror image. However, at the time, everything was being suppressed as a matter of principle, not just this case. (1) Referencing the time period "there was a plethora of books, speeches and articles made by those involved in the war, as well as analysts and critics, but “not a single one was based on sensitive, classified information.” According to Norman Finkelstein, Israel's image was hurt severely by these wars. The hoax "From Time Immemorial" by Joan Peters published was in 1984 "after Israel invaded Lebanon and suffered its first public relations debacle" (Beyond Chutzpah, p90).

Rather than an explicit coverup, it's likely that the 30 year suppression was simply a matter of policy to conceal as much as possible, regardless. In this way, one can still see why the standard version of events could hurt Israel's image and thus hurt any attempt to plan a new war. The standard version goes that Kuntar attacked a family, and after dispatching with a daughter's protector, went on to lustfully attack the defenseless child. Part of this is corroborated by Kuntar's alleged (though suspect) confession upon his arrest.  “Immediately following his capture, when his remand was extended, Kuntar confessed that he had bludgeoned Einat to death with the butt of his rifle. Later, however, when testifying in court, Kuntar denied the charges.” But a forensic account found brain matter from the child was on the butt of the rifle. (2) However, what motivated him to hurt the poor girl was not a premeditated genocidal attack but to separate the father from the daughter to claim the father as a captive, and this is quite routine in warfare. While still denying the murder “According to the terrorist, Danny Haran insisted on holding on to his daughter, and had he not done that, they would have only taken him to Lebanon.” (3) To me there is some truth hidden in this guilty conscience.

While not taking either his own or his captor's testimony at face value, this is the most plausible picture I think that can be painted. It may not be as sexy as uncovering an immense fraud (which takes serious scholarly work) but to assume that the facts will always fall into our lap in a neat package plants a false overconfidence, and distracts from the work needed to be done to change official policy. Again, it's mistaken to fall into the trap of speculating on events and lionizing a young man simply for being upset with society as much as we are. This version I put forth could be wrong. Who knows? What matters is what we can do about it and what we are prepared to do that it doesn't happen again.

 (1) http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.588972?date=1450603804830
 (2 https://web.archive.org/web/20151117112111/http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/Terrorism/Palestinian/Pages/The%20Kuntar%20File%20Exposed%20-%20Yediot%20Aharonot%2014-Jul-2008.aspx
 (3) http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3569961,00.html

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