Opinion: Why is truth so threatening?


Published: 10-21-2023 5:00 PM

Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.

On October 7, Hamas launched a terrorist attack on Israel that left over one thousand dead, thousands injured, and hundreds captured who are to this moment still being held as hostages.

In response, Jewish Voice of Peace wrote: “The Root of Violence Is Oppression” ... Right now, Palestinians, Israelis and all of us with family on the ground are terrified for loved ones. We grieve the lives of those already lost and remain committed to a future where every life is precious, and all people live in freedom and safety. Following 16 years of Israeli military blockade, Palestinian fighters from Gaza launched an unprecedented assault, in which hundreds of Israelis were killed and wounded, and civilians kidnapped. The Israeli government declared war, launching airstrikes, killing hundreds of Palestinians and wounding thousands, bombing residential buildings and threatening to commit war crimes against besieged Palestinians in Gaza...”

The next day, October 8, Haaretz, a leading Israeli newspaper, published in its lead editorial: “Netanyahu Bears Responsibility for This Israel-Gaza War,” writing “The disaster that befell Israel on the holiday of Simchat Torah is the clear responsibility of one person: Benjamin Netanyahu.”

The next day, October 9, Israeli Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz: “Since 1948, Israel has been punishing Gaza. Yesterday, Israel saw pictures that it had not expected in its life, because of its arrogance... Behind everything that happened, Israeli arrogance. We thought we were allowed to do anything, that we would never pay a price or be punished for it. We continue without confusion... We shoot innocent people, gouge out their eyes and smash their faces, deport them, confiscate their lands, plunder them, kidnap them from their beds, and carry out ethnic cleansing ...”

And this week a former prime minister, Ehud Barak, said publicly that he believes PM Netanyahu is to blame for the crisis and that Netanyahu’s strategy towards the Palestinians has backfired.

Such debate and dissent within Israel and the diaspora may seem surprising to many Americans: while such diverse viewpoints are not a dominant narrative they are not uncommon in Israel and abroad and are essential elements in dynamic, pluralistic societies.

They are less so in America these days, where mainstream media appears, two weeks after Hamas’ abhorrent attack, to be amplifying Israel’s state-sanctioned narrative of not only what happened on October 7th but on the history of what led to those tragic events, all to the exclusion of the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

From personal observation I believe that deliberate erasure of the Palestinian people and their narrative from mainstream media has been shamefully pervasive. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, for example, not only have Palestinian voices or points-of-view been excluded but, with two minor exceptions, so have people of color.

The first was the airing of an excerpt from a speech from NYC Mayor Eric Adams, accompanied by Rev. Al Sharpton, affirming solidarity with Israel.

The other was an embarrassingly minor moment Thursday when Princeton’s Dr. Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. appeared alongside UPenn’s Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel. It was an encounter which seems to have been designed solely to give host Joe Scarborough opportunity to try and spank elite educational institutions for daring to indulge the free speech rights of faculty and students because they have failed, seemingly in Joe’s opinion, to exclusively embrace the network’s pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab narrative.

Scarborough was not the only hasbara-inspired cheerleader but to my mind one of the most egregious. If I have missed moments of enlightenment in the mainstream please enlighten me: there have been too many “gag me with a spoon moments” to recall fully four hours a day of prejudice directed toward people who look like me.

The past two weeks have been triumphant for Israeli public diplomacy (hasbara) and whiteness, a chance for privileged PEPS (Progressive Except for Palestine) to express solidarity with settler-colonialism, occupation, and celebrate defiance of international law.

Last week White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre described calls for a ceasefire in Israel and Palestine made by some Democratic representatives, including Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress who still has relatives in the occupied Palestinian territories, as “repugnant” and “disgraceful.”

Representative Tlaib, in a statement of clarification, said, “I do not support the targeting and killing of civilians, whether in Israel or Palestine ... The fact that some have suggested otherwise is offensive and rooted in bigoted assumptions about my faith and ethnicity.”

This week it has not been uncommon to read opinions inspired by events in Gaza extolling the virtues of peace and non-violence but which can’t bring themselves to even mention Palestine or the Palestinians.

In 1968, at a time when anti-Vietnam protests were occurring across America and other western nations, famed film critic Roger Ebert, in his review of The Battle of Algiers (my all-time favorite movie) described a seminal moment:

“At the height of the street fighting in Algiers, the French stage a press conference for a captured FLN leader. ‘Tell me, general,’ a Parisian journalist asks the revolutionary, ‘do you not consider it cowardly to send your women carrying bombs in their handbags, to blow up civilians?’ The rebel replies in a flat tone of voice: ‘And do you not think it cowardly to bomb our people with napalm?’ A pause. ‘Give us your airplanes and we will give you our women and their handbags.’

“Give us your airplanes and we will give you our women and their handbags.”

Last week, on October 17th, Al Ahli Arab Hospital, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem that serves patients in Gaza, was struck by what appeared to be an airstrike, fueling reports of mass casualties.

After Hamas’ initial claim that it had been bombed by Israelis it now appears that the most likely cause was an errant Islamic Jihad rocket (intended to attack Israel) which misfired and fell into the hospital, killing hundreds of innocent Palestinians.

As we continue to witness ethnic cleansing and attacks on Gaza; as we witness the continued deprivation of water, food, fuel and electricity for millions of innocent Palestinian civilians, it’s time to take stock of where we are.

Let’s be clear: Whether Palestinian or Israeli, whether Jew Christian, Muslim, Druze or secular humanist; without equality and justice, justice for all peoples, without an end to Hamas’ terrorist acts, without an end to the Israel’s state violence, occupation, and oppression, no future can be imagined for either people.

I cannot understand why context appears so threatening, why learning about the history of colonial violence, about exclusion and erasure of the Palestinian people, why trying to understand words between words of what is happening in Israel and the Occupied Palestine Territories is so impossible.

Why is context so hard, context that might offset the pernicious effects of campaigns of prejudice against subjugated peoples? Why is giving voice to Palestinian academics, poets, and activists so threatening?

Why is truth so threatening?

Without truth, I fear, there will be more airplanes, more women and their handbags, more ethnic cleansing and erasure.

Without truth there is not future.