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October 16, 2006

Good News From Gaza


by Ran HaCohen

Fleeing from Nazi Austria on the eve of World War II, Sigmund Freud was asked to sign a statement saying he was not mistreated. The old Jewish psychiatrist is said to have asked whether he could add: "I can most highly recommend the Gestapo to everyone."

Israeli Hotel Spoils Palestinians

Since the abduction of an Israeli soldier on June 25th, the world's biggest open-air prison Gaza Strip has been subject to a continuous, murderous Israeli attack, with several Palestinians killed every single day, and scores injured. While Lebanon was flattened by millions of Israeli bombs, nobody cared about Gaza. Following the Israeli defeat in Lebanon, the frustrated army can now take revenge on the helpless Gazans with renewed destructive energies. Gaza is under total siege, with poverty at 75 percent, no electricity in the intolerable late-summer heat, let alone proper medical care.

But even in these darkest days there is a single ray of light. There is someone who does care about the people of Gaza, someone who does see them as human beings deserving food, shelter, freedom and dignity. Guess who. Mother Teresa? Close, but no cigar. The answer is: the Israeli army. At least if you ask Israel's by far most popular portal, YNET, the website of Israel's most selling daily Yediot Achronot. Read along (Hebrew; translation: ynetnews.com).

"IDF sets up detention center near Gaza: Palestinian men held at special temporary center set up near Gaza as IDF embarks on wave of arrests

"The Israel Defense Force set up a temporary detention center near the border with the Gaza Strip where dozens of Palestinian men arrested by troops operating in the tiny coastal strip are interrogated each day."

So far so good. Or not so good. One wonders what would come next: a couple of critical questions? A short comment about the illegality of this procedure? After all, international law explicitly forbids the abduction of people across the border of an occupied territory, so that all Israelis involved in this "detention center" can be accused of war crimes. Or, if international law doesn't count, what about the Israeli law? Under what paragraph are these people arrested, living in an area from which Israel claims to have withdrawn? Perhaps a short comparison between the number of Israelis abducted by Palestinians (soldiers: 1; civilians: 0; children: 0) and the huge number of Palestinians abducted by Israel? Not quite. Shall we at least live to see who the arrestees are, what their stories may be? Well, let's read on.

"The army said soldiers have been instructed to treat the detainees in a humane manner and stressed that most men are released after undergoing interrogation. Released Palestinians are given a package of food staples like sugar, oil and flour. 'We can be proud of the IDF's treatment of the Palestinians,' reservist soldiers operating the center said. [...] 'Since yesterday, arrestees have been pouring in,' a soldier told Ynet. 'In the afternoon a number of Palestinians arrived, whose ages ranged from 15-year-old teenagers to adults aged 45. We made every effort to give the Palestinians a good feeling, we set up tables, benches, and we even set up shades so they don't have to stand in the sun.' Soldiers said the arrestees did not seem scared, and some were seen laughing. Most Palestinians who arrived at the center on Thursday were neither blindfolded nor handcuffed. 'Every one of them was taken to a tent for interrogation. Those with links to terror groups were taken by bus to another facility and the rest were released to Gaza within hours,' soldiers said. 'We received orders to serve them hot meals, and the brigade set a table with bread and chocolate and served them drinks,' reservists said. 'We felt great pride for the treatment, for treating the Palestinians with respect, even those suspected of terror activities.'"

So now we know it all. "Detention center" must be a leftist or anti-Semitic defamation. What the Israeli army runs just outside Gaza is in fact a luxury hotel with full board. Soldiers work in room service, giving Palestinians a brief relief from the terrible conditions in Gaza: water, shade, food, chocolate, hot meals, even a good laugh.

Not only adults enjoy the hotel's services: even children can be surprised by the merciful Israeli soldiers who take them out of their wretched beds in the middle of the night, transport them by tanks and armored personnel carriers (air-conditioned buses to be introduced shortly, please forgive the inconvenience) to this army-run oasis, ask them how they feel ("interrogation"), spoil them with the hotel's excellent services, and consequently release them well-quipped with a bag full of goodies.

The soldiers also say that most Palestinians were neither blindfolded nor handcuffed. This is hardly confirmed by the three photos illustrating the report, in which, out of a dozen Palestinians pictured, 12 are clearly seen blindfolded (and most probably handcuffed as well). This, however, is quite understandable: the rumor has it that if the precise location of the IDF Luxury Hotel were compromised, hundreds thousands of starving Palestinians would apply, at least for free bed-and-breakfast. Indeed, one can most highly recommend this detention center to everyone.

Media as Propaganda

This YNET report is a quite a typical example of the mainstream Israeli media coverage of the Occupation's atrocities and war crimes. Much (though by far not all) the information is open and accessible to the public. Every Israeli can now know that Israel runs a concentration camp near the allegedly no-longer-occupied Gaza, with large numbers of Palestinians, including children, abducted from the Strip and held there for unknown periods of time, some released, some moved on for further "treatment." But this piece of information to which the article dedicates approximately 50 words is flooded by more than 200 words of pure propaganda, like in the darkest dictatorships, which frames the news item in a safe way and silences in advance any critical questions or thoughts. The impression the reader gets is that there's some camp out there where Palestinians get more than a fair treatment.

Typically, the propaganda quotes just one side: the army, the soldiers, i.e., the perpetrators. Not a single victim is interviewed: we don't know under what circumstances they were kidnapped, we don't know if a single word of the soldiers is true, we don't know what the arrestees have to pay for their release (collaboration, as usual?). Even the fact that children are kidnapped doesn't arouse any question on the part of the "journalist" or his editors in the "free press."

And, to be on the safe side, this pure propaganda doesn't leave out the inevitable comparison between Israel the regional power that strangulates Gaza, kills and wounds its citizens, men, women and children, by conventional and satanic experimental weapons, and abducts them arbitrarily to its camps and the Palestinian side, which abducted one Israeli soldier and harasses the Israeli civilians living around Gaza by primitive missiles. That's what the distorted comparison between victims and perpetrators looks like:

"It is sad that on the other side respect to human life in not as such, as they use children as human shields and an innocent population is under constant threat because of terror groups."

Not a single evidence is given, but why expect one in a propaganda item.

Controversy

In the readers' reactions, the so-called backtalks, however, one can see the Israeli democracy at work. Democracy encourages controversies, as we all know. This report too aroused a heated debate. While many readers took great pride of the army's humanitarian behavior, even more readers disagreed, being highly critical of the army's conduct. Highly critical, to say the least. Here: "Why arrest? Kill them off!," several readers suggested. "Why give them chocolate? Torture them to find our kidnapped soldier!," urged another. "We pay with our lives for our morality; the terrorists are human trash!," preached yet another Israeli reader. Out of 120 backtalk items, less than 5% questioned the validity of this cheap propagandistic report. So either the framing worked perfectly, or the website's backtalk editors completed the job by a suitable selection.

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Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature, and his PhD is in Jewish Studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. Mr. HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter from Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.

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