Echoes of Conflict

Mutually exclusive narratives war in the media

Europe was burning. Or so I had heard in many media outlets before I boarded a flight to Europe. According to various hysterical outlets in the West, philistines were surging up through Gibraltar and other southbound nodes of ingress to destabilize European culture, that high-flown redoubt of wine and song and literature and art. Lisbon, as I discovered somewhat disappointedly, was serene. No flaming cathedrals. No barricades on the boulevards. Only the prosaic reproduction of daily life, at work in a thousand pastelerias and padarias. Hordes of tourists, like arctic ice floes, coursed through the cobblestone streets with a practiced regularity.


These first-world problems felt embarrassingly inconsequential when I turned on the television and saw, with the tiresome predictably of political failure, the latest urgent update on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The airwaves had been crammed with urgent reports from Gaza for some four months now. Hamas had attacked and killed ___. The IDF had attacked and killed ___. All the usual suspects lined up, waiting their cue to go before the cameras. The reporters, always posing as impartial journalists who were deeply concerned for the safety of civilians in the conflict zone, found perches with skyline views where they could point to bombed buildings and streets (hopefully still smoking from the latest attack). Aid workers were summoned to issue urgent appeals for humanitarian assistance and an immediate ceasefire, a demand that felt as feckless as it was rote. Various intellectuals were brought on to gravely explain the roots of the conflict. Several spoke of heartbreak. And lastly the political actors, tiresome in their strident assurances of a just and fierce response. Their singular purpose appeared to be maintaining a posture and position that brooked no dissent, no counterpoint, and yielded to no mitigating circumstances.

The television flickers with images of aftermath. These crises emerged semi-annually for as long as I could remember. Violence was met with violence. Human madness was as strong as ever. The Israeli-Palestine war was the longest running drama in the theater of hate. The principled college freshman I had seen accusing Starbucks of facilitating genocide did not know the weariness of talking truth for years to no effect.

Veteran independent journalist Chris Hedges put it best, bitterly noting: “How can you trap 2.3 million people in Gaza, half of whom are unemployed, in one of the most densely populated spots on the planet for 16 years, reduce the lives of its residents, half of whom are children, to a subsistence level, deprive them of basic medical supplies, food, water and electricity, use attack aircraft, artillery, mechanized units, missiles, naval guns and infantry units to randomly slaughter unarmed civilians and not expect a violent response?”

Assigning blame is the ne plus ultra of Middle East politics. Lately the fault lies with the settler colonial regimes. Here the Israelis take after the Americans, of course, with their unexampled template of having exterminated an entire population in order to claim a continent. They also follow the National Socialists of Hitler’s Germany, which waged a devastating and fatal war on Russia because, according to some accounts, the Nazis too wanted their lebensraum, a backyard, to put it plainly. A resource rich hinterland that all empires surely require (United States and Latin America; the Brits and India; France and North Africa). Everyone needs a backyard. An “inevitable expansion” was the birthright of all imperial powers and superior races, as der fuhrer put it. In this case, Israel says it is reclaiming lost territory.

The historian Samuel Huntington put it like this:

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.

The numbers suggest as much: 26,000 dead; 63,000 injured; 360,000 housing units destroyed; 1.7M people displaced; 93 percent of the population face a hunger crisis.

Meanwhile, the U.S. vetoes UN Security Council resolutions demanding a ceasefire and the resumption of aid deliveries to defenseless civilians, including food, water, medical supplies, electricity, communications technology, and so on.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered a fairly damning if disappointingly opaque ruling last month. The ruling on the case nobly introduced by South Africa, which knows about the deprivations of apartheid, established that Israeli actions against Palestinians could reasonably fall within the provisions of the Genocide Convention.

Israel argued self-defense. But as most ambitious nations learn, often too late, as the collapse of their empires bury their ambitions, force does not ensure the security of a people, as the erstwhile French Prime Minister Dominique De Villepin said not long after the October surprise. He went on. Neither force nor vengeance ensures peace and security; what ensures peace and security is justice. Of course this astute if not self-evident statement will be scrupulously ignored as Netanyahu and his radical minions feverishly advance the razing of Gaza. Hamas, elected by Palestinians years ago, will plot their next furious attacks, and scurry through underground tunnels as the bombs rattle the air above them.

 A Failed Media Strategy

The coverage of the atrocity weighs in the balance against the essential construct of the occupation, and the dysfunctional relationship between occupier and the occupied. The former is forbidden by international law to attack those it has brutally colonized; the latter conversely has the legal right to resist the occupation, even violently. This fact changes the conversation; it changes the understanding of Palestinian violence; it reduces the condemnatory impulse in sympathizers. Even if to understand is not to forgive and to forgive is not to forget.

Israel and Western media have attempted to elide the wider context from the discussion with a range of tactics. Principally, the “conflict” always seems to begin when Palestinians attack, not when Israel attacks, or oppresses, or suppresses. This conveniently establishes the chronological timeline of the present conflict with Palestinian violence, nicely bookending the story with timestamps that remove the historical backdrop from sight. It is as Theodor Adorno said in another context, “The violence done to them makes us forget the violence they did.” Other tactics include tarring critics with the broad brush of antisemitism; narratives that make Palestinians out to be irrational death cult aggressors and Israel as innocent victims; and a raft of disingenuous vocabulary such as the use of “conflict” for “occupation” and “atrocity” for “resistance.” While both terms may be true the former terms elide the crucial context.

The ICJ ruling will predictably receive scant attention in the mainstream. At best coverage will be diversionary, like that of The Economist. Another story has taken its place. An accusation by Israel that a small group of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) employees helped plan the October 7th attacks on Israel. This claim, having been made by Israel for months, evidence having been obtained via military interrogations of prisoners, supplied by a country with a vested interest in limiting exposure of the ICJ ruling, commands the headlines. The Biden administration immediately cut funding to the UNRWA, which is the main UN organ of Palestinian aid, an act that violates collective punishment strictures in the Geneva Conventions which model international humanitarian law. But this media misdirection does its job of giving the media something else to talk about aside from the ICJ.

This framing reflects the imperial ambitions of the West. The state of Israel was founded most likely not to establish a homeland for Jews but rather to establish a foothold in the Middle East controllable by Washington. Perhaps this is too cynical, but the amount of intolerable behavior countenanced and enabled by Washington suggests as much.

As such, the mainstream media presents the perspective of its owners, elite capital interests that are the true rulers of society. The ruling ideas of any society are the ideas of the ruling class. It is the corporate media that disseminates the ideas. You can be sure the storylines will flatter the owners and protect their interests, locating them neatly beneath an umbrella of moral piety.

But it is not working. The rise of social media has expanded the world’s understanding of the situation: the original ethnic cleansing of the Nakba, the brutal occupation, a mix of apartheid reservations and furious efforts to drive Palestinians into Egypt, cruelty and deprivation the common feature. The world population knows enough now about the settler colonial ambitions of Israel and the concentration camp conditions it imposes on a group of people that appear, quite rightly, to have a clear grievance. The weight of this emerging social consciousness—driven by non-mainstream reportage—is changing the debate in the West. But it has not yet been enough to stop the carnage.

I saw a quote in Lisbon from Nietzsche scrawled on a white tile in a neighborhood bar that said, “He who has a why can bear any how.” The quote is truncated; the “a why to live for” and “almost any how” are shortened; the meaning is changed. But it made me think of Israel-Palestine. The religious zealotry; the intra-semite enmity; the blood in the soil; the whys make some appalling hows bearable.

Julien Charles is a concerned citizen hoping to call attention to the authoritarian drift of states across the Western world, and the disingenuous narratives promoted to gain consensus for such measures. Read other articles by Julien.