Posted by: Harold Knight | 07/26/2014

“When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter. . .” (W. H. Auden)

Non-violent demonstration, Bethlehem

Non-violent demonstration, Bethlehem

With even a modest ability to consider objectively the barrage of “information” overwhelming us hour by hour by hour by minute, one can see that any media—any format—presenting information about the current attempt of Israel to obliterate Palestinian Gaza assumes a priori that Israel’s actions are justified.

The common—no the absolute overwhelming majority—wisdom is that “Israel has the right to protect itself.”

This is a “truth” so often repeated that it sounds as if it came from, Oh, I don’t know, perhaps the Holy Bible. Or the United States Constitution. Or the United Nations Charter. Or the Bhagavad Gita. Or the Qur’an. Or Shakespeare. Or SNL. It is simple truth, not to be questioned. It is as universal belief as the science of economics.

Belief in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is no less pervasive than that “Israel has a right to protect itself.”

Hardly anyone (at least hardly anyone in public) thinks about whether or not the proposition is true. And almost no one wants to hear any information that might contradict the received wisdom.

The wisdom began to be received, I would guess, during and immediately after the 1967 War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I have, in fact, read about the process whereby the Israeli Cabinet decided to use Madison Avenue tactics to begin to persuade the American people that the belief, “Israel has a right to defend itself,” is simply true, is simply to be accepted without thought. I will plow through the stuff I have and find that article (or reread the book, whatever it takes).

Until then, trust me. OK, don’t trust me. There’s no reason for you to do so until I have located the evidence that I am correct.

So in lieu of trusting me, trust yourself. Ask yourself why the massive destruction of cities, the horrifying murder of civilians Israel is perpetrating right now is in any way an expression of the “right to self-defense.”

Do you think Russia’s annexation of Crimea was an act of self-defense?
Do you think Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait in 1990 was an act of self-defense?
Was the genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutus of Rwanda in 1994 an act of self-defense?
Which side in the Bosnian war of the 1990s, the Serbs or the Croats was exercising its right of self-defense?

Think. Simply think about it.

Defense against a child.

Defense against a child.

My guess is that anyone who might be reading this can quote the last sentence of

Perhaps someone might say, “Socrates, can you not go away from us and live quietly, without talking?” Now this is the hardest thing to make some of you believe. For if I say that such conduct would be disobedience to the god and that therefore I cannot keep quiet, you will think I am jesting and will not believe me; and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less. Socrates speaking in Plato’s Apology [37 (e) to 38 (a)].

The unexamined life is not worth living.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people,” [President] Obama said.

What on earth does that phrase mean—and what are its implications? Its implications are that Israel has a right to continue the ethnic cleansing of all “Arabs” (read “Palestinians”) from the territory Israel claims as its own—the ethnic cleansing that began during the war that led up to the declaration of the founding of Israel in 1948.
The constant repetition of an idea for decades does not make it true.

Ad populum: This is an emotional appeal that speaks to positive (such as patriotism, religion, democracy) or negative (such as terrorism or fascism) concepts rather than the real issue at hand.

Much writing is available to anyone who wants to think about the “received wisdom” that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” One might—after reading any or all of such writing—decide that the proposition is correct.

The question remains, however, where did the idea originate, and why was it first stated? Is it, in fact, the “truth,” or is it an Ad populum logical fallacy used to justify aggression and the subjugation of one people by another?

I said above there is much writing available. My project over the next few weeks is to gather a bibliography of such material and publish it here as a resource for anyone who believes that

talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living

includes questioning our received beliefs about atrocity.

The first installment of the bibliography is below Auden’s explanation of tyrannical speech. All of the entries are from my personal library both of books and of academic articles. As time goes on, I will annotate the list and add more. You are welcome to plagiarize anything I have written here or that I eventually add to the bibliography.

Oh, one other note: Do not accuse me of being one-sided or biased. If you want “fair and balanced,” all you need to do is turn on the TV, read a newspaper, or follow any of the links on your Yahoo home page or in you friends’ Facebook pages.

“Epitaph on a Tyrant,” by W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

Going home from work.

Going home from work.

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

Abbasi, Mustafa. “Nazareth In The War For Palestine: The Arab City That Survived The 1948 Nakba.” Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal (Edinburgh University Press) 9.2 (2010): 185-207.

Ashrawi, Hanan. This Side of Peace: A Personal Account. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Confino, Alon. “Miracles and Snow in Palestine and Israel: Tantura, A History of 1948.” Israel Studies 17.2 (2012): 25-61.

Darwish, Mahmoud. Unfortunately, It Was Paradise. Selected Poems. Translated and edited by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forché. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Esber, Rosemarie M. Under the Cover of War: The Zionist Expulsion of the Palestinians. Alexandria, VA: Arabicus Books and Media, 2008.

Hass, Amira. Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land under Siege. Trans. Elena Wesley and Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999.

Khalidi, Rashid. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.

Khalidi, Rashid. Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014.

Khoury, Elias. “Rethinking the Nakba.” Critical Inquiry 38.2 (Winter 2012). Web. JSTOR.

Khoury, Samia Nasir. Reflections from Palestine: A Journey of Hope (personal memoir). Nicosia, Cyprus. Rimal Publications, 2014.

Kritzeck, James, Ed. Anthology of Islamic Literature: From the Rise of Islam to Modern Times. New York: New American Library, 1964.

Lutz, Charles P. and Robert O. Smith. Christians in a Land Called Holy. Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 2006.

Manna, Adel. “The Palestinian Nakba and Its Continuous Repercussions.” Israel Studies 18.2 (2013): 86-99.

Mearsheimer, John J. and Stephen M. Walt. The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2007.

Narwani, Sharmine. “Excuse Me, But Israel Has No Right to Exist.” Al Akhbar English. Thu, 2012-05-17 21:46. Web.

Nasrallah, Rami. “The Road To Partition.” Palestine-Israel Journal Of Politics, Economics & Culture 9.4 (2002): 58.

Pappe, Ilan. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: OneWorld, 2006.

Said, Edward W. From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.

Said, Edward W. “Permission to Narrate.” London Review of Books 6.3 (16 February 1984), 13-17.

Saint Joseph School for Girls, Bethlehem. Your Stories Are My Stories: A Palestinian Oral History Project. Ramallah: Arab Educational Institute, Culture and Palestine Series, 2001.

Saalakhan, Mauri. The Palestinian Holocaust. American Perspectives, Vol. 1. Silver Spring, MD: Awakening Publishing Group, 2008.

Santos, Madalena. “Relations of Ruling in The Colonial Present: An Intersectional View of the Israeli Imaginary.” Canadian Journal of Sociology 38.4 (2013): 509-532.

Shehadeh, Raja. When the Bulbul Stopped Singing: A Diary of Ramallah under Siege. London: Profile Books, 2003.

Shlaim, Avi. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.

van Oord, Lodewijk. “Face-Lifting Palestine: Early Western Accounts of the Palestinian Refugee Problem.” History & Anthropology 22.1 (2011): 19-35.

Younan, Munib. Witnessing for Peace in Jerusalem and the World. Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 2003.


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