How the West turned its back, yet again, on a Nakba

In 1948, when Palestinians were driven from their nation where Israel formally declared itself a state, the Western world didn’t listen to Palestinians, who were represented as barbarians and extremists for resisting those who terrorised, dispossessed, maimed and slaughtered them, expelling them from their homes and land before declaring them fifth-class residents or (in the case of the refugees) non-people.

The vast majority of the Western media and public of the time, including the ‘liberal leftists,’ enthusiastically cheered on ‘plucky little Israel’ whose leaders, from the very first, knew the importance of utilising Western Anglophone media, PR and spin in whitewashing crimes against humanity. Palestinians, meanwhile, had few or no high-level English language media contacts with which to counter the monstrous lies told about the Nakba, which as a result became part of a standard narrative.

Twenty years later, when the US assumed primary responsibility for support of Israel from the UK and France following the 1967 war (with France providing most of the weapons to Tel Aviv in that war), many Western liberals suddenly ‘discovered’ the Nakba and the occupation as useful tools in their rhetorical posturing against US hegemony.

Sixty-six years after 1948, in another Nakba, the vast majority of the Anglophone world is once again demonising Arab men, women and children being slaughtered and dispossessed as barbarians and extremists for resisting those who terrorise, murder and expel them, blocking its ears to the screams of Syrians and Palestinians a few miles away from the first Nakba who, like the Palestinians in 1948, don’t have the well-funded and powerful Anglophone media outlets available to their oppressors.

Despite the hourly torrential river of information pouring out of Syria from thousands of activists, citizen journalists, photographers, film-makers via social media not available in 1948, we are regularly informed that there is “little or no information coming out of Syria,” the customary shorthand for little or no English language coverage in mainstream or nominally alternative media. Arabic language coverage from the thousands of heroic Syrian activists on the ground risking their lives to document this Nakba is easily ignored – as always – or dismissed. Apparently if a tree falls in the forest and an Arabic-speaking rather than an Anglophone journalist films and documents it, we can’t be sure it’s fallen at all.

Assad and his backers in Tehran and Moscow, meanwhile, have learnt well from Israel, seizing the English language media initiative via Press TV, Russia Today and assorted other nominally ‘alternative’ media outlets and selective dictatorship shills (step forward Robert Fisk, take a bow Seymour Hersh) since the first days of the revolution to promote their 180-degree inversion of truth. Assad’s slick and extremely well-funded PR machine has also taken great pains to ensure that all Western mainstream media journalists, from the BBC, CNN, etc are regime-embedded, with everyone those journalists work with, from drivers to translators to hotel staff, hand-picked to ensure that the journalists will encounter only the regime’s warped version of events.

While the embedded journalists themselves may possibly be blissfully (or painfully) unaware of the fact that they are essentially being used as regime PR officers, the interviewees selected, interviewed in regime-controlled areas, are extremely well aware of this fact and of the punishment they will face for any potentially lethal faux-pas in not obediently repeating the regime line; after a half-century of the Assads, Syrians can’t afford illusions.

And so, the vast majority of the contemporary Western ‘Palestine activists’, whose predecessors endorsed the 1948 Nakba at the time, only excoriating it 20 years later when doing so was politically expedient, are now, unsurprisingly cheering on another. Perhaps in another two decades, they may even belatedly feign solidarity with the surviving Syrians and Palestinians in Syria, as they so graciously eventually did for those in occupied Palestine itself.

Piling bitter irony on bitter irony, those same selective activists, who rightly excoriated the US-UK invasion of Iraq under the guise of a ‘War on Terror,’ enthusiastically repeat the exact same Islamophobic rhetoric – and indeed the same terminology right down to describing genocide as a ‘war against terrorism’ – from Assad and Tehran to justify more slaughter of Arab civilians using warplanes, helicopter gunships, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, etc.

While the liberals do indeed throw in some leftist buzzwords in an attempt to distinguish their inhumanity from that of their neocon peers, their cold-blooded disregard for the people, effectively dismissed as ‘collateral damage’ by both groups as and when expedient, is in reality no different and no less abhorrent.

Ruth Riegler