Human Rights Watch on the abuse in Gaza's prisons
Last week was a good one for those who subscribe to the zero-sum theory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the assumption that what is bad for Palestinians is good for Israelis and vice-versa.
On the symbolic level, FreeGaza.org founder Greta Berlin tweeted a link to a virulently anti-Semitic video. It is not entirely clear what happened, as Berlin said she had intended to post on her private Facebook account, not the public forum of Twitter. Criticism was not stemmed --- not only from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz but also supporters of the Palestinian cause such as Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada
The situation has cloaked Free Gaza with a veil of old-school Jew-hate over their biting criticism of Israel’s policies in Gaza. So the Zero-Summers are celebrating. Blogger Aussie Dave said the exposure of Berlin’s anti-Semitism had brightened his preparations for the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. Nothing says “Chag Sameach” like a fresh batch of Holocaust denial.
On a far more disturbing level, Human Rights Watch issued a damning report on the abuses of Gaza’s Hamas-controlled government. To the surprise of no one who’s has paid any attention, “Abusive System” lays out the arbitrary nature of Hamas’ legal (term used loosely) system (ditto) as well as its liberal use of torture.
Peter Beinart observed, however, that right-wingers have not hopped on this story. The reason? Beinart suggests an unwillingness to give credence to Human Rights Watch, given its consistently negative reports on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. That may be the case, but, still this is good news for zero-summers, neutralising the extremely inconvenient HRW reports that put into question Israel’s defense of all that is fair and just.
There is, of course, nothing positive in any of this. When Israel or its supporters behave badly, the world of pro-Palestinian commentary is just as prone to focus on the ways in which their side might benefit from bad publicity for the opposition. Lost in this debate are two intertwined truths. The first is obvious --- hatred and pain are never good news. Yes, we need to expose that hatred and pain, but to even hint that there is pleasure in doing so is to travel down an ethical road that can reach no good destination.
More importantly, however, zero-sum logic ignores the fact that, like it or not, we are all in this together. No, Hamas' human rights abuses are not excused by Israel’s policies --- a predictable claim being made by the Gaza organisation's leadership. But each act of political violence that occurs in Israel and Palestine these days is deeply intertwined with the failure to make peace and the cycle of violence that has arisen in its stead. Torture on either side of the Gaza border will never enhance security on the other.
The same holds for the anti-Semitism of the Free Gaza movement. If the organisation harbours a contingent of Jew-haters, yes, it is better to know. But this is by no means good news. Hatred begets more hatred. Strange though it may seem to some, it would be far better for Israel if its critics were motivated solely by an interest in promoting human rights for all.
The math of the zero-sum does not work. If Israel’s critic’s are morally corrupt, it only makes things harder for everyone. Taking joy in such news represents a view in which the lives of millions are transformed into an eternal tennis rally in which one side, then the other, scores a point, but no result is achieved.
In Herman Melville's Monkey Rope, two whalers are tied together, their fates intertwined with one another, irrespective of what each desires. In such a situation you want to know the weaknesses of your partner. But this is only because you hope these will be corrected so that, despite treacherous conditions, you might somehow survive.
Matt Sienkiewicz, PhD is Assistant Professor of Communication and International Studies at Boston College. His publications include articles in Popular Communication, Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, The International Journal of Cultural Studies and Columbia Journalism Review. In addition to his work as a scholar, Matt is also an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker. His film Live From Bethlehem is distributed by the Media Education Foundation.
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