A note: last night after reviewing a final draft of this post, I had a quick look at Twitter before switching off my phone. I spotted a series of tweets regarding Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni, a Palestinian bus driver who’d been found dead, hanging from the roof of his bus in West Jerusalem. Several sources reported that he’d been beset by half a dozen settlers and ‘lynched’, which dictionary.com defines as ‘put to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority.’

Photos of al-Ramouni are now making the rounds on Twitter and those with the stomach to look report bruises all over his torso. Israeli police immediately labeled the death a suicide. Although there are many issues at play here, the public discourse that’s already erupted around this gruesome tragedy highlights a central issue below: who owns this narrative? Whose truth will be believed and – critically – why?

The intersection of culture, politics and identity is a longstanding interest of mine that’s always lurking somewhere in my consciousness. In fact, regular readers of this blog might recall that my Masters dissertation, ‘Cultural Intifada’, focused on art-making as a tool of resistance in the Israel-Palestine conflict. (Take a look at On Being an Arab: Identity and the Politics of Shame for some context.)

Over the past week, a few synchronous events have forcefully thrust these concerns directly into my line of vision once again. First, there were the genocidal rantings of Sun columnist Katie Hopkins on Twitter, who called on Israel to ‘re-start bombing’ Palestinians. God knows, I never imagined Ms Hopkins – a woman who liberates herself from the constraints of history, fact, and decency, whilst flattering herself that she’s the only person in England with the guts to tell the ‘truth’ – would include Palestinians in her personal accounting of whose life has value. But what struck me was the naked racist hatred she gleefully flaunted as she called on Israel to kill yet more Palestinians.

I think it was later that day that I watched the widely-circulated video of Max Blumenthal and David Sheen confronting a German politician at the Bundestag. The two were demanding accountability from Gregor Gysi over his slanderous statements about their dogged work documenting the Gaza siege and the ongoing daily horrors faced by Palestinians (along with African migrants and other minorities) in Israel. After the cowardly pol locks himself in the loo to escape the activist journalists, Blumenthal shows us a photo of a German-Palestinian family who were killed in Gaza and then looks directly into the camera saying, ‘these are the Palestinian unpeople they are trying to crush.’ ‘Unpeople,’ I thought. By precisely what mechanism do people become ‘un’?

And then last Wednesday, I heard an interview on CBC Radio’s The Current with the Iranian writer Azar Nafisi, whose 2008 book Reading Lolita in Tehran became a bestseller. Discussing her new work The Republic of Imagination, Nafisi asks whether democracy can survive ‘without a democratic imagination.’

For Nafisi, the question is rhetorical. Repressive countries present a ‘distorted mirror of democracy,’ she says, setting their sights first and foremost on human rights, individual liberty, intellectuals and culture itself, rather than on formal opposition. The goal is to rob the spirit of air, snuffing out the possibility of other realities. And yet, says Nafisi, ‘when we are deprived of every respect for humanity, when we see the worst actions that human beings do to one another, we instinctively turn to the best that humanity has to offer, and that is the works of the imagination.’ Which in turn directed my own gaze back to Mahmoud Darwish, the Said/Barenboim collaboration, the Nakba painters, and both the comfort and disquiet the work of these artists generated.

As nasty Tweets on Palestine and the Gaza conflict pop into my timeline with increasing frequency I’m struck by their increasingly shrill and reckless tone. Sure, trolls are trolls and hasbara is hasbara, but inside the brittle shell that houses these sad attempts at ‘image management’, I’ve begun to sense the desperate mending of a narrative that is frayed virtually to the breaking point, and that its authors know it.

Israel has always shown keen sensitivity to the value of culture in conveying a message of shared values. Some aspects of this awareness were embodied in the ‘Brand Israel’ PR campaign. Here’s an excerpt from a contract between ‘Brand Israel’ artists and the country’s Foreign Ministry: ‘The service provider is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the state of Israel via culture and art including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.’ The specific goal of that campaign was and remains to shift Americans’ perception of Israel as a militaristic and religious place, and instead cultivate a sense that it is ‘modern and relevant’ like us.

These days, it strikes me that cultural emissaries are being dispatched with alacrity bearing the insistent message ‘Hey, it’s us! We’re the civilised ones, remember?’ This strategy reached its appalling nadir when Elie Wiesel traded on his Nobel credentials to promulgate the myth that Palestinians ‘sacrifice their children’ by using them as human shields, by means of full page advertisements in national newspapers in the US, the UK and elsewhere. (As we know, Human Rights Watch and other international observers have stated repeatedly that it is Israel that uses Palestinians as human shields, and not the reverse.)

This last point – and indeed, the entire subtext of this narrative – relies heavily on back-up by the so-called Hollywood establishment who paused long enough in their production of films depicting Arabs and Muslims as bloodthirsty lunatics to pen a letter affirming their commitment to Israel, as if the question were in doubt. Meantime, the spin machine does its bit to obscure facts on the ground, most recently by banishing the trouble-making Dr Mads Gilbert from Gaza for life, refusing entry to human rights groups seeking to investigate war crimes, and refusing to co-operate with a UN investigation of such incidents. And all the while, the Israeli government adheres with military discipline to the position that the eruption of Palestinian rage in East Jerusalem is the cause of the crisis there, rather than its logical outcome.

And so it is that the Palestinian people have been rendered ‘un’: victims (if we will even grant them that) not of those who kill them, but of their own barbarity. Or that’s the story, anyway.

Here are some things the media didn’t call news in #Palestine over the past week or so:

1. Armed Israeli settlers raid Ramallah village, injure 4 Palestinians

Four Palestinians were injured after a group of Israeli settlers raided the village of Deir Nitham north of Ramallah on Friday.

Armed Jewish settlers entered the village and damaged dozens of cars and assaulted homes before villagers were able to respond. The villager threw rocks at the settlers, while the settlers shot live bullets at villagers and raided several houses.

2. Jerusalem child shot by Israeli forces loses eyesight

An 11-year-old Palestinian child shot in the face by a sponge bullet during clashes in al-Issawiya on Thursday has been left blind in one eye, a local official said.

[The boy] was shot in the face at close range by Israeli forces firing sponge bullets in al-Issawiya during clashes.

3. Israel won’t cooperate with UN as it continues to violate Gaza ceasefire via @jncatron (‘An American in Gaza’)

The Israeli authorities decided not to cooperate with a United Nations Human Rights Council investigation into this year’s Israeli aggression on Gaza, an Israeli spokesman said Wednesday.

The UN panel, due to make its first report by March, is meant to look into the conduct of both the Israeli Occupation Forces and the Hamas resistance movement during the 50-day assault.

4. West Bank mosque torched in suspected revenge attack via @benabyad

Suspected extremists torched a West Bank mosque in an apparent revenge attack Wednesday, as the Palestinian leader and the US top diplomat were to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah over the spiralling violence…

The mosque attack came as Palestinian anger was already running high after Israeli troops shot dead a 22-year-old protester in the southern West Bank on Tuesday.

5. New Israeli bill against Arab MKs via @jncatron

Israel’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation set on Sunday to discuss an amendment to the Basic Law of the Knesset to terminate the parliamentary membership of any deputy who expresses support for armed action against Israel.

6. Palestinian worker shot dead in Israel via @Ironyisfunny8

A Palestinian worker was shot dead by an unidentified gunman in Israel early Tuesday, Palestinian security sources said.

7. Israel sinks 2 Palestinian fishing boats off Gaza coast via @jncatron

Israeli navy gunboats destroyed two Palestinian fishing boats off the southern coast of the Gaza Strip early Monday.

Boats belonging to the Israeli navy fired heavy machineguns at two Palestinian fishing boats off the southern coast of the Gaza Strip, which led to their complete destruction,” Nizar Ayyash, head of Gaza’s Fishermen Union, told Anadolu Agency.

8. Settlers smash 30 West Bank vehicles as Palestinian killed in Occupied Palestine via @jncatron

Israeli settlers smashed the windshields of more than 30 Palestinian vehicles during a rally Monday night on the main road south of Nablus in the northern West Bank, a Palestinian official said…

Unrest has gripped Jerusalem and the West Bank on an almost daily basis for the past four months, flaring up after a group of Zionist settlers kidnapped and killed a young Palestinian because of his ethnicity.

Settler violence against Palestinians and their property is systematic and often abetted by Israeli authorities, who rarely intervene in the violent attacks or prosecute the perpetrators.

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