News Gene Kerrigan

Tuesday 16 September 2014

We have no opinion on mass slaughter

We're truly sorry about the dead children, but we have other priorities in foreign affairs, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 27/07/2014 | 00:00

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You'd have to have a heart of stone not to feel just a little sympathy for Charlie Flanagan, the Foreign Affairs Minister. It's true that the murdered Palestinian children and their distraught relatives have a greater claim on our solidarity - but, Charlie Flanagan, at this stage of 
his life, well, he's been finding out how humiliating it can be to be an Irish minister.

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Last week, Charlie had to stand over the Irish Government's decision to abstain on a United Nations vote on the Gaza slaughter. UN member states had a choice - intervene in the slaughter or stand idly by. Intervening by resolution mightn't achieve much, but there was a stark difference between voting for the resolution and not doing so.

It really doesn't matter how appalled and shocked we say we are about the deliberate slaughter of civilians. If we're asked to allow the UN to hold a formal inquiry and we shrug our shoulders we're saying, yeah, sorry about the dead kids - appalled, shocked - but we have other fish to fry.

As the slaughter continues, the Israelis and their enemies lay down ceaseless barrages of propaganda. Turn on a radio or TV and there's always some wide-eyed zealot from one side or the other speaking with intense sincerity in terms that are only loosely related to reality.

"We are defending our people."

"We are seeking to liberate our people from oppression."

"We have a right to defend ourselves."

"We want a ceasefire 
but they don't."

"We didn't blow up that school, they did."

"Okay, then, maybe we did blow up that school, but only because the terrorists were standing close to it when we fired shells at them."

The modern media has a deep belief in its own sophistication. Perhaps because of all the whizz-bang technology. Yet its naivety and its fear of offending the powerful compel it to retail the most obvious propaganda.

As long as we have a zealot from each side, we're balanced. Impartiality demands we allow both sides equal time in which to lie.

The history of land-stealing is a footnote, if mentioned at all. The function of Israel as a western outpost in the Middle East is complicated - it treads on too many toes. Besides, the zealots don't want to argue such matters.

Propaganda convinces few. But, it's not supposed to. It has two purposes. First, that of supplying your own supporters with talking points that stiffen their spines. Very necessary when the issue involves criminal slaughter.

That's why we hear the same arguments, using precisely the same phrases, being peddled endlessly, as supporters rehash the talking points right across the spectrum of TV, radio, newspapers, blogs and tweets. If propaganda convinces neutral observers that's a bonus, but it's primarily a spine-stiffening exercise for your own side.

Propaganda has a second, equally important, purpose. It fills the public arena with fake discourse - minor and irrelevant points that can be harmlessly argued while not interfering with the killing.

For instance - you can get hours of safe debate on the precise meaning of "targeting" civilians. And there's no end of shouting passionately to be enjoyed while disputing the finer points of why this ceasefire proposal wasn't acceptable or the precise sequence of events that led to some other initiative collapsing.

In these 24-hour rolling news days, there are vast gaps to fill. Spurious propaganda debates on secondary matters divert the media. Balanced propaganda neutralises the media. Especially when it's faced with things on which we should not be neutral.

And the media plays along. You're balanced as long as you get someone from each side, and allow them to take turns chewing the lies into ever-smaller pieces. Easy and safe.

Israel's cheerleaders tell us that Israel has "a right to defend itself". And Palestinian cheerleaders tell us that Hamas is firing rockets at Israeli civilians in an attempt to liberate their people from Israel's murderous blockade of Gaza.

Really?

In what sense do the Hamas rockets constitute an attack on Israeli oppression of Palestinians?

Hamas is to terrorism what Basil Fawlty is to hospitality. They shoot hundreds of rockets into Israel - thousands of rockets - and as of last Friday they'd killed two innocent Israelis.

Hamas could kill more Israelis by sending a dozen followers into Tel Aviv dressed in Halloween outfits, jumping out in front of elderly Israelis and shouting "Boo!"

If these rockets kill Israelis it's entirely by chance, and the victims will almost certainly be innocent civilians. And if the rockets don't kill many Israelis, what's the point of them? Well, they're an assertion by Hamas of its right and ability to take up arms against Israel.

The rockets - ineffectual though they are - affirm Hamas's status as the primary and foremost defender of their people. That is the sole purpose of the rocket barrage.

Hamas knows that this ineffectual posing will result in an Israeli campaign of murder in which innocents will die - but Hamas deems this to be an acceptable price for getting to assert its primacy.

And, in what sense is the Israeli onslaught on Gaza "defending" Israel? A state obviously has a right to defend its citizens from rocket attack. And the ability of the Israeli military to knock rockets out of the sky before they can do damage is indeed defending Israel.

The assault on Gaza is not. It may kill some Hamas members, perhaps knock out some paramilitary infrastructure. But that's a pinprick. And the murder of children lays down the seeds of the massacres of the future.

The primary function of the assault on Gaza is not to defend Israel but to ruthlessly demonstrate Israel's total domination of the area. Croppy lie down.

We don't target civilians, say the Israelis. And that's true, in that they don't have a policy of targeting children and other innocents.

What is beyond doubt is that Israel deliberately and knowingly kills children. In a crowded enclave such as Gaza it is not possible to assert your total military dominance without killing lots of children. When they lock their super-duper weapons onto a target, repeatedly there are children plainly in view. They know they are about to kill those children.

They go on to demonstrate their total dominance, in the full knowledge that children will be shredded by their weapons.

Meanwhile, their American patrons wring their hands and send John Kerry to whisper, "Please, you're embarrassing us - kill slightly fewer children, can't you?"

And into this moral swamp steps Charlie Flanagan, representing the ethical stance of the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

It's 27 years since Charlie was first elected to the Dail. He's waited a long time to serve as a minister. And while he's still trying to remember the names of the officials who tell him what's expected, a United Nations committee on human rights proposes to investigate whether Israeli actions constitute war crimes.

In the second paragraph above we referred to "the Irish Government's decision to abstain on a United Nations vote". In truth, there was no such decision. We are a client state. In fiscal matters we take our orders from Frankfurt. In economic policy we serve the needs of multi-national tax dodgers. In Foreign Affairs, oh, we can close or re-open the Vatican embassy for political effect. And we're welcome to stage all sorts of trade promotions on St Patrick's Day.

But child killing - that's grown-up stuff. We don't even have to ask Washington and Brussels how to vote. We know what's allowed.

The EU told us to explain it away by saying the resolution didn't equate Hamas's Basil Fawlty rockets with the deliberate slaughter of the innocent. The morality of the weighing scales. But, really, that's just the excuse.

It's not Charlie Flanagan's fault. At 57, he's learning that his job largely consists of endorsing decisions made elsewhere.

Sunday Independent

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