While lazily flipping through the Nexus last Thursday, I came across a column by Eli Raber (“Film Ad Is No Place for Petty Politics,” Daily Nexus, Nov. 7, 2002). The column described how the Center for Middle Eastern Studies was “shamelessly using this opportunity to take a blatant and uncalled for jab at the only democracy in the Middle East.” This particular opportunity was the center’s showing of “Terrorism and Kabaab.” Raber expressed his discontentment with an e-mailed advertisement for the film sent out by the center that described the Palestinian youth as defending against the Israeli “enemy intent of destroying the very fabric of their existence.” I agreed that the e-mailed statement reeked of propaganda. Then Raber took a few twists and turns through the history of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, finally arriving at the following declaration: “Occupation is not the problem because it does not exist.”
I immediately thought of the numerous examples of individuals who have denied the existence of the Jewish Holocaust. Those who do so even after considering the evidence are luckily a minority among world opinions. In the same way, those who deny the existence of a current occupation by Israeli troops of Palestinian Authority territory are a minority. Yet the propaganda distributed by the minority of both sides has today permeated the conscience of the majority, making it possible to effectively shoot children and bomb families without many objections by the respective mainstreams. The propaganda is so effective that it has polarized world opinion; hence, anyone familiar with the conflict will almost surely support one side over the other.
The pain of loss that fuels the propaganda is impossible to deny, and since each argument refutes that of the adversary, the debates often result in emotionally exasperating stalemates. Like quarrelling brothers born of the same womb (the Semitic tribe), this conflict possesses a love-hate aspect to it; the two brothers/groups are blind to the blood they share and can only see their superficial differences.
The purpose of this letter: a plea for a step back, a deep breath and an awareness of the propaganda structures of both sides. Is there a way to transcend the belief that the enemy is incessantly threatening “the very fabric of their existence”? Perhaps those of us who are passionate about the subject should get together and organize a seminar/workshop in which we discuss the many definitions of “propaganda,” as well as its various structures and employment. Hopefully we could come to consensus on a specific definition/structure to then be utilized in realizing/analyzing each side’s propaganda practices. Not only should each individual focus on the propaganda aimed at them, but they should also challenge themselves to recognize their own group’s common propaganda targeting the “enemy.”
The next step is to work together to compile a list of mutual misinformation. After that, both sides may perhaps find it easier to analyze those aspects about their “adversaries” and themselves that have been buried deep under the crushing weight of propaganda.
This exercise may seem infinitesimally unimportant in light of the enormity of the conflict, but at least it would be going in the right direction: toward the compassion necessary for any possible peace. Unfortunately the current leaders of both sides have proven themselves too hardened by years of war to now show such compassion; so please allow me to say that it’s up to us, the future leaders of tomorrow, to come up with solutions for our children’s sakes. After all, we are all interconnected even though we have only begun to realize it.
Sina Farzaneh is a senior philosophy and cultural anthropology major.