Sunday, October 22, 2006

We've all been veiled from the truth

A great piece by Robert Fisk
The Independent

"But it's not this routine bestialisation of Arabs and Muslims that concerns me. You only have to watch the Arab slave-trader film Ashanti, again filmed in Israel and starring Roger Moore and (of all people) Omar Sharif, to see Arabs portrayed, Nazi-style, as murderers, thieves and child molesters. Anti-Semitism against Arabs - who are, of course, also Semites - is par for the course in movies.

No, what I object to is the deliberate distortion of history, the twisting of the narrative of events to present Jews as the victims of the Israeli war of independence (6,000 dead) when in fact they were the victors, and the Arabs of Palestine - or at least that part of Palestine that became Israel in 1948 - as the cause of this war and the apparent victors (because the Jews of East Jerusalem were forced from their homes after the ceasefire) rather than the principal victims. Take, for example, the 1948 massacre at Deir Yassin, where the Stern gang murdered the Arab villagers of what is now the Jerusalem suburb of Givat Shaul, disembowelled women and threw grenades into rooms full of civilians. In O Jerusalem, the Stern gang is represented as a gang of wicked men, a kind of Jewish al-Qa'ida, hopelessly out of touch with the mainstream Israeli army of young, high-minded guerrilla fighters.

In the movie, you see the bodies of the dead Arabs - and a wounded woman later being treated by an Israeli - but at no point is it made clear that Deir Yassin was just one among many villages in which the inhabitants were butchered - this was particularly the case in Galilee - and the women raped by Jewish fighters. Israel's "new" historians have already bravely disclosed these facts, along with the irrefutable evidence that they served Israel's purpose of dispossessing 750,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes in what was to become Israel. Israeli historian Avi Shlaim has courageously referred to this period as one of "ethnic cleansing". But no such suggestion sullies the scene of slaughter at Deir Yassin in O Jerusalem.

Reality has to be separated from us. Thus a massacre that became part of a policy has been turned in the movie into an aberration by a few armed extremists. Indeed, after the film ends, a series of paragraphs on the screen bleakly record the dispossession of the Palestinians as a result of "Arab propaganda". This itself is a myth. Yet again, Israeli historians have already disproved the lie that the Arab regimes told Palestinian Arabs over the radio that they should leave their homes "until the Jews have been thrown into the sea". No such broadcasts were made. Most Palestinians fled because they were frightened of ending up like the people of Deir Yassin. The propaganda about radio broadcasts was Israeli, not Arab.

It's as if a blanket, a curtain, a veil has been thrown over history - so that the shadow of real events is just visible, but their meaning so distorted as to be incomprehensible. "So this is why you wanted guns," Bobby Goldman shouts at the Stern leader amid the dead of Deir Yassin. And he's wrong. The guns enabled the Stern gang to murder the Arabs of Deir Yassin to produce the panic that sent three quarters of a million Palestinians on the road to permanent exile.

But isn't this the world in which we live? Aren't we all veiled from the truth? I'm not talking about the remarks of Jack "the Veil" Straw but of his political master, Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara. For only a day after I watched O Jerusalem, I opened my newspaper to find that our Prime Minister was calling the Muslim women's niqab "a mark of separation"."

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