Palestine is Still the Issue: The projection bias of Israeli war crime apologism

My column for Ceasefire Magazine, published 20 August

By Asa Winstanley

Sigmund Freud defined ‘projection bias’ as a form of defence in which feelings are displaced onto another party, where they then appear as a threat from the external world. This is a phenomenon that you come across quite often when studying Israel’s apologists. Like the partisans of other colonial movements, Zionists are quite prone to denying their own crimes while at the same time projecting them onto their enemies.

Take “human shields”. This is a trope you come across quite a lot in the propaganda of the Israeli army when it is trying to explain and apologise for its war crimes. As in the case of their 2008-2009 attack on the civilian population of Gaza, they claim the civilian casualties were not their fault because Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups used Palestinians as ‘human shields’.

In fact, as Norman Finkelstein often underlines, multiple reports on the 2008-2009 attacks on Gaza, issued by respected human rights groups (such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International), as well as the UN’s Goldstone report, say otherwise. They found no evidence that any such thing took place – despite being highly critical of Hamas and other groups for armed attacks on Israel.

Yet the same human rights groups often document many cases of Israeli soldiers using Palestinian civilians as human shields to discourage armed resistance. There have been numerous instances of Israeli soldiers forcing Palestinians, often no more than children, to walk at gunpoint into houses which they then ransack and search. They sometimes take over such homes and hold the families inside hostage (see, for example, Amnesty International, “Gaza civilians endangered by the military tactics of both sides”, 8 January 2009).

The armed attack near Eilat (far in the south of Israel-Palestine – a long distance from Gaza,) on Thursday (18th Aug) reminded me of this phenomenon too. Although some Israeli press reports referred to an attack on a civilian bus, it seems from what evidence is available that the bus was full of Israeli soldiers moving from a base. The very first reaction the Israeli army press office put out on its official Twitter account was “5 #IDF soldiers injured from shooting @ #Israeli bus”, though this line soon changed. Press photos of the wounded, however, clearly show the casualties wearing Israeli army uniforms.

The Egged Bus company (who it seems operated this line) does run public transport in Israel. But you might well ask what the Israeli army was doing transporting its soldiers down to Eilat using the public transport system.

This is a common Israeli practice. When I lived in Palestine, on the few times I had to travel to Tel Aviv from the West Bank (via Jerusalem,) walking around the public bus stations I was struck by the sheer number of armed, uniformed soldiers who used the public bus system. Anyone who has used buses in Israel for any length of time will tell you they often have more soldiers than civilians on them.

The phenomenon is so widespread that it can only be a deliberate policy. Does some $3 billion a year in military aid from the US government not provide it with enough funding for its own troop transportation? So Israel not only uses Palestinians as human shields, but it even “hides” its soldiers amongst its own civilian population – exactly what Israeli spokespeople accuses Hamas of. Talk about projection.

Let us be clear: any attack on civilians, by any party, is against international law and morally wrong. Israel is the prime perpetrator of targeting Palestinian and other Arab civilians. Indeed, its very first instinctual “reaction” Thursday night was to bomb civilian targets in Gaza (including one home Israel said belonged to a fighter from the Popular Resistance Committees,) killing six Palestinians including at least one child.

The PRC have denied involvement in the Eilat attack: “The occupation wants to pin this operation on us in order to escape its own internal problems” a spokesman told the AFP agency. It is worth noting that the spokesperson also defended the Eilat operation, so it seems to make little sense that he would lie about any involvement.

The attacks on Palestinians go on, and the death count is rising as I type. Israel regularly bombs Gaza, just a few days ago, it invaded the central Gaza Strip and killed a teenager, shooting him “more than 10” times in the head and body, according to medical officials, but the Western press seem not to notice it, unless and until they have Israeli casualties to report too.

The conflict over Palestine will only end once Israelis face up to the reality that they are occupiers running an apartheid state, and stop projecting their own image onto the natives they are occupying. This change will not come from within Israeli society: there are no examples in history of an occupying power voluntarily giving up on colonialism.

It will only come about through Palestinian resistance, of various forms. Armed resistance against military targets is legal under international law, a right that everyone living under occupation can exert. Edward Said once said: “I think it’s important to attack occupation forces… occupation, apartheid has to be resisted”. Of course, the Palestinians also have, contrary to persistent Western illusions, a very long and remarkable history of non-violent, popular resistance, which we in the West can continue to sustain and support through the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’movement.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

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