“I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed, pictures of terrorists beheading children,” President Biden said on Oct. 11. No such reports have been confirmed.
“I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed, pictures of terrorists beheading children,” President Biden said on Oct. 11. No such reports have been confirmed.

The destructive power of words

Lies have contributed to and continue to fuel the savage violence being perpetrated upon the doomed people of Gaza (and the West Bank)

BRATTLEBORO — There has been such an incredible amount of violence, destruction and, yes, murder (as I write, over 8,500 and counting) in Gaza since the Hamas attack - not to mention over the many previous decades - I think one has to be either numb or willfully blind not to be shocked and cry out "No! Not in our name!" the way over 400 arrested protestors, including members of Jewish Voice for Peace, did at Grand Central Station in New York City just recently. Many around the world are now calling it genocide.

But I want here to focus upon another kind of destructive power: the power of words, specifically some of the lies that have contributed to and continue to fuel the savage violence being perpetrated upon the doomed people of Gaza (and the West Bank).

One outright, egregious lie, told within a day of the Hamas revenge strike, came from none other than the president of the United States when he told reporters and the nation, "I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed, pictures of terrorists beheading children."

Turns out, Joe Biden, in fact, didn't have to experience the pain of viewing such pictures after all. Why? Because, in fact, he never saw them; they didn't exist. He made it up!

And Netanyahu did the same damned thing.

From Jerusalem, CNN reported: "The Israeli government has not confirmed the specific claim that Hamas attackers cut off the heads of babies during their shock attack on Saturday, an Israeli official told CNN, contradicting a previous public statement by the Prime Minister's office.

"There have been cases of Hamas militants carrying out beheadings and other ISIS-style atrocities. However, we cannot confirm if the victims were men or women, soldiers or civilians, adults or children," the official said.

Seriously? The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) couldn't tell the difference between men and women, adults, and children? Wasn't the attack violent enough without having to claim wild untruths about beheaded babies?

Well, forget Netanyahu. He's still facing criminal charges, and has demonstrated he will do almost anything to stay in power. Hardly a reliable source of truth.

But Biden? The president and "leader of the free world," a man with an awesome responsibility to project moral authority? Lying through his teeth? To what end?

One can only marvel at the chutzpah of the White House press office (as reported by The Washington Post): "A White House spokesperson later clarified that 'U.S. officials and the president have not seen pictures or confirmed such reports independently' the Post reported." Clarified? Clarified?

He lied, OK?

* * *

Sadly, from Johnson to Nixon to G. W. Bush to Trump, here in the U.S. we're so dazed, confused, and used to presidents lying that we now just sort of take it for granted, don't we? Biden consciously and deliberately chose Israel over truth.

Another lie, less public and more personal, came recently from a more ordinary person. Yet - despite all the articles and op-eds I've read in recent weeks about the conflict - it still somehow shocked me.

Steve Inskeep, of NPR's Morning Edition, on Oct. 30, interviewed a woman member of one of the kibbutzes that Hamas attacked and from which hostages were kidnapped. She described how her parents had come from Poland as Holocaust survivors, but that she was born in Israel. She told Inskeep, "They want our land." Her land! Depends on whom you ask, but I think that's a lie.

Her parents, along with tens of thousands of other Jews had fled Europe - where the most terrible tsunami of human violence in human history had just taken place - to British-mandated Palestine, from which Jews had largely dispersed millennia ago, and was now inhabited mainly by Palestinian Arabs, living mostly in small villages where they and their families had dwelt for generations, centuries, tending flocks and olive groves, among other land-based pursuits.

And no matter how Zionists and their allies spin the history, the fact is that in 1948 - when Israel was declared a state by fiat by the U.S. and the European victors in Washington and London - approximately three-quarters of a million indigenous Arabs were either expelled or forced to flee their native villages in a terrible wave of violence (the Nakba, meaning "Catastrophe"), which ironically echoed the horror and expulsion of the Jews in Europe, resulting in most of them ending up as refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, where they've lived a blighted existence ever since.

It's impossible, of course, to recount the complexity of that history in a few sentences. Neighboring Arab states contributed greatly to the plight of the Palestinians, and Palestinian leaders at the time rejected what they thought were humiliating offers of co-existence with intruders from afar, backed by the world's most powerful, imperialist countries (and the USSR, I believe), but what I've very briefly summarized is not a lie.

* * *

I've never lived in Israel, but I've seen pictures of at least some of the Zionist settlements that look for all the world like suburbs in New York or New Jersey.

And I have read stories about venerated, old, life-sustaining Arab olive groves being cut down, bulldozed and destroyed by zealots to make way for these essentially gated communities often devoid of the deep connection to the land that existed amongst the indigenous, tribal people.

That's hardly the whole story, but it is a very important part of it, and people in the U.S. whose taxes are paying for the death-dealing planes, bombs, and tanks - and, yes, the U.N. condemned settlements themselves - ought to be aware of it.

But they're not going to hear it from Joe Biden, nor, sadly, from either Sen. Peter Welch or Rep. Becca Balint - two smart, well-informed people who, I think it's safe to say, fully understand Israel's longstanding subjugation of Palestinians but apparently choose to put their re-election ahead of honestly acknowledging that truth.

And let's face it: Retribution for anything less than full-throated support for Israel is a political fact of life in the United States.

These past few weeks, I have been reading Robin Wall Kimmerer's beautiful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, which explores the complementary importance of ecological, scientific understanding and Native American, land-based spirituality.

In a chapter on ecological restoration of degraded land (think: cars, housing sprawl, containment walls, uprooted olive groves, etc.), she quotes from a 1994 statement from the Indigenous Environmental Network:

"Cultural survival depends on healthy land and a healthy, responsible relationship between humans and the land.... Ecological restoration is inseparable from cultural and spiritual restoration, and is inseparable from spiritual responsibilities of care-giving and world-renewal."

* * *

Which leads me to a very important, if not sacred, Hebrew concept and value, tikkun, which Wikipedia defines as "mending the world."

Can anyone tell me how the Zionist project - driving hundreds of thousands of indigenous people from the land of their parents and grandparents, and now bombing them to smithereens - has in any way mended the world? One could certainly argue quite the opposite.

I believe it's also worth noting that many thousands of Jews here in the U.S. - who came of age in the '50s and '60s, when Israel was a young, fragile, but very optimistic and determined nation - as part of their religious upbringing and training, were inculcated with the myth that the transformation of British-mandated Palestine into Israel was both a God-given right and justified because it matched "A people without land to a land without people."

But that turns out to be perhaps the biggest lie of all.

On the radio program Democracy Now!, I listened on Oct. 24 to an interview with Rami Khouri, a Palestinian-American journalist and historian who's been observing and writing about the conflict for 50-plus years.

He said something startling that I'd never heard before and bears repeating: that if you ask any 10-year-old kid in Gaza where he's from, he won't tell you "Gaza," but he'll say the name of the village his family was expelled from 75 years ago.

In other words, the family has kept that memory alive down through the generations, and in many instances, Khouri noted, it still has the keys to their former home!

An astounding statement that shines light on a truth that, especially here in U.S., needs to be told.

Richard Evers describes himself as "of Jewish heritage but not of faith or belief."

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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