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Why the world is silent

By Mireille Astore - posted Tuesday, 1 August 2006

It is now week three of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and the world keeps watching in wonder at the might and determination of the Israeli military. For some, the spectacle is indeed awesome, shocking, and devastating. Last week, it was a milk factory, a paper mill, a pharmaceutical plant and two Red Cross ambulances that were obliterated with Israeli precision and know-how.

As a Jewish friend tells me, she cries every time she watches the news at the killings in Lebanon. It seems everyone around me acknowledges the horror that is being inflicted on the Lebanese but somehow feel helpless to stop it.

Article 85, Paragraph 3 of the Geneva Conventions states that making civilians the object of attack is illegal. Further, it states that launching an attack against civilian infrastructure breaches these conventions. And yet the majority of influential countries who abide by these very laws and protect their own citizens through them remain silent at the sight of the atrocities taking place in Lebanon.


Theories abound about Israel’s grand plan, about Iran’s role, about Syria’s supply of arms to Hezbollah, and Hezbollah’s intentions. But the theory that I find most plausible at the moment was devised four decades ago by the Jewish philosopher, Hannah Arendt.

In Eichmann in Jerusalem, she draws attention to the similarity between the racist foundation of the state of Israel and the 1935 Nuremburg laws. Both laws were based on an idea of Judaism as a race, not as a religious practice, regardless of whether individuals identified themselves as a Jew or belonged to the Jewish religious community.

Today as well as in the past, the state of Israel treats any non-Jewish Arab in Israel and the Occupied Territories as dispensable while actively recruiting and subsidising the migration of Jews from around the world to Israel. As such, non-Jewish Arabs have no rights to the protection of the state that all citizens of the world enjoy in their capacity as citizens of states.

While some non-Jewish Arabs have gained representation in the Israeli Parliament, the Jewish state of Israel’s legal system allows the country’s machinery, such as soldiers with machine guns holding legally binding documents, or bulldozers for those who resist, to march into a house belonging to an Arab family anywhere in Israel and the Occupied Territories and regardless if they are Christian or Muslim. These soldiers then demand that the owners leave forever.

Israel’s legal system makes it perfectly legitimate to take away the small plots of land that Palestinian families have owned for generations. These plots of lands are then levelled and given to the Israel Land Administration who then decides to whom to give them. It's needless to point out here that these lands and houses would not be given back to an Arab family. And the world is silent about these injustices.

Today the collective punishment of the Lebanese people, and the killing of refugees bundled together as they are ordered to flee their homes, seems to have the same resonance as some of the atrocities inflicted on Jewish people in the past. The world was silent then and it is silent again.


There is only one reason for this silence. It is the silence that accompanies the insidious nature of racism. It is its ability to be cloaked under other guises such as irresponsibility, denial, envy, survival and its capacity to be transformed into victimhood.

Commenting on a 2004 photography exhibition on the horrors inflicted on Palestinians by Israeli soldiers, an Israeli soldier Yitzhak Laor wrote: “The Holocaust is part of the victim imagery; hence the madness of [Israeli] state-subsidised school trips to Auschwitz. This has less to do with understanding the past than with reproducing an environment in which we exist in the present tense as victims.”

And now, as I watch photographs of pretty Israeli young girls writing on the artillery shells destined to explode in Beirut, the city of my birth, I begin to understand the mechanics of this victimhood.  How in Israel, children are taught to think of bombing Arabs as a form of pest control. A feedback caption reads: “Can't ... keep ... eyes ... from ... watering. I'm so proud.”

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About the Author

Mireille Astore is an internationally recognised artist, a writer and a University of Western Sydney scholar. She is also the Arabic Project Coordinator at the Writing and Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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