Richard Landes: The Real ‘Poison’ in the Middle East Conflict

Cross posted by Richard Landes, who blogs at Augean Stables

The New York Times ran the following cartoon, allegedly about the poisoning of Yassir Arafat by Patrick Chappatte (HT/BR).

Some think this is an outrageous cartoon that supports the libel that the Israelis poisoned Arafat. And it may be just that. After all, either Chappatte is an advocate of the destruction of Israel, or he’s in total ignorance of what’s at stake, as in this cartoon (HT/DG)

But, unintentionally or not, it actually makes a very different and critical point. From the outset, the relationship between Israel and her neighbors has been poisoned by what Nidra Poller has called lethal narratives,” stories accusing (in this case) Israel of intentionally murdering innocent civilians, preferably children. Lethal narratives are key elements in cognitive warfare designed at once to create hatred and a desire for vengeance among “us” (whose children are being murdered), guilt and self-loathing among “them” (whose soldiers are doing the killing), and hostility among bystanders (the Westerners whose judgments play a critical role in determining policy).

The most powerful lethal narrative, the Muhammad al Durah story, was a nuclear bomb of cognitive warfare. It aroused Muslims throughout the world; it filled Israelis with horror and sapped their ability to defend themselves against accusations; and it thrilled various groups, primarily Europeans and Leftists, who saw it as a “get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free” card, which freed them from any commitment to be fair to Israel.

The move was a masterstroke of cognitive war. Jihadis got the Europeans to play their lethal narrative repeatedly on their TVs during the early intifada, waving the flag of Jihad in front of their immigrant Muslim population. And as a result, Europe, in the 21st century, got a “Muslim Street.”

The mainstream news media’s laundering lethal narratives and presenting them to the public as “news” plays a critical role in Palestinian (and beyond that, Islamist) cognitive warfare. Once they had gone wild over the al Durah poison, the mainstream news media believed any claims that Palestinians made that Israelis had killed children until proven wrong, and doubted any Israeli claims to innocence until proven right. And if that happened (long after the initial lethal narrative had been spread), the press mumbled corrections and moved on to the next lethal narrative.

I personally had a direct experience of this dynamic when I gave a talk at a conference in Budapest in 2007 on millenarianism. I presented al Durah as a key element in the “going viral” of Muslim apocalyptic memes, and referred to the story as a “blood libel.” The organizer of the conference noted:

“I’ve warned against sloppy use of terminology at this conference [I had previously suggested that Marx was a millennialist], and your use of blood libel is a prime example: it’s just simple murder of children,which we know for a fact Israelis are doing every day. (Italics mine)

In her very “statement of fact” the speaker proved the efficacy of the blood libel she denied.

One of the key functions of the mainstream news media is to serve as a dialysis machine, filtering out the poisons that can weaken the civil polities in which they operate. At least in the Arab-Israeli conflict, they have, alas, played the role of injecting the poisons of lethal narratives into the information stream of the West.

We are all the weaker for it. Indeed, we find traces of poison in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and the ludicrous story of Israel poisoning Arafat is only the most recent example, and the above cartoon, a pathetic illustration.

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46 replies »

    • An outrageous post, which mocks the death of a innocent child. Disgusting.

      Little Mohammed Al-Durah was one of the 982 Palestinian children killed by Israeli fire during the Second Intifada; 119 Israeli children were killed by palestinian fire during the same period.

      Using the death of a child to push forward one’s far rightists ideas is sick.


      • Nat,

        1)Are you responding to my post?
        I never mentioned Al dura.

        2) You Assume Al Dura is dead. Well, is he?

        3) You assume that if he is dead he dies as a result of Israeli fire.

        4) You don’t even begin to question why the Arabs always rush to bury without an autopsy. Now in both Al-Dura (if it was him) and in Arafat’s case no autopsy was required.
        Why is that?

        did anyone say Ali Baba tales or Paliwood…?

        • Itskik, hundreds of palestinian children were killed in Israeli airstrikes or by Israeli bullets during the Second Intifada, so don’t try to pretend youy did not know cause you do. Israeli children died as well. Did you know that members of the French hard right wing group that started the conspiracy theory according to which that child is not dead were sentenced for libel by the courts? Did you also know that one of their members had previously announced the end of the world for 2001? Gee, what credible sources you have!

        • “You don’t even begin to question why the Arabs always rush to bury without an autopsy”

          Had you education or culture, you’d know that Islam says that Muslims should be buried as fast as people.

          Why would they want an autopsy anyway? This child was killed by Israeli fire, Tsahal never denied this, but they pointed out that this happened during crossfire and was not intentionnal.

          Conspiracy theories are bad for your health.

          • “Had you education or culture, you’d know that Islam says that Muslims should be buried as fast as people.”
            Folks, this is what is known as a Freudian slip.

            “This child was killed by Israeli fire.” This is an assertion, not an established fact and has never been demonstrated.

            “Conspiracy theories are bad for your health.” If so, you should heed your own advice.

          • The IDF investigation stated that the position of the IDF and al-Dura made it almost impossible that the child has been killed by Israeli fire. Later it become clear that the clip showing the events is an edited farce of Pallywood. Exactly as you said Benyamin “conspiracy theories damage your health.” Seems to me that in your case this warning came late…

            • The IDF is reported to have entirely destroyed the site where the shooting took place before any sort of independent investigtion could be carried out…

              besides, the IDF did not deny that this child was shot and killed by its soldiers during crossfire.

              • Nat: “The IDF is reported to have…..”

                Burned women and children
                Harvested human organs
                Taken the blood of dead children to make purim cakes
                Fermented turmoil and revolution in the Arab world
                Poisoned wells of innocent Christians in the Middle Ages
                Started the First and Second World Wars
                Started the French and Russians revolutions
                Made a pact with the devil
                Killed God in human form

                Oh sorry Nat, am I getting carried away? So many medieval blood libels to blame Israel for, I sometimes get my banal anachronisms all muddled up and end up believing I’m a progressive humanitarian firmly rooted in the 21st Century, instead of a vacuous mouthpiece for an very old hatred masquerading under another name.

                • Grrovy, 300 Palestinian children were killed in israel’s military operation cast lead. These figures come from the UN, not from “anachronisms”.

                  • Nat, typical response from a redneck. Just like racists in the deep south who could always find a black criminal to fit the bill and justify their bigotry towards the African American collective, much the same way as you do with Israel.

                    Out of interest, have you spent any of your time campazigning or commenting against Syria, that bastion of progress for unrepentent Nazi war criminals like Alois Brunner who called Jews ‘human scum’. You can always get the measure of a regime by their attitude to Jews, and other people’s acceptance of it.

                    But for a progressive humanitarian like yourself, I’m sure you have your priorities exactly where they should be.

      • Nat,

        If he did die, I’d say that yes, pushing his death to push an Islamofacist idea is a terrible sick thing to do.

        I’m glad we agree on this.

      • The Mohammed Al-Durrah case, is a typical, blood-libel, canard. Not ONLY has it been demonstrated to be false, and the journalist initially airing it, admitted to not being at scene himself, but recently, a French court determined that:“…[there was presented] a coherent mass of evidence…and that the cameraman’s statements were “‘not perfectly credible either in form or content.'”
        Furthermore, it turns out, according to the doctor who treated Al-Durrah senior, that the Father lied about his own injuries(so you’ve got something in common, Nat; you lie, and so does he).
        In short Nat, you’ve been caught red-handed once again, advancing scurrilous, libellous harangues against Israel.

        • “ONLY has it been demonstrated to be false”

          Please show us EVIDENCE.

          Only nutcases belive that this child was not killed. In private, even Tsahal’s highest rankling officers will tell you the child was killed by live Israeli bullets in crossfire – it was not intentionnal.

          • Bullshit benyamin. You are lying. See the results of the investigation led by the commander of the Southern Command of the IDF.
            Read this benyamin and try to explain it.
            Only nutcases blessed with some obsessive hate of Jews believe that the child has been killed by Israelis.

              • ‘Independent’ here clearly means an investigation that tells Nat what he wants to hear.

                • An independent investigation cannot be carried out by the very army which stands accused of being responsible for the death of the child in crossfire.

          • You’ve met in private with Tzahal’s highest ranking officers, and discussed this case with them? Do tell. They won’t return my calls. What’s the secret?

          • The child, sadly may well be dead. Herein lies the distinction, he was CERTAINLY not killed by Israel. Not only was it impossible, according to diagrams presented before the high French court, the most probable, nay THE scenario, is that the Child was killed by the Pal. terrorists lurking near his position.
            As for evidence, let’s ask the Journalists of the French Le Figaro, shall we?:
            “Having viewed the footage, Jeambar and Leconte wrote in Le Figaro on January 25, 2005, that there was no scene in it that showed the boy had died. When Enderlin said Muhammad was dead, they wrote “he had no possibility of determining that he was in fact dead, and even less so, that he had been shot by IDF soldiers.” While they did not believe the scene was staged, they said the footage did not show the boy’s death throes. “This famous ‘agony’ that Enderlin insisted was cut from the montage,” they wrote, ‘does not exist.'”

        • The doctor who said he treated Al Durah’s father admitted in a French court of law that he was not in Gaza at the time.

          • He admitted no such thing, and that’s not what the case handled:
            “[Dr.] David said the scars Jamal presented as bullet wounds from the 2000 incident were actually scars from a tendon repair operation that David performed in 1994.”
            And, his stance was vindicated recently:
            “In February 2012, David’s appeal was upheld and it was ruled that he had not libeled Jamal Al-Durrah, and he was acquitted of breaking doctor-patient confidentiality.”
            So, for God’s sake, stop lying “Benyamin”, and take your Peri, Nat, with you.

      • Little Mohammed Al-Dura was probably not killed at all.

        The Palestinian propaganda merchants are masters at staging movies and faking pictures, and gave birth to the industry known as Pallywood, and the art of ‘fauxtography’.

        The whole al-Dura affair stinks of fakery.

        • Andy, nearly 1,000 palestinian children were killed by Israeli soldiers during the Second Intifada. About 150 Israeli children were killed by Palestinians at the same time. Children on both sides bore the brunt of the conflict, including little Mohammed.

          Conspiracy theories are bad for your health.

          Insulting the memory of a child is immoral.

          • “Insulting the memory of a child is immoral.”

            Con artists hide behind children.

      • Yes, the targeting of those 119 Israeli children is beyond is disgusting and undoubtedly racist.
        The “little” Mohammed Dura top selling blood libel has been shown to be a hoax and incitement to murder. The endangerment of Palestinian children by Hamas is a war crime committed by Hamas, an extreme right wing, religious, fundamentalist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, genocidal group.
        Your failure to cite the low number of casualties by Israel during hostilities in spite of Hamas’ deliberate use of civilians in war, taken with the rest of your comments above shows you to be a right wing racist.

        • Jeff, are you telling us that you care only about Israeli children, not Palestinian children?

          You should be ashamed.

          ALL children have the right to life.

          Shame on you!

          • Nat – once again you attempt to twist what Jeff has said in order to avoid responding to the point he makes.

            He clearly expressed concern about the death of Palestinian children – especially the way that many of these deaths are a direct result of their disgusting and inexcusable use by Hamas as human shields and as combatants.

            He also points out the incredibly low civilan:combatant ratio in Israeli combat missions – civilian deaths are always unfortunate and always regrettable, but sadly in a war situation, they are inevitable. Israel does more than any other army in the world to avoid them.

          • “Jeff, are you telling us that you care only about Israeli children, not Palestinian children?
            You should be ashamed.
            ALL children have the right to life.
            Shame on you!”
            If you’re asking me what I mean, shouldn’t you at least wait for an answer before drawing a conclusion? This is the way it usually works Nat.
            Of course I believe all children (and adults) have a right to life. If you feel that way too, you should be protesting Hamas’ war mongering, indoctrination of children in hate and glorification of martyrdom, and their deliberate, immoral and illegal use of children in warfare.

      • Nat The Mohamed Durah was killed by Palestinian bullets and it has been proven in French court.What about the 13 years old mostly retarded children used as a suicide bombers to kill Israeli civilians? and the children who are throwing stones and shouting guns at Israeli civilians? O is that what you count innocent ?

        • Mira, little Mohammed Al Durrah was reported killed by Israeli fire in crossfire.

          Karsenty, the man who pretends to the contrary, was convicted for libel by a French court after the child’s father and journalists sued him.

              • Caught liar, dumb as bread, still around?
                Obviously antisemites like you neither feel any shame nor have been taught correct behaviour.

                • Fritz, as usual you resort to insulting people.

                  Does CIF Watch authorize people to throw insults at others on its website? I don’t think so.

    • Al Jazeera “reveals” how Arafat “may have been poinsoned”.

      Is that even remotely logically consistent??? And of course, you know who is to blame .. perhaps … possibly … maybe ..

      What is next? Al Jazeera “reveals” how “lead may be transmuted into political gold”?

      What other revelations of what might or might not have been will they come up with?

    • It’s nothing mister-us about Arafat who was a known alcoholic ( so much for his Muslim faith) and it showed in many of his interviews when a giant man behind him was holding him up and whispering answers in to his ears,that he died of cirrhoses of liver due to his alcoholism, His wife in fear of losing US $ 20+million of the money she is getting from Palestinian authorities where they getting it from US Europe and the rest of the world to kip her and they daughter i luxury in Paris is desperate and it shows )) Suha maybe the Russians??? they done it before

      • Mira, many Muslims drink alcohol, just like many Jews marry a non-Jewish partner, and many Christians do not fast during Christian fast days.

        Welcome to 2012.

  1. Isn’t Chappatte saying that the poison in israel/Palestine relationship was Arafat himself? That’s the way I read the cartoon. Am I missing the bleeding obvious?

    • I think this cartoon is poor – precisely because it can be “read” in a number of ways. Trevor’s is one. Richard’s is another. Personally, I read it to mean that frankly it matters not whether Arafat was poisoned by Israel or not – the rumours themselves about Arafat’s death are just another indication that the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians are poisonous.

      • I am glad that it can, gooner. It’s a classic thematic apperception test (TAT)-type cartoon which sorts the sheep from the goats at many levels.

        TATSs used to be used a lot in psychotherapy as a way of bringing to consciousness the projected likes an dislikes and loves and hatreds of therapy patients. Some therapists/psychologists still use them.