Understanding reactions to attacks on Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian clashes

Two recent incidents, a battle in Jenin during an IDF raid, and an attack on Israeli civilians, provides us with an excellent example of how the narrative creation begins.

The two incidents are not in doubt. On January 26 IDF forces raided Jenin to confront a PIJ cell that was apparently planning an attack. Nine Palestinians were killed. One of them was a civilian. The others were adult gunmen. The photos of them make it clear.

For pro-Palestinian activists and accounts on social media, this clash between soldiers and gunmen is a “massacre.” They also portray this as resistance and armed struggle. “This chapter will mark the end of the post-Second Intifada period characterized by the cynical management of the occupation, disregard for Palestinians’ political rights and lives, and lack of accountability for Israel’s actions.”

So the first process is to portray the Palestinian gunmen as civilians and victims of genocide. Then the Palestinians call for a new “confrontation” or intifada. The battle in Jenin is called “collective punishment” and Israel is portrayed as the “occupying power” that is harming civilians. A person linked to the UN notes “If the international community does not act swiftly to bring an end to Israel’s colonial occupation and its apartheid regime, this will further weaken security of both Israelis & Palestinians & further undermine the authority of int’l law everywhere else.”

US member of Congress Rashida Tlaib wrote “I may be the only Palestinian American in Congress, but I will never stop reminding folks that our country is funding an apartheid regime that is killing Palestinian children & families. We honor the victims of the Jenin massacre by telling the truth about the apartheid gov’t.” Another commentator doesn’t distinguish between Palestinians killed in clashes who were armed, and civilians, accusing Israel of “murdering” 29 Palestinians. This is interesting because in the next section we will see how when Israelis are attacked the perpetrators are said to be “resisting” but even gunmen are not called “militant”, they are transformed into civilians, just as Israelis are never permitted to be civilians. This claim that Israel killed 30 Palestinians is used to frame the next part of the so-called “cycle” or “spiral” of violence. One person writes “Instead of linking today’s terrible attack in Jerusalem to Holocaust Remembrance Day, which it has nothing to do with, you might connect it instead to the 30 Palestinians that have been killed by Israel just this month. This is a cycle of violence borne of Israeli apartheid.”

Another commentator says “Israel raided Jenin and slaughtered 9 Palestinians, wounding 20 others. The videos are horrific. They bulldozed their youth center and prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded. If only the victims were born Ukrainian, perhaps the world would care more and send them tanks.” Another writes “Israeli apartheid-enforcing militias massacred 9 Palestinians in Jenin yesterday. In fact, I never get such alerts when Palestinians are murdered.”

Another interesting narrative is to compare Jenin to Ukraine and Palestinians to Ukrainians, and argue that they are “resisting” the way Ukrainians resist. Except when it is noted Ukrainians don’t target civilians there is an issue.

Even though the battle in Jenin was clearly an IDF raid against a specific group, it is portrayed as “The killings in Jenin today did not happen in a vacuum. Israel has been killing Palestinians at a disturbing and escalating rate over the past year.” These are called “extrajudicial killings.”

Changing the discussion from Israeli civilians to “settlers”

A day later a 21-year old Palestinian targets Israeli civilians in Neve Yaakov, killing seven people. But the same narrative now shifts. Whereas Palestinians with guns become civilians the Israeli civilians are not seen as civilians. “One was a state executed law enforcement operation that resulted in an assault with several potential war crimes (wilful killing,destruction of civilian infrastructure necessary to survival, collective punishment).The other was a horrific criminal act conducted by an individual.”

Neve Yaakov is not only called a “settlement” but an IDF “headquarters.” The killings in Jenin are seen as part of a cycle. “Nothing in Israel-Palestine happens in a vacuum. Tonight a Palestinian killed 7+ Jews at a synagogue. Yesterday Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians in Jenin. Israel has held millions of Palestinians under military rule for 56 years, and kept them in refugee camps for 75….And every life lost is a consequence of maintaining a system of domination of one people over another, which necessitates near-daily killing and generates killing in return.”

Other Palestinian narratives emerge, claiming that it is wrong to portray the Israeli victims as near a synagogue, and a claim that this is a response to “genocide.” Excusers write that Israelis are not targeted as Jews but because they are “settlers living on stolen land” and accuses the civilian victims of being part of “a massively brutal oppressive mechanism.” Another social media account accuses every Israeli “whether in a synagogue, checkpoint or settlement or shopping mall” of being a “colonizer who came to foreign lands” and claims they all serve in the military and are a “militarized tumor.”

The framing that tries to place the attack on Israeli civilians as part of a wider conflict is clear. One writes “The act of one that took the life of 7 in an EastJerusalem settlement yesterday is horrific,deplorable. And it’s miopic & risky to disregard the impact of 55yrs of institutionalised brutality, epitomised by the last massacre in Jenin that brought Palestinian deaths more than 29 in 2023.” The reference to “29” or 30 or more Palestinians “killed” by Israel is frequent. Another person writes “So far this month, Israel has killed 34 Palestinians. Strange how the media are not at all outraged by that side of the grim equation. Also strange that the media do not appear to know that East Jerusalem is not part of Israel.”

Another commentator writes “The attack in Jerusalem is being falsely framed as one that happened in a synagogue. This detail is a form of disinformation which preys on the emotional aspect of news production. The shooting happened on a street of an illegal settlement near Jerusalem, Neve Yaacov.” Another person tweets “Suddenly Zionists online seem to have a problem with violence. Interesting how that works.” The key words is to turn civilians into “apartheid” and “colonizers” and “settlers” or “Zionists.” They never have individual names and identities in this frame. Another person writes “The worst attack on Jews in Jerusalem for 15 years, comes after months of deadly attacks against Palestinians.”

Colonize and colonized

To set this framing the core narrative portrays Israelis, including civilians, as “colonizers.” For instance “Colonizers typically enjoy such massive hegemony over the colonized that they can manufacture pretext for their action whenever and wherever they want. They can brutalize the colonized and then use their reaction as proof & argument that they deserve to be brutalized.”

Another person writes “The Israelis killed in Jerusalem were not in the ghettoes of Europe. They are in a powerful state that inflicts unceasing violence on millions of Palestinians, denies them a single day of freedom and normalcy, all in the name of Jewish supremacy…Naming context is not minimizing the loss of life. Without understanding the root of the violence we will never end it. The Israeli army has already killed more Palestinians than there have been days in 2023. After 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in many years…Those seeking to link the Jerusalem murders to #InternationalHolocaustRemembranceDay flatten reality into one long sad story for the Jews, avoiding the hard work of facing how the Jewish state abuses Jewish history to keep Jews terrified and complicit in its colonial violence.” This use of the term “the Jews” is in spite of the fact that many today refrain from using “the for any people can sound dehumanizing and imply a monolith rather than diverse individuals.”

The narrative is thus set. Israel is accused of a genocide and “massacre” in Jenin and the killing of Israeli civilians is “resistance.” Attacks on Israeli civilians is called “resistance by a colonized people on their land against their occupiers.” For instance, after the attack on Israeli civilians, one person writes “a tragic, and yet totally predictable, outcome. The notion that Israel could continue to kill large numbers of Palestinians without triggering some sort of response is total folly.” Another person writes that creating an “ethnostate on Palestinian land” will “spark violence.”

What is interesting in characterizing attacks on Israeli civilians as attacks on “settlers” or a “reaction” and “resistance” to “colonizing apartheid” is that it depicts the attack as collective punishment against Israelis. Yet the same commentator narrative framework decries what they see as collective punishment in Jenin. ““No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited…Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited,” according to the 4th Geneva Convention. But those who frame the discussion, describe Israel in this way “I look differently at people who thought running a brutal apartheid system on an occupied land would bring anything but violence, death and devastation. What did you expect!!!”

The celebrations

Another part of the narrative is to try to re-brand the images of Palestinians handing out candy and celebrating the attacks on Israeli civilians. One commentator writes that Israel is trying to focus on the Palestinians celebrating to “dehumanize” them and “demonize” them, but then claims that in most conflicts celebrations of attacks are common. Asked about this one person noted that it is common in other conflicts such as Northern Ireland and that “Perhaps you missed the Russians celebrating on social media when strikes – including those that killed civilians – were successful. I’ve already said what studies say.” It’s unclear in this narrative if the Palestinians are now being depicted like the Russians, whereas above in different narratives we heard that Israel is like Russia and Palestinians are victims like Ukraine.

The key here is to not mention the attacks were on Israeli civilians. Another reaction to the celebrations is to claim that Israelis have done the same thing. The question here is whether when Israelis are depicted as doing it, whether it is also “dehumanizing” to mention this.

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