and the Burden of "Evidence"
Israeli government and its benefactor the United States would like to
see "Jenin" erased. Having failed to crush the resistance of
the Palestinian people with overwhelming military force, the political
representatives of big business are now trying to cover their tracks and
hide their brutal practices behind the "fog of war". They
claim that no massacre took place, that it was a "war", and
dare the Palestinians to provide evidence that proves otherwise.
is considered evidence, however, is never a simple matter of abstract
truth. "Evidence", on the contrary, is always determined by
objective interests: whether it serves the interests of those in power,
or those struggling for social justice; whether it supports the
interests of those who rule, or whether it questions those interests.
The stakes of what constitutes reliable evidence are nowhere more clear
than in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and whether the
brutal military onslaught against Palestine is "justified" or
whether Israel has committed genocide in the interest of expanding its
territorial control and expelling all Palestinians from the Occupied
example, even amidst reports of massacres in Jenin and international condemnation of
Israel's invasion of Palestine, nearly three weeks after the Israeli
military began its most massive and destructive attack against the
Palestinian people since the Six Day War of 1967 (when Israel more than
doubled its territory)—President Bush embraced Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon, the chief architect of the recent invasion, as "a man
of the terrorization and savage violence waged against the
Palestinian people—evidence from the few who have been able to enter
the occupied territories and report the suffering inflicted—was
brushed aside as mere sensationalizing "rumors." Rumors, that
is, without any serious substance, and aimed, it was suggested, at
falsely representing the situation in order to create sympathy for
casually have reports of evidence of massacres been discarded by the
U.S. administration that White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer baldly
suggested that the Red Cross and United Nations needed to have access to
Palestinian territories—not to confirm the shocking reports of
massive numbers of dead in the refugee camp—but to deny them.
That is, to put an end to rumors, and thereby subdue the international
community's outrage over the Israeli invasion of Palestine, a point
made quite clear by Fleischer when he repeated Assistant Secretary of
State Richard Armitage’s comment that "There is a mythology
sometimes to these events where numbers are bandied about".
is it then that the U.S. media's ongoing "up to the minute"
updates of the deaths of Israelis by Palestinians is not a
"mythologizing" "bandying about" of numbers—but
the Terrible Truth itself?? Why are the reported numbers of dead
Israelis "evidence" which directly expresses the
"truth" of the matter: that the Israelis have been so
terrorized and traumatized by those they have colonized for the past 54
years that the Israeli military has no other choice but to eliminate
Palestinians, if necessary, in the name of peace and security?
issue of course is not that there is no reliable evidence of mass
killings in Palestine, or that all questions of "evidence" are
inherently "unreliable" and open to endless
"interpretation". After all, even Sharon, after finding it no
longer useful to entirely deny accumulating reports of massacres
and facing growing international outrage, was forced to acknowledge that
a large number of innocent Palestinians had indeed been killed–after
which point Sharon used the tact of "re-interpreting" the
massacres as a "normal" course of events in "war".
real issue is that Palestinians are being denied the ability to present
their evidence publicly, a denial that reflects their virtually
powerless position in the imperialist world dominated by the U.S. and
those who support U.S. (oil) interests, such as the state of Israel
(with whom the U.S. has always had a "special" relation in
order to safeguard its interest in a region resistant to the U.S.'s
unparalled economic and military control over world resources). The
Palestinians are denied the resources they need—not only in the form
of building a case for the recognition of Israeli war crimes, but also
in the form of such basic needs as food, shelter, doctors, education, .
. .—in order to prevent the current invasion from being used as a
basis for Palestinian demands for an independent state. A demand which
would of course have a devastating impact on the Israel economy, which
controls all the basic resources of Palestine, including its water and
electricity, its ports and airports, its streets and borders. Even more
importantly, the Israeli state, in its apartheid-like governance of
Israel and Palestine, relies on the cheap labor of Palestinians, who are
paid a fraction of the wages of Israeli workers. Even Israeli Arabs
receive lower wages and many are denied basic rights such as the right
to vote, even though they pay taxes, and the schools are segregated with
few exceptions. Palestine is a
"bantustan," the Israeli state its "master".
denial of evidence is part of a long history of Palestine's colonization
by Israel, which itself reflects an even longer history of the struggle
between those who own and control social resources, and those who do not
and are, as a result, subject to the dictates of those who do.
Kissinger was very much aware of the class politics of
"evidence" in his advice to Israel in the 1980s. In the wake
of the first Intifada,
begun in 1987 as a peaceful movement to protest growing Israeli
brutality against Palestinians, Kissinger told a meeting of American
Jewish leaders that "[t]he insurrection [in the Occupied
Territories] must be quelled immediately, and the first step should be
to throw out television, à la South Africa…The Palestinian
Uprising must be suppressed brutally and rapidly".
powerless have always been forced to bear the burden of evidence,
because they lack the means of access to the resources which would
enable them to indict their oppressors and establish a legitimate basis
what has become even more critical today is the way in which
"evidence" can be provided by the oppressed or in their
defense—but that evidence is "re-framed" so to invalidate
evidence of oppression and exploitation. That is, how one
"reads" "evidence" has become an urgent question.
for example, after outright denial of massacres, is now justifying the
killing of Palestinians (not to mention the overwhelming destruction of
Palestinian homes, hospitals, places of work, basic resources such as
water . . . ) on the grounds of "war". In other words, when
"evidence" can no longer be denied---it becomes a matter of
"textualizing" evidence, or making it "undecidable".
Suggesting, in other words, that it is open to endless interpretation,
based on "context." And when one "context" becomes
unprofitable, another will be found to take its place.
But what is this really an attempt to do but erase the fundamental
context: the fact that Israel invaded Palestine, and declared war on
a people it has colonized since 1948 (with initial support of colonial
Britain and more recently that of the strongest imperial power, the
U.S., which currently gives Israel over 5 billion dollars yearly in
military and economic "aid"—more than 2 times the amount
received by any other country from the U.S.)?
brutally certain has the "uncertain" and
"indeterminate" become as a means for justifying Israel's
actions that Israeli officials have yet to decide on a definite number
of Palestinian deaths--and go so far as to suggest that it shouldn't
matter anyway! In a recent interview on "Meet the Press"
in which former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked how
many Palestinian civilians were killed ,Netanyahu responded that it
could be "seven or 27".
In other words, it doesn't really matter--and it will never be
"confirmed". On the other hand, he was quick to add "but
we lost 29 soldiers in the battle in Jenin"--a number Israel has
never had any trouble confirming, since, after all, the Israeli
state controls Jenin and all the means necessary to establish such
a confirmation. The issue however has never been a matter of
"numbers" but the structure of power relations beneath
the international community does not recognize the situation as a war
zone, Sharon and his supporters know, they may be liable to charges of
war crime. Therefore it is urgent for Israel to make sure that all
"evidence" of massacres is framed in a way that justifies what
it has done. The most recent alibi is that the massive killings and
destruction are a "normal" course of "war". As Dr.
Raphael Cohen-Almagore, a member of Meretz, the Israeli civil rights
party, put it in a recent interview on "Democracy Now!",
"Well, wars are not pleasant things . . . when there is a war you
are going to see some things that are not nice, not pleasant".
What Sharon and his followers leave out of course is that the practices
unleashed on the Palestinians are "normal" only for the
violent display of power and control of a powerful nation against a
powerless people, who are in contrast often forced to defend themselves
with "un-normal" strategies against their oppressors, such as
guerilla warfare or suicide-bombers. Genocides, Holocausts and
carpet-bombings are the "normal" tools of the powerful, and,
Sharon, echoing the U.S., demands that the international
community should recognize and accept these rules of history, rules made
by and for the powerful.
arguments about the "bandying about" of numbers are, clearly,
attempts by U.S. and Israeli officials to convince citizens that the
charges of "evidence" cannot be taken seriously if they in any
way condemn Israel. Any
evidence that supports the Palestinian’s claims that the Israeli’s
occupation and invasion are devastatingly unjust and must be stopped is
not considered "evidence" at all—but "propaganda"
(to use Sharon’s term). The only legitimate evidence in short is
evidence that supports Israeli and U.S. interests to keep Palestine an
occupied territory, in order to maintain Israeli and U.S control
over the area (until such control is no longer profitable for the U.S.).
Claims by U.S. officials are thus really "pre-emptive"
ideological strikes, to "prepare" citizens for impending
public reports of atrocities, which they should treat as
"tainted" evidence. Such
preemptive strikes were all the more necessary while a UN fact-finding
team was preparing to enter Palestine.
only do such arguments prepare citizens to reject certain kinds of
evidence as "illegitimate"—they also block any analysis of
the conditions under which evidence is produced. For example,
what these arguments violently conceal is that the Israeli
military—following the U.S. in defying all international
protocols—not only denied all journalists, reporters, human rights
groups (even the U.N.!) from entering the refugee camps it had
demolished and making public what the Palestinians had suffered--it
actually shot at reporters, stopped ambulances and attacked
international peace demonstrators. Israel, with the help of U.S.
officials, U.S. financial support and U.S. international leverage, has
managed to conduct its massive military attack against a defenseless
people behind an internationally illegal curtain of press censorship. It
has gone even further recently and banned a UN mission to Jenin!
Israel is called the only "democracy" in the Middle East!
How can victimized people be expected to provide evidence of their situation if they are continuously denied the very means by which to establish their evidence? How can Palestinians be expected to "prove" that massacres have taken place, when there are reports that large numbers of bodies have been destroyed—not only buried beneath the rubble of bull-dozed houses and in mass graves over the Israeli border, but by explosions designed to eradicate all traces of death? How can the thousands of Palestinian prisoners detained by Israel prove that they have been tortured and detained under illegal circumstances, if they are refused access to lawyers and international mediating bodies?
victims of history have always been required to carry the burden of
proof, and denied the means of its provision. What is at stake is the
attempt to conceal and justify the history of the Israeli/Palestinian
conflict as part of the larger history of (US) imperialism. Whether it
is the invasion of Palestine, the coup in Venezuela, the rolling back of
civil rights in the U.S., or . . . what is becoming clear is that
the imperialist nations of the world—those who own and control the
world's resources at the expense of the many—will do anything, not
only to maintain their power, but ensure that they can freely extend
their reach over every aspect of human life, regardless of what it means
for the majority of people. The
construction of "evidence" in other words is part of a much
larger struggle by imperialists to justify their brutal practices.
even as they require the "other" to provide
"evidence"—the imperialists have grown less and less
interested in basing their own legal indictments on
"evidence". In fact, a day after Bush called for the need for
"transparency" in the Israeli invasion—suggesting that
"evidence" is indeed necessary to make determinations of
war crimes, etc.—it was proposed that the U.S. military tribunals need
to be able to try detainees held in Cuba without "evidence"!
As reported in the New York Times, "Bush
administration officials are considering a new legal doctrine that would
allow prisoners to be brought before military tribunals without specific
evidence that they engaged in war crimes".
The U.S. in other words has publicly stated that they have no
"evidence" that would be legally indicting before any
legitimate court (even kangaroo military tribunals!)—yet they expect
the citizens of the most advanced democracy in the world to agree to
life-long prison sentences, if not execution, nonetheless.
is "evidence" the only criterion of truth in one case, but
irrelevant in another?
U.S. requires "evidence" only from those who would indict its
own practices or those practices the U.S. supports; in order to imprison
and even execute those it considers a threat, it requires no
"evidence" at all.
the heroic struggles of the Palestinians against the relentless military
onslaught of the Israeli state will not be suppressed. Just as "Jenin"
has become a symbol of resistance against the overwhelming force of
global imperialism, inspiring people
around the world to stand in solidarity and struggle for a world in
which all peoples' needs are met, history will prove the just cause of
the Palestinians and their struggle for a state, their struggle for
freedom from oppression and exploitation.
The Guardian, "Bush says Israeli invasion of Jenin must
be investigated," April 20, 2002.
 Quoted in Phil Marshall,
Intifada: Zionism, Imperialism and Palestinian Resistance
(Chicago: Bookmarks, 1989) 24.