Israelis Don't Want the Truth, Certainly Not When It Comes to Palestinians

If, for instance, Channel 2 news reversed course and started showing what's really happening on the Palestinian side, Israeli viewers would change the channel.

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Palestinians protest in Hebron three months ago on behalf of a detainee on hunger strike in protest of administrative detention
Palestinians protest in Hebron three months ago on behalf of a detainee on hunger strike in protest of administrative detentionCredit: Gil Eliyahu

Many (in other words four) people in the virtually extinct minority of non-chauvinists think and believe that because the media hide the truth from the people about the oppression of the Palestinians, the Israeli people do not really know or understand what is happening, and that everything grows out of that. “If the media and Channel 2 were really doing their job and showing what is happening to the Palestinian side,” one of them, television personality Assaf Harel said in a recent interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, “people’s views would change.”

This naïve attitude is based on a premise that at first glance seems as logical and natural as rain on a gloomy day. This premise says that people essentially want to know the truth about their situation, particularly when the situation is bleak and needs remedying, and to choose what path to take – as human beings, as a family or a nation – on the basis of this truth.

But this is a baseless premise. In fact, the opposite is true. The worse the situation, the more people don’t really want to know about it. They don’t want to see themselves as they really are, they’d rather go on seeing themselves the way they’d like to see themselves, so don’t go confusing them with reality and the truth and all that garbage.

Let’s say that Channel 2 would suddenly do a big turnabout and start showing “what’s really happening to the Palestinian side” – would people’s views really change? Or would they just stop watching Channel 2 news? The answer is abundantly clear. The problem isn’t that the media don’t want to show things. The problem is that “the people of Israel” doesn’t want to read, hear or see the truth, certainly not when it comes to the Palestinians.

And when people don’t want to see the truth, there is no way to make them see it.

Following the German surrender in World War II, the Americans tried to “reeducate” the Germans by forcing them to watch documentary footage of Nazi war crimes before they could obtain ration cards. This was after all the killing and destruction, after Germany’s defeat, but still, as historian Tony Judt recounts in his book “Postwar,” one person who was present as such a screening recalls: “In the half-light of the projector, I could see that most people had turned their faces away after the beginning of the film and stayed that way until the film was over.”

Often, the truth about you and your actions is bitter and hard to swallow, and so people prefer lies. Because lying to yourself is so much easier; it’s sweet and pleasant and tickles your balls, and doesn’t force you to think or to do anything. Denial is an incredible human mechanism. The harsher the truth, the more frightening and seemingly insolvable it is, the more courage and boldness required to shift one’s thinking and one’s actions, the deeper and more powerful the denial.

And this peculiar human propensity also helps to explain why we Israelis keep reelecting the same person as prime minister, a man who – how to put it gently – appears to have a rather ambivalent relationship with the truth. For what could better suit a people living a lie than a prime minister who shows no interest in chasing after the truth and would rather let it slip away?

Want to send Netanyahu packing? All you have to do is paint him as a scrupulously honest character who speaks nothing but the truth. In 30 seconds, the people will have booted him and found another charlatan to take his place.

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