Why Abbas Screamed

We tend to scream when people aren’t listening to us. Israelis are experts at not listening.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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President Mahmoud Abbas, of Palestine, addresses the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, Fri., Sept. 26, 2014.
President Mahmoud Abbas, of Palestine, addresses the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, Fri., Sept. 26, 2014.Credit: AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The use of the word “genocide” by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his United Nations speech indicates verbal distress – not only in describing the latest war (and those that preceded it) in Gaza, but also in defining Israeli control over the Palestinians (on both sides of the Green Line.) Without getting into the question of whether Abbas meant what he said or simply understood that he needed to convey his people’s feelings better than he had in the past, the entire speech boiled down to a scream. And because he couldn’t scream in the auditorium, he used high-decibel words instead.

We tend to scream when people aren’t listening to us. Israelis are experts at not listening. So, instead of talking about their failure to listen, they divert the discussion to the scream. That is the trap inherent in every scream, or in every deviation from the respectable conventions of what we call normative. The scream elicits condemnation from those cultured people who don’t scream. They do many other things – destroy, kill, expel – but they behave appropriately at cocktail parties.

Abbas isn’t alone in his verbal distress; it is shared by everyone who isn’t merely interested in describing the existing reality in the terms found in books and essays, but also wants to change it. Why do they reach the point of screaming? Because the many people who benefit from the existing reality not only don’t want it to change - they don’t want to be told that it’s intolerable, unjust and unfair either. After all, none of the negatives affect them.

Anyone who doesn’t make do with slogans or clichés ends up in verbal distress. Write about one man’s eviction from his house and land, and Israelis see it as an isolated, unrepresentative example. Write about evictions and expulsions, and it will fade into statistics that we can’t connect with. Tell about one child killed by soldiers, and Israelis’ hearts go out to the soldiers, whose lives were in danger. Tell about hundreds of Palestinians children killed by the Israel Defense Forces, and Israelis will talk about the rocket that landed in an empty Israeli kindergarten. When the details and the facts and the significance are erased, the words that conceptualize them turn into slogans and clichés in the ears of those who hear them.

Therefore, we have to reinvent the wheel every time – to tell the same story in a different fashion. The past 25 years can be summarized as follows: All the methods used by the Palestinians to express their resistance to the foreign rule imposed on them have failed. Israel didn’t listen to the message; it merely improved and escalated the methods used to suppress it (yes, stones and rockets, like speeches and essays, are ways for the subjugated to say they’ve had it.) It improved and escalated – such a cultured country – and then complained that the Palestinians continued to resist.

The improvements and escalation were suitable for all the methods employed by the master nation: bureaucratic and technical methods (restrictions on movement, control via permits, construction and development bans,) military methods (arms and ammunition whose lethality jumps by several levels each time) and diplomatic methods.

It seems we have no equal in the cunning and deceit with which we rule over another people. Many Israelis, good and bad alike, have acted with cunning and deceit in turning the endless negotiations into a license for expanding the settlement enterprise, forcing the Palestinians into crowded territorial cells and undermining their deep, historic and natural connection to this land, their homeland. They foisted responsibility for Palestinian civilians onto the Palestinian leadership, but deprived it of the powers and resources it needed to fulfill this responsibility. Only this diplomatic cunning and deceit can explain why Abbas, the great believer in negotiations, screamed at the United Nations.

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