Branding occupation as security
We at WashU Students for Justice in Palestine would like to draw the student body’s attention to an annual event that is scheduled to take place this Sunday, Feb. 14. Co-sponsored by Washington University Students for Israel (WSI) and StandWithUs, a pro-Israel propagandist organization, the event “Israeli Soldiers’ Stories” will feature Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers telling their stories “from the front lines that you won’t hear in the headlines.” WSI explicitly stated that “security will be present at the event.” It is deeply distressing to us that StandWithUs, a group that propagates false narratives and silences critical voices, is annually invited to our campus to host a police-protected event. We feel that the event itself and the police presence are part of a concerted propaganda strategy to brand military and police as “security” and occlude the roles of occupier and occupied.
The IDF has the 11th highest Global Fire Power (GFP) index in the world and dominates regional competition by orders of magnitude. This is the force that carries out the violence necessary to maintain the Occupation: extrajudicial arrests, housing demolitions, bombing campaigns, protecting illegal settlements, manning checkpoints, etc. The frequent use of the term “security” by supporters of the Israeli state to describe these practices is very revealing. The word implies a clear-cut dynamic: “security” is a concern for a defending body. It is a response to the real or potential hostility of outside forces. Framing the Israeli-Palestinian “Conflict” (Occupation) in these terms produces a narrative in which the IDF is strictly a reactionary force whose measures are always necessary and proportionate and whose size and power are commensurate with the “barbarism” of the Palestinians. In other words, the logic of “security” provides a perfect moralization and justification of the Occupation, and thus it is the central agenda of Israeli propaganda to promote this narrative.
WSI’s upcoming event falls perfectly in line with these goals. Firstly, it portrays the IDF as a humane force defending Israel against inhumane attackers. The event description contains information about the soldiers’ families, education, hobbies and personalities and purports to put “a human face to the IDF uniform.” This language deliberately invites us to empathize and identify with IDF soldiers, to see them as good, ordinary people that may not even have chosen to be soldiers if Israel’s “security concerns” were not so dire. Secondly, the police presence itself reinforces the “security” narrative in a visceral way by suggesting that, even here on Wash. U.’s campus, pro-Israel students require state protection (the police) from pro-Palestinian students, just as Israelis require state protection (the military) from Palestinians. This is entirely consistent with what our organization has experienced since our recent establishment: the dynamics of the conflict are once again being transplanted onto this campus.
To be clear, “good” and “ordinary” do not exclude or negate an individual’s role in a system of power, and pro-Palestinian students are not violent threats that warrant a police presence. We as Wash. U. students must not only recognize this particular event as propaganda, but also challenge the hegemony of pro-Israel perspectives on this campus and reckon with our complicity in the occupation itself. We do not live in a vacuum—our choices and actions on this campus can have real effects on the lives of oppressed peoples, not only in Palestine, but throughout the world.