A Critique of Nick Kristof’s “Both Sides” Narrative

Since Israel commenced its latest round of mass murder against the occupied population of Gaza there has been a flood of commentary on the political and military dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict. One recurring theme that appears is the “both sides” narrative. The “both sides” narrative holds that Israel and Gaza are both responsible for horrible crimes and it is the task of more sober and less zealous intermediaries to bring both recalcitrant parties to “the negotiating table.” This narrative serves a dual function. First, it conveniently erases the historical context crucial to meaningfully analyze any international conflict. Secondly, it carefully excises the US role in precipitating the current situation in Gaza. It’s therefore no surprise that New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof advances this narrative in perfect form in his latest article on the topic. “Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong in the Middle East?” asks the header. According to Kristof, “this is a war in which both peoples have a considerable amount of right on their sides,” and “The failure to acknowledge the humanity and legitimate interests of people on the other side has led to cross-demonization.” Surely, it would be unwise to portray any people as uniformly demonic or uniformly angelic but what does stating this obvious truth tell us about the situation on the ground? More important is the question of what effects Israeli power has on Palestinians and vice versa.

Discarding the veracity of this “cross-demonization” claim, it’s hard to escape the fact that articles have not been published detailing how Palestinians congregate on hilltops to watch Israelis be slaughtered by US-supplied weaponry. Yet scenarios of this kind have played out in Sderot. Elsewhere in Israel, angry mobs march through the streets to chants of “Death to Arabs!” Perhaps if the genocidal character of these chants weren’t made into a reality on a regular basis they could be taken less seriously, but as the ruins of Shejaiya demonstrate, this is not the case. Nonetheless, Kristof is adamant in his illusions, writing “Israelis are absolutely correct that they have a right not to be hit with rockets by Hamas, not to be kidnapped, not to be subjected to terrorist bombings” just as much as “Palestinians are absolutely right that they have a right to a state, a right to run businesses and import goods, a right to live in freedom rather than relegated to second-class citizenship in their own land.”

Another question can be asked here, namely have Palestinians been “subjected to terrorist bombings”? If the perspective of world-renowned human rights lawyer and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Raji Sourani is of any significance, they certainly have. Appearing on Democracy Now! Sourani harshly condemned the “state-terrorism” of Israeli forces bombarding Shejaiya. When asked to respond to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that he wanted the Palestinians he was terrorizing “to be safe” Sourani responded “[Netanyahu] is the same like bin Laden.” Doubtless, Kristof would dismiss such a perspective as another temper tantrum that has become so common among Palestinians who just can’t comprehend that Israel tries to “minimize civilian casualties.” The fact that over 75% of the casualties in the latest assault are civilians, 20% of which are children, is of minor importance here. Kristof would much rather treat this as more evidence that Hamas is violent “toward its own people.”

Furthermore, Sourani failed to mention that there aren’t enough Palestinians trying to move towards “huge Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns.” Because if there’s anything that Nick Kristof is famous for, it’s his passionate commitment to world peace and “Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns.” Among the Gandhian campaigns of non-violence that Kristof has advocated in the past was when he, in the words of a FAIR media report, “[turned] a single prominent case of rape into a justification for war.” After Libyan woman Eman al-Obeidy “burst into the reporters’ hotel in Tripoli with her story of gang-rape and torture”, Kristof (in accord with his deep Gandhian principles) informed readers that if the US “had not intervened in Libya, Gadhafi forces would have reached Benghazi and there might have been thousands of Eman al-Obeidys.”

Given that Kristof was moved to the point of advocating the bombing of an entire country over the rape of a woman, it’s quite peculiar that he didn’t issue an impassioned plea for a US “humanitarian intervention” in Tel Aviv after a 2011 report surfaced detailing how Israeli authorities carried out “physical, verbal and, on occasion, sexual abuse of Palestinian children,” locked in its prisons (a violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions). Most of the child prisoners were arrested for throwing stones, a crime that just “doesn’t cut it” if you’re serious about non-violence in Kristof’s book.But most interesting is Kristof’s proposal to resolve this war on “both sides”: “For Israel, this is a chance to use diplomacy to achieve what gunpowder won’t: the marginalization of Hamas.”

So Israel must marginalize the democratically elected leadership of the territory that will play an integral role in any meaningful ceasefire proposal to ensure they don’t play a role in crafting that proposal? Implementation of this “marginalization” strategy would almost certainly close the door to any type of unity government, a goal of Prime Minister Netanyahu which scholar Norman Finkelstein highlighted as one of the factors that precipitated the current crisis. Kristof is basically advocating the reimposition of the so-called Egyptian ceasefire proposal, which in honest circles would be called the “Washington ceasefire proposal” since it was crafted in Washington with the assistance of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Similarly omitted is any reference to Hamas’ ceasefire proposal which only demands of Israel what is already demanded of it under international law namely a lifting of the state of siege against Gaza. Israeli journalist Gideon Levy described the proposal as “just” and went on to challenge Israelis to “read the list of [Hamas] demands and judge honestly whether there is one unjust demand among them.”

None of this vital historical or political context is highlighted in this “both sides” narrative, even less the fact that the US continues to legally and ideologically exonerate Israeli war criminals for these crimes under the pretext that they “have the right to defend themselves”, a right which Palestinians are unworthy of. Consequently, when State Dept. Spokesperson Jen Psaki was directly asked if Palestinians had the right to defend themselves she responded, as if perplexed by the very notion, “what are you trying to say?” It’s this doctrine–that Israel is free to carry out military aggression under the banner of “self-defense” while Palestinians are obligated to refrain from actual self-defense mislabeled as “aggression”–that illustrates just how intellectually dishonest this “both sides” narrative is. How else would one describe a narrative that allows for statements like “Israel responded to aggression by invading Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, and Gaza in 2008″ (my emphasis)? Apparently, Hezbollah is so “aggressive” that they don’t even have to cross into Israel–which is what military aggression means under international law–to commit what the Nuremberg Tribunal called the “supreme crime” of military aggression. They are plenty “aggressive” enough within their own borders. One can only speculate on the nature of Kristof’s assessment of South Africa’s “response” to Angolan “aggression” in 1975.

Anyone with a vague understanding of the historical record could dismantle these myths with considerable ease but what’s more troubling is how they endure in the pages of the purportedly “free press.” It’s quite clear that an ideological campaign has long been underway to whiteout these uncontroversial truths about Israeli crimes and the US role in promoting them. The removal or reassignment of well established mainstream journalists like NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin (now reinstated), CNN’s Diana Magnay and most recently MSNBC’s Rula Jebreal provide dramatic confirmation of this trend. So to return to Kristof’s central question: “Who’s right” in the Middle East? If this brand of journalism is any indication of where the minds of the power elite reside, it definitely isn’t the United States.











2 thoughts on “A Critique of Nick Kristof’s “Both Sides” Narrative

  1. Kristoff also omits the number of peaceful demonstrations and protests that Arabs as well as a mixture of Arabs and Jews participate in, particularly inside Israel, that are met with violent attacks from the opposing Jewish extremists and police. Israel is no democracy.

    1. You are exactly right Khatib. Kristof also overlooks the many hunger strikes that Palestinian prisoners have engaged in over the years in protest of Israeli “administrative detentions” which is a fancy word for illegal arrests. A little over two years ago I can recall an interview I had on Efad’s Radio Program SpeakUp!. This interview was on International Women’s Day (March 8th) and I mentioned the hunger strike of Hana Shalabi. Not only was Hana on hunger strike but her mother was on hunger strike as well. If this isn’t Gandhian non-violence I don’t know what is. But apparently for Kristof the Palestinian “stone-throwers” aren’t Gandhi-ing it up enough for his taste.

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