Helen Thomas and the truth about Palestine

Nothing has depressed me more this week than the Helen Thomas affair. If you cannot have a controversial opinion after nine decades on the planet then when can you have one?

Thomas had to “retire in disgrace” after she said the Jews should leave Palestine. She knows what she was talking about. All her working life she has watched the disaster unfolding in the region since Israel’s independence in 1948. In an age where media allow governments to get away with lies about “the peace process”, a journalist of almost 70 years standing losing her job when she call a spade a spade even when it’s a particularly dirty shovel, is particularly odious.

Palestinians can trace a 2,000 year old link of habitation with their land, while the Jewish Diaspora of Europeans, Russians and Africans have been there at most a 100 years. The Jews must reach into their religion to find their ancient connection with Israel. Given how they have battered the original inhabitants into submission, it takes little imagination to imagine Palestine as a Holy Land without the xenophobes that now administer the country in Jerusalem (a capital recognised by no other country).

Thomas is no fool. She knows she has no power to change facts and knows the Israelis are going nowhere. She has seen first hand how US support and military hardware makes the Knesset well-nigh invincible. With the blessing of every president since Eisenhower (the first of 11 presidents Thomas reported on) Israel have increased their stranglehold on Palestine. Thomas could see how they turned the West Bank into a mess of powerless Bantustans and how they have bombed the Gaza Strip back into stateless inertia.

So when this knowledgeable near 90 year old is asked a leading question by a Jewish rabbi “Any comments on Israel?” it is hardly wonder she should reply “I think the Jews should get out of Palestine.”

It was the word “Jews” that hung her. If she had said “I think the Israelis should get out of Palestine” it would have been free from the hoary charge of “anti-Semitism”, a cliché that shows no understanding of what a Semite is.

Perhaps Thomas realised this or perhaps she didn’t. She is 89 years old after all. But she did quickly realise the effect her words would have on the mediated public sphere, given she is a product of it. She chose to fall on her own sword rather than have to justify a position outside the US mainstream.

Thomas’s Cassandra-like words exposed her to political deviance. That is unsustainable when American public trust is based on the media lie Israel is never wrong.

Thomas is old enough to remember another event in the same year as Israel’s independence. In 1948, the Russians imposed a blockade on West Berlin aimed at starving it out of political existence. The western powers led by the US defeated it using outrage and ingenuity.

The blockade of Gaza deserves similar outrage regardless of the legitimacy of the Hamas Government. 400,000 people are being systematically starved by a government in a brutal piece of collective punishment. In any other context, this would be called genocide. Shutting an old woman up won’t make it any better.


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