Duke Professor’s Distorted Lens into Israel/Palestinian Conflict
Israel exhibits a “colonial systematology about nativeness” in the treatment of online smartphone pictures of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stated Duke University associate professor of anthropology Rebecca Stein during a Nov. 4 webinar.
This presentation, at George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies (IMES). of her new book, Screen Shots: State Violence on Camera in Israel and Palestine, exposed her incorrigible anti-Israel bias.
That bias is evident in her Duke classroom, where last spring she announced to her class on social media in the Middle East that “she doesn’t care what prior knowledge or experience [class members] have on the topic,” as the only documents to be discussed were those she introduced.
As IMES associate director Shana Marshall moderated, Stein explained how her book examines the effects of widely disseminated smartphone cameras among clashing Israelis and Palestinians. These “proliferating cameras across the political theater of military occupation in the hands of all constituents” are “all aimed at the scene of state violence.” “A lot of this book is spent in the offices of B’Tselem, Israel’s oldest human rights organization” from 2010-2016, she added, a whitewashed description for a militantly anti-Israel organization.
B’Tselem and Stein, both supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) economic warfare campaign against Israel, are ideological allies. She has previously described the 2000-2005 Second Intifada’s bloody terrorism as amounting to “mass demonstrations.” She has also praised the “Israel Studies” program at Birzeit University near Ramallah, a historic breeder of anti-Israel violence dubbed “Terrorist University” by some. In another book presentation, she claimed that Israel’s “occupation has been going on since 1967 and has been expanding and normalizing ever since,” even though Israel has withdrawn from significant Palestinian territories like the Gaza Strip.
Such perspective distorts the lens through which Stein sees images from Israeli and Palestinian cameras, which she contrasts morally in the starkest terms. In Israel “digital media technologies were being pulled into perpetrator toolboxes,” she said. Israeli military and “Jewish-Israeli publics” use cameras “to prop up the military occupation” and “exonerate perpetrators.”
While Stein condemned Israeli soldiers’ personal snapshots as “selfie-militarism,” the smartphones of Palestinians and supposed Israeli human rights workers like at B’Tselem somehow always capture the truth. These “cameras are trying to do very different things,” she said, working “to deliver justice in military courtrooms, to change Israeli and international hearts and minds with regard to the occupation, to gather a body of legal evidence.”
Stein and George Washington University associate professor of Media and Public Affairs Imani Cheers both discussed the book’s section about Hebron in the disputed West Bank territories. The latter reinforced these comments’ anti-Israel slant by stating that “I still have nightmares from my time in Hebron.” The conversation focused on Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, a Palestinian who on March 24, 2016, “was engaged in an attempted assault on an Israeli soldier” in Hebron, Stein noted.
An Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, killed Sharif as he lay wounded on the ground in what “human rights onlookers clearly called an execution” based on video evidence, Stein said. Yet Azaria, a decorated soldier, claimed he saw Sharif’s arm move toward what he believed was a suicide bomb. These facts explain her otherwise baffling comment that, “for the vast majority of the Jewish-Israeli public, this was a celebratory moment,” a “moment of heroism.” Nonetheless, against widespread Israeli protests, the Israeli military held what she dismissed as a “performative show trial” to convict the “bad apple” Azaria.
Stein’s references to the claimed killing of twelve-year-old Muhammad Al-Dura on September 30, 2000, by Israeli soldiers further proved there is always more than meets her eye. Filmed images of Dura and his father sheltering from gunfire at a Gaza Strip intersection became a global cause célèbre, but extensive investigation in the following decades has debunked what was a Palestinian staged hoax. The Dura incident is merely one in a long list of “Pallywood” fabrications, yet she marveled how after this modern blood libel falsehood, accusations against Palestinians have “become such a persuasive charge.”
Fact-checking Palestinian victimhood narratives by subjecting them to forensic tests is part of an Israeli “repudiation script” to “call Palestinian footage false,” Stein claimed. It is simply, she said, an “attempt to take colonial argumentation, colonial processes, and update them for the digital age.” “Within a mainstream Israeli and rightwing, now mainstream, mindset,” the “Palestinians are unreliable narrators of the violence to which they themselves are subject. They are impossible witnesses,” in her terms. “All Palestinians lie” is the basic Israeli view, she asserted without acknowledging any reasons for skepticism, for “this is a very old colonial storyline, not unique to Israel/Palestine; the native cannot be believed.”
In B’Tselem’s Jerusalem offices, Stein herself saw her fantasies collide with hard facts. B’Tselem staff often discerned in Palestinian videos an “inevitable failure to persuade legal systems or Israeli public of the realities of Israeli occupation” or “of continued human rights abuses,” she said. She also bemoaned the logistical hurdles presented by Israeli courts that have demanded access to original film footage on videotape or memory sticks when adjudicating Palestinian claims – standard court procedures worldwide.
In the Palestinian experience Stein has seen the “dream that transparency equals justice,” a “digital promise, unravel.” She has previously critiqued the “digital utopianism” during the 2010-2011 “Arab Spring,” which she uncritically described to IMES in her see-no-Islamism worldview as “landmark Arab revolts.” Thus, she wants “to rethink the story of the organically liberatory technology” of smartphone cameras and social media, language that reminded why one sympathetic reviewer noted that “Screen Shots is replete with academic jargon.”
No matter how much technology advances, anti-Israel academic activists like Stein view reality through a distorted lens. Their conclusion of Palestinians resisting Israeli colonial crimes is pre-scripted and not based on any body of evidence. Only objective scholarship seeking truth, not better visuals, can remedy the moral rot of Middle East studies, exemplified by Stein and her ilk.
Image: PXFuel, royalty-free photo
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