“There is no swifter route to the corruption of thought than through the corruption of language.” -George Orwell
The terrorist organization Hamas, in order to explain the massacre they committed on October 7, 2023, has produced a text entitled “Our Narrative: Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” which could be categorized as a work of fiction. The problem, however, is that more and more of the world seems to be accepting this fictional narrative as truth. From a critical perspective, the use of the word “narrative” itself should immediately render this text suspect. After all, a “narrative” is not a factual history; it is a particular account or version of the truth. In literary terms, the adjective use of the word has its roots in the Latin word, narrativus, which means “suited to narration.” The noun usage of the word appeared in the French language in the 15th century and is defined as “a tale, or a story.” Inadvertently then, the Hamas authors have revealed the false and constructed nature of what they mean to call truth. A brief look at the pamphlet shows an introduction dedicated to the Arab nations and free people everywhere who value “freedom, justice, and human dignity.” These of course are words that trigger the humanist in a process of identification. Israeli aggression is explained as the starting point for the events of October 7 which are framed with the language of oppression – the Palestinians are fighting the “occupation” and are waging a “battle for independence.” What follows, is a story of repression and colonialism, a plot including the valiant Palestinian fight for self-determination against the Israeli apartheid regime who utilizes blockades to create open air prisons. These words and phrases, heavy with a racist history of exploitation and whose brutal signification is known to all, are the linguistic arrows that strike the heart of every feeling reader.
The next goal of this document is to justify the massacre filmed on October 7 by the perpetrators in light of brutal violence which would contradict the image of proud victimhood embraced by Hamas; the logical explanation that reduces this dissonance is that the images of atrocity are actually Israeli (and American) propaganda. After listing all of the Palestinian grievances, the document tells the reader that there was no choice “but to take initiative in defending the Palestinian people, rights, land, and sanctities” – October 7 was a “defensive act.” Whatever the reader heard or even saw of the events of October 7 is not true; it is a cover up. This is because only military sites were targeted as “Islamic values” dictate that no civilians, especially children, women and elderly be harmed. In addition, the document states, whoever is being held hostage is being treated kindly by Hamas who has sought from the “earliest days of the aggression to release them.” Mass rape is denied, beheaded babies are denied, the Nova massacre is denied and blamed on an Israeli military helicopter. The final request, is for a transparent international investigation where the “truth and context of these events will be revealed and expose the scale of lies and deception.”
This historical negationism seeks to erase and renegotiate the evidence, truth, facts, and films of October 7. This behavior which we can also simply call lying is no different from Holocaust denial engaged in by so many antisemites including various Arab leaders. The difficulty however lies in the fact that while this narrative seeks to deny the horror of October 7, Hamas is actually quite invested in promoting its actions in the Arab world, in showcasing its abilities and strength and in proving it has humiliated and defeated Israel. For western sensibilities however, the atrocities are horrific and to make up for the disparity, Hamas has found the convenient tool of denial framed in the discourse of narrative theory. In an October 19 interview with the head of political and international relations Basem Naim, Times Radio’s Stig Abell pushed for a truthful acknowledgement of the murder and capture of civilians; this would disprove Naim’s claim reflected in the “Narrative” pamphlet that October 7 was a defensive war with no civilian casualties. Clearly distraught and angry, Naim reverts (in the filmed interview) several times to claiming Abell is not allowing him to tell his “story.” Naim repeats the words “story” and “narrative” several times in an unconscious acknowledgement that storytelling is at play versus truth.
Naim and Hamas propaganda would have us believe there is no real truth; there is my truth and your truth, the Palestinian truth and the Israeli truth (which he calls propaganda). As preposterous as this seems, it highlights a moral conundrum of the Orwellian world we currently inhabit where truth is dependent on who can gain more sympathy, scream louder, lie better, and register a higher body count. At first, when I read this most recent piece of propaganda, “Our Narrative,” I laughed. Could anyone be so easily duped? Then I remembered a warm summer day in June of 1944 when the international Red Cross paid a visit to the ghetto-camp Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia where Jews were starved, beaten, murdered and deported during the Holocaust; they arrived to investigate the conditions of the Jews at a time when knowledge of the Nazi extermination was widespread. The Nazis had beautified the camp, cleaned up and painted the grounds, planted flowers; in May 7,500 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. The delegation was treated to a soccer game and a children’s opera; they left, satisfied with what they had been shown. Maurice Rossel (the Swiss delegate from the International Red Cross) wrote a fifteen page report detailing the paradisal quality of the camp. Only thirty five years later, did he reveal many of his antisemitic beliefs in an interview with French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann – beliefs that had allowed him to overlook the real story. The truth he was looking for was his truth, the truth he already felt about Jews. George Orwell wrote, “In a time of deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Orwell reminds us that there is such a thing as “the truth” and we are living in a critical moment where we must shout it from the roof tops.