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Guterres, Gaza and the consequences of countering ‘Israelspeak’

On top of its genocidal escapades in the Gaza Strip, the state of Israel is now also having a hissy fit.

The tantrum is primarily directed at United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who in recent remarks before the UN Security Council in New York had the audacity to point out the bleeding obvious. “It is important to … recognise the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum,” Guterres said, in reference to the October 7 Hamas operation that Israel sees as justifying the slaughter of more than 7,000 Palestinians in less than three weeks.

The Secretary-General continued: “The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.” Had Guterres wanted to fill in the vacuum a little more, he could have mentioned the past 75 years of ethnic cleansing, dispossession and massacres suffered by Palestinians at the hands of Israel, which has now added forced starvation to its deadly anti-Palestinian arsenal.

Notwithstanding his vacuum observation, Guterres apparently found it necessary to abide by the unwritten rule that you must never criticise Israel – however indirectly – without criticising the other side, as well. And so he declared that the “grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas” – never mind that the attacks in question would never have taken place in the absence of three-quarters of a century’s worth of Israeli-induced “grievances”.

At any rate, the glimmer of context was still more than Israel could handle, and Israeli officials went about registering their displeasure in typical grown-up fashion. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen cancelled his scheduled meeting with Guterres in New York, and Israel’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan announced petulantly that Israel would henceforth refuse visas to UN representatives, starting with Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths.

Warning that “the time has come to teach them [the UN] a lesson”, Erdan took to the platform X (formerly known as Twitter) to accuse Guterres of “distort[ing] and twist[ing] reality” with his vacuum comment, and called for the UN leader’s resignation.

In reality, of course, it is Israel that presides over a calculated assault on reality, dependent as the Israeli narrative is on an absolute vacuum of truth when it comes to the Palestinians. Call it “Israelspeak”, if you will: a language in which mass murderers are victims, killing children is self-defence, left is right, up is down and black is white.

And as we’ve just seen with Guterres, not even the slightest diversion from this counter-reality is permissible, lest the whole edifice come tumbling down. In short: if your mouth is not permanently and unwaveringly puckered up next to Israel’s rear end, you’re on the side of the “terrorists”.

To be sure, Israel has never had the greatest relationship with the UN – despite the fact that the international body is largely to thank for signing off on Israel’s existence in the first place. In recent years, Israel’s relations with the organisation have mainly consisted of ignoring all resolutions pertaining to Israeli crimes against Palestinians and intermittently engaging in crimes against the UN itself, such as bombing UN institutions and personnel.

In July 2006 in the southern Lebanese town of Khiam, for example, the Israeli military disregarded consecutive warnings before bombing a UN post and killing four unarmed UN observers from Austria, Canada, China and Finland. This episode took place in the context of a 34-day Israeli assault on Lebanon that killed some 1,200 people, the majority of them civilians; then as now – surprise, surprise – the United States agitated at the UN against a ceasefire.

As for attacks on the UN in Palestine, the Times of Israel reported on October 12 – five days into the latest round of carnage – that 11 UN staff and 30 students at UN-run schools had thus far been killed in the Gaza Strip. Among the staff were five teachers, a counsellor, an engineer and a gynaecologist.

This, mind you, was almost two weeks before the UN was elevated to the status of semiofficial enemy of Israel on account of Guterres’ willingness to deploy a bit of truth against Israelspeak.

Granted, this was not the secretary-general’s first transgression. In May 2021, during an 11-day Israeli onslaught on Gaza that killed some 260 people, including 67 children, the UN chief stated: “If there is a hell on Earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza.” But not even hell, it seems, is exempt from the “both sides” requirement, and Guterres went on to denounce as “unacceptable” the mostly ineffective rocket fire directed at Israel by Hamas.

Now, life in Gaza has become significantly more hellish for all involved, while Israel continues to push its forcible inversion of reality and usurped victimhood down everyone’s throats.

In his anti-Guterres rant on (the ex-Twitter) X, Israeli UN envoy Erdan contended that “a Secretary-General who does not understand that the murder of innocents can never be understood by any ‘background’ cannot be Secretary-General”.

What, then, should be said of a state that does not understand exactly that?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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