July 1, 2014 Airport Hasbara

The talk on the cab radio is all about the murder of the three settler teens, their bodies were found. I am too disconnected to know the awful details, but I recognize the outraged voices and the words Hamas and Philistini over and over. A great sadness and fear settles over me. I worry about my Palestinian friends and feel for the mothers of the dead boys and tremble at what wave of rage Netanyahu will unleash now. I suspect he will use this catastrophe to make a big attempt to destroy Hamas and eliminate the unity government, but that is a private speculation.

The airport feels remarkably normal; as Jonathan Cook noted last week, there are no more security attack lines and I feel less under siege. One female security guard asks me if I received any gifts in Israel and I brain scan the contents of my bags and decide to say, “Yes.”

“What?”

“Embroidery.”

“Embroidery?”

“You know, handicrafts.”

“Where from?”

“Jerusalem”

“From whom?”

My tired mind freezes, what would be a reasonable answer? Why did I say yes? In that split second, the security officer goes on the offensive.

“You do not know her name?” Is she really accusing me of accepting a gift from a stranger (something really dangerous like an embroidered wall hanging that says “Welcome to our home”), or is the tone and aggressiveness just cultural or both. I come up with a safe and reasonable friend with an Italian name and American citizenship. My bags are tagged, I check my fellow travelers’ bags and they have the same tags as me. Either we are all in trouble or we are all okay. I sail through the security check; it fascinates me that liquids, water bottles, and shoes are not a threat here. Does anyone know what they are doing? A repeating video reassures us that the baggage screening in Ben Gurion Airport is the most modern, high tech in the world so no worries. We have everything under control.

Passport control is a piece of cake; apparently I am not in their system, as it should be. After all, I have not done anything illegal.

There is always a major photo exhibit on the long ramp into the duty free zone and food court and this year it is on civil aviation. I study the framing and language, after all, this is Israel’s final chance at hasbara (propaganda messaging) for all the happy tourists going home to spread the word about the miracles of Zionism.

As would be expected, the tone is heroic, nationalistic, and full of struggle and victory: “Hundred years after the first airplane touched the ground of the Promised Land, the Israeli Airports Authority makes revolution in the aviation world?” My quirky brain asks, “Promised Land” for whom exactly? It all started with a French aviator landing on a Tel Aviv Beach in 1913. There are frequent references to “?Eretz Yisrael’ (Israel)”; again the actual translation would be the Land of Israel and the real name of the place at that time was inconveniently Palestine.

The makers of the exhibit understand the vast arc of history:

“Evolution of the civil aviation in the 1930s didn’t skip the Jewish population in ?Eretz Yisrael’ (Israel). The Jewish national institutions’ leaders fully understood the economic and security importance of the Jewish aviation for the future of the Jewish population.” It is interesting that Palestine Airways was started in 1937 in what is referred to as “Lydda (Lod),” an unexpected nod to an Arab city now renamed and transformed. On the other hand, the messaging is clearly reflective of Zionist mythology building, “From its first days, the civil aviation in Israel was interlinked with the Zionist ethos and symbolized the technological progress.” Of note, the early aviation clubs and flight schools in the 1930s were linked to the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization, and to the Irgun, described as “The national military organization of the land of Israel.” No mention of who they were fighting and the political assumptions of Jewish exceptionalism and violence undergirding the effort (wrong story).

There are archival photos of the Yemenite “Operation Magic Carpet” in 1949 and the Ethiopian Jews arriving with the “Moses Operation” from 1984 to 1985, flown from refugee camps in Sudan through Belgium to Israel. A document reviews the many clandestine flights from Yemen and Iraq from 1948 to 1952, from the Soviet Union from the 1970s to 1990s, and then the Ethiopians in the 1980s. The language fascinates me: the references to some mythical Arabic tale or biblical exodus. This was all demographics disguised as rescue, from what I can see. We need more Jews; the Holocaust decimated the preferred type, so now we will take Arabs and Blacks and even not exactly Jewish Russians. Am I being too cynical?

The archival photos reveal pilots who are all white Ashkenazi men, and then there is the Arab worker with some kind of machine, labeled “aerospace industry production worker,” probably Yemenite. The racial and class differences are already apparent if you care to look.

The airplanes were called the “Iron Birds” and the pilots “the Knights of the Skies”; again the messaging is all strength and heroism that leads to the establishment of modern Israeli companies, now celebrating ten years after the construction of this current snazzy terminal “One of the most modern security inspection systems in the world.” Translation: Israel will keep you safe.

Passengers are left with messaging that is full of nostalgia without all the messy details, reflections on past struggles and victories to come. Tell the world the glorious story of Israel as you head towards the glittering Duty Free zone. There is no occupation, no Apache helicopters in Gaza, no dead settler children, no Palestinian resistance or for that matter, Palestinian anything. As I said, with my binocular vision, a great sadness and fear settles over me.

Obviously, I didn’t get the message.