Prisoners of Context

Despite Israel’s abusive behavior, Palestinian resistance is never seen as warranted, writes Lawrence Davidson. Israel must respond to that resistance as matter of self-defense.

Krav Maga self-defense instructors training on the roof of the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Lawrence Davidson

One of the first things they tell you in 10th-grade biology class is that we are all submerged in an ocean of air. That is an ocean made up of 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen and 1 percent other gasses plus water vapor. 

Like a fish out of water, we can’t survive outside of this environment. However, what they don’t tell you in 10th grade, though they really should, is there are other environments just as pervasive that surround us and, for better or worse, help shape us by their content.

We are always living and behaving within a context: familial, fellowship circles, school-related, job-related, economic, political, religious and others.

If, like most people, you remain within the same relatively stable surroundings for long periods of time, your behavior will reflect your context. That is why someone born and raised in a racist environment will, barring meaningful countervailing influences, tend to be racist, etc. 

There are, of course, degrees of attachment to different elements of longstanding context. For instance, a good number of people tie themselves to a local home/work environment and are disinterested in broader issues such as politics and government.

This does not mean they have escaped the political teachings of their national culture, but it does suggest that they will be less expressive about it compared to local happenings.

You might protest that this is just all too obvious. But that is part of the problem. Just like the air you breath, your default context is so obvious that most folks never give this shaping environment any thought.

That is a problem because to really begin to understand individual or group behavior you have to understand the context out of which the behavior comes.

Here are three examples of context-driven behavior.

No. 1: Teenagers Cheer Demolition of Bedouin Village 

It was about 13 years ago that I ran across an article describing what, from my liberal American contextual setting, was really odd behavior among Israeli Jewish teenagers. Being Jewish myself this sort of reporting concerning “the only Democracy in the Middle East” interests me. The story went like this:

On July 26, 2010, Israeli police armed with tear gas, a water cannon, and two helicopters forced the 200 Bedouin residents of the southern Israeli village of al-Arakib (these were non-Jewish citizens of the State of Israel) out of their homes. 

Demolished house in Al-Araqeeb, 2010. (Emanuel Yellin, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

This sort of thing happens all the time in both the Occupied Territories and Israel within the Green Line. The vast majority of homes destroyed on a relatively regular basis are those of Palestinians.

This makes Israel’s “law of eminent domain” a weapon within a context of ethnic cleansing — so much for Israeli “Democracy.”

So far this story, within the Israeli context, is unremarkable. But then something new was added. The story actually warranted a report on CNN which included the following, “… the Israeli forces arrived in the village accompanied by busloads of civilians who cheered as the dwellings were demolished.”

Looking out from my own particular context — one that tells me racism involving young people is really bad news — this part of it all made me sit up and take notice.

As it turns out, the cheering civilians were Israeli Jewish high school students who had volunteered as “police civilian guards” to take part in this assault. And, they did more than just cheer.

According to CNN, “prior to the demolitions, the teens were sent into the villagers’ homes to remove furniture and belongings.” In the process, they vandalized the sites, “smashing windows and mirrors … and defacing family photographs.”

With the furniture piled up outside, the students “lounged around” on the now discarded sofas while waiting for the bulldozers. This was done “in plain sight of the owners.” Then, while the bulldozers were doing their work, the teens “celebrated.”

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There is no way of accurately understanding the behavior of these teenagers apart from their context — which here means their upbringing in and absorption of the community narrative of Zionist Israel.

When we are raised to one specific worldview or storyline, via nationalism, religion, tribal aggrandizement, etc., it becomes difficult for most of us to objectively think about events touching on that story. 

The Israelis are taught an historical story from early childhood that is reinforced in various ways throughout life. It is a nationalist story laced with a strong sense of victimhood. In some versions of the story it takes on a holy biblical aura. In all versions, the story becomes an identity-affirming narrative. 

It provides an explanatory “moral” rationale — the claim of self-defense — for actions and policies toward real or imagined enemies. This narrative is so dominant in the case of Israelis that its adherents can no longer recognize the existence of cause and effect.

Despite Israel’s racist and prosecutorial behavior toward Palestinians, resistance to such policies are never seen as warranted responses, and Israeli reaction against that resistance is always a matter of self-defense. This is the sort of context that creates its own world.

That was the power of the contextual situation of the teenage “police civilian guards” cheering at the destruction of a Bedouin village thirteen years ago. Today, as bombs drop on hospitals and residential blocs in Gaza, the pattern repeats itself.

No. 2 — Sadistic Ridicule

On Oct. 21, the writer and journalist Patrick Lawrence posted an article entitled “Deeper Into Depravity.” In it he shows the reader video clips of a “Youtube” variety wherein 

“Israelis record themselves sadistically ridiculing Palestinians in the most cravenly cruel manner. They imitate Palestinian children dying or starving. They apply racially offensive makeup. They laugh and dance while switching lights on and off and while ostentatiously drinking water from taps — this last to mock Gazans as Israel deprives them of power, potable water, food and much else. And I am describing the children in these videos, ranging in age from, maybe,6 or 7 to somewhere in their teens or early 20s. The mothers stand behind them, smiling with approval and delight.” 

All of this is in apparent celebration of the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Lawrence comments that 

“I am taken up now by the spectacle of human beings [the individuals on the video clips] who have allowed themselves to be destroyed in the name of an ideology that proves every bit as racist as it was when, in 1975, the U.N. General Assembly declared Zionism to be so. Resolution 3379 was revoked in 1991; it should not have been.”

Lawrence’s point here is that having been raised within the enclosed worldview of Zionism, these youngsters have become products (or perhaps victims) of that racist ideology. The making of such videos must seem natural and logical within these children’s own context.

Child looking at representations of corpses of Palestinian children in shrouds at a demonstration to end Israeli bombings of Gaza on Oct. 28. (Diane Krauthamer, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

No. 3 — Song for a Mass Bombing

On Nov. 19, Electronic Intifada managed to record a video broadcast on Israel’s national broadcaster Kan, of Israeli children singing a weirdly entitled “Friendship Song 2023,” against the visual background of the mass bombing of Gaza City. The first stanza went as follows,

“Autumn night falls over the beach of Gaza. Planes are bombing, destruction, destruction. Look the IDF is crossing the line to annihilate the swastika-bearers. In another year there will be nothing there. And we will safely return to our homes. Within a year we will annihilate everyone, And then we will return to plow our fields.”

It was removed from Kan perhaps because the station’s managers were “concerned that it could make [both them and] the channel complicit in genocide.” 

There is a precedent for such a charge when officials of a station in Rwanda were convicted of incitement to genocide. “The song and video were originally created by Ofer Rosenbaum, a so-called ‘crisis-communication expert’ who heads a public relations firm called Rosenbaum Communication.” If nothing else it shows that, within the Israeli context, there is no necessary contradiction between the sweet faces and voices of children and vitriol.

Are there Israelis, young and old, who do not see the world this way? Yes, there are. And, for each there is one or more determining causes why they have escaped the dictates of their national culture. However, these folks are exceptions and usually not in a position to influence the national culture. The majority see them as outliers.

Biden’s Blindspot

Biden in Israel, July 2022. (U.S. Embassy Jerusalem, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

The average Jewish Israeli is not the only prisoner of the Zionist worldview. U.S. President Joe Biden, a self-proclaimed Zionist, is also a captive. Raised in a pro-Israel American environment, he spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate acting in allegiance with the Zionist lobby.

Biden has held fast to a vision of Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East” and one that “shares our values.” Occasional criticism of Israeli policies, such as settlement building, and his support for a two-state solution, while sometimes vocal, never went beyond rhetoric.

The result is a real blindspot; one that prevents him from telling the difference between the relatively brief terror of Oct. 7 (which Biden described as “utter evil”) and the ongoing wholesale destruction of Gaza and its millions of occupants (for which Biden is yet to offer a condemnation). 

This blindspot follows, of course, from a persistent inability to consider an accurate and factual interpretation of Zionist history as one embracing racism and colonialism. It is an amazing act of self-deception for a politician who, we can assume, always had access to accurate information, but who could never seriously consider it because it disturbed part of the context that shaped his identity.

There are many things that go into shaping one’s personality and its expression in the day-to-day world. This complexity opens up possibilities for escaping the strong influence of one’s dominant surroundings. However, this is not going to happen in any significant way for most people. This fact is, for better or worse, what helps maintain stable community settings.

One can see this playing out in a recognizable and quite deplorable way with the youngsters in the three examples given above. Their family life, their education, their fellowship circles have certainly reinforced a racist worldview to the point where one cannot expect a whole lot of cognitive dissonance when they act out in the ways described.

They are but the tip of the iceberg. The vast number of Israeli Jews may not be mocking Palestinians on Youtube, but polls show they share the same sentiments.

Biden is their American counterpart. And, alas, he is also the president of the United States. Despite the tumult, most Americans live within a context that does not center on Israel or the fate of the Palestinians. Their context is much more local to their everyday lives.

Thus, in light of the present U.S. aid given for the massacres in Gaza, Biden is the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. And, with his jaundiced eye, he leads his fellow citizens, who are paying little attention to where they are going, down a road toward complicity in genocide.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010. 

This article is from his site,

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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23 comments for “Prisoners of Context

  1. Jeff Harrison
    December 21, 2023 at 21:07

    One can only hope that the Israelis are made to pay for the holocausts that they have unleashed on a quite literally innocent population. The Palestinians had nothing to do with the holocaust unleashed in Europe during WWII and now the Israeli’s are demonstrating that they are no better and plausibly worse than the Germans, Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian, Austrian, and Polish monsters that slaughtered the European Jews.

  2. Larry McGovern
    December 21, 2023 at 08:10

    In the “When we are raised to one specific worldview or storyline,…” vein, I am reminded (as I assume some of you similarly gray-haired readers are) of the song in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific”, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”, sung by the young naval officer about upbringing in racially prejudiced USA.

  3. December 20, 2023 at 20:35

    Those Israeli kids ” cheering at the destruction of a Bedouin village” . . .
    — isn’t that the sort of thing kids in Hitler Youth did?

  4. December 20, 2023 at 20:31

    “There are many things that go into shaping one’s personality and its expression in the day-to-day world. This complexity opens up possibilities for escaping the strong influence of one’s dominant surroundings. However, this is not going to happen in any significant way for most people.” — because they don’t want to escape. They are comfortable in their environment and escaping would involve making changes and that would risk losing their comfort zone.

    The fear of losing what they have, even when it’s little or nothing, combined with the fear of the unknown causes many people to resist change. And the fear of being cast out of one’s tribe causes most to conform.

  5. Jan
    December 20, 2023 at 13:43

    Sometimes too much is made of the Jewish identity of the perpetrators of this ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing. Yes, they make a big deal of it but these are Ashkenazi who run the Zionist enterprise. These are Germans and Eastern Europeans doing what they have done to each other this century on many occasions, such as the WWII massacres at Wolyn by Ukrainian fascists. That is what they really are. Zionism is no more than a dishonest use of Judaism to mask yet another European colonial aggression.

    • Jeffrey Blankfort
      December 21, 2023 at 01:41

      Jan, I suggest you read the less well known passages in Deuteronomy, the third chapter of the Torah, in which Moses chastises the Jews who have been camping in the desert for not appreciating the critical help the god their ancestors invented had provided in allowing those earlier generations of Jews to carry out multiple genocides against peoples who had never harmed them. Whether these unspeakable crimes ever happened is irrelevant. Orthodox and Hassidim who study the Torah every day believe that they did and even though the antagonism between the religious and the secular is palpable the violence of the Jews against their ancient enemies, the most handy of which is Amalek, permeates the secular culture, as well. Zionism is essentially weaponized Judaism.

      There is another thing that separates Israel and its ardent Jewish supporters from the rest of the world and it can be summed up in a single word, sayan with, of course, its plural, sayanim. It is a word that exists in no other language than Hebrew and was created after Israel was established and assumes, by its definition, that the primary loyalty of every Jew on the planet will be to Israel. Literally, a sayan is a Jew not living in Israel who is ready and willing to do favors for the state of Israel that would be inappropriate if not illegal if carried out by an Israeli. These favors can be providing a “safe house,” special intelligence, or more likely, initiating or participating in campaigns targeting news media or members of Congress who dare criticize Israel or taking part in any number of Jewish organizations whose only raison d’etre, is serving Israel and at the moment, they, en toto, dominate every sector of US society that has anything to do with Israel.

      At the moment, the actions of the sayanim have succeeded in setting the US apart from the rest of the world on the genocide of Gaza. To call it a fifth column would not be extreme.

  6. Rogers Rowboat
    December 20, 2023 at 09:47

    We have a ‘democracy’ where the leaders do not speak to the people.

    President Biden does not hold Press Conferences. And when he does, they are so stilted and rigged, that he can be photographed carrying the ‘answers’ out to the podium.

    The President does not explain actions to the people. He chants a couple of slogans. Self-Defense is Good! Killing Russians is Good! Then he stumbles off the stage, hoping to remain upright. Same with the rest of the politicians. They chant slogans, but there is no discussion.

    Unpopular politicians, who won’t talk to the people. Both Congress and the President have horribly low approval ratings. This is not what democracy looks like.

    If we are going to nuke the world in the name of Democracy, shouldn’t we have one first? Of course, that means letting the people vote on the nuking the world part, and since ‘the wrong side’ would win that election, we are told that we have to nuke the world first, and accept the solemn pledges that in the rubble we will then be able to finally allowed to create a democracy.

  7. Rogers Rowboat
    December 20, 2023 at 09:32

    Join the Genocide Fleet.
    Send your young people to fight to protect Genocide!
    Those evil-doers want to prevent Genocide. This must not be allowed to stand! We have to show them who is Boss!
    Your nation can join the USA in having military actively engaged in the protection of Genocide. We are willing to share our ‘glory’.
    Join the Genocide Fleet today!

    Current nations able to claim the right to add “Defenders of Genocide” to their King or Queen’s Title:
    United States of America, United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain.

    The people of these nations should be proud. Without their assistance, it is possible that the Genocide might be forced to stop.

    Join the Genocide Fleet today!

    • Valerie
      December 20, 2023 at 12:32

      I can understand all the “genocide fleet” participants RR as they have relations with Israel. But this struck me as somewhat ambiguous behaviour:

      “MANAMA, Nov 2 (Reuters) – Bahrain said on Thursday that the Gulf state’s ambassador to Israel had returned home and the Israeli ambassador in Manama had left the kingdom “a while ago”, confirming an earlier statement by parliament linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

      The government statement did not confirm that economic ties had been severed, as the parliament had earlier stated, but said that flights between the two countries had been suspended for several weeks.”

      It seems they can’t make up their mind either way.

  8. December 19, 2023 at 17:39

    Thank you, Mr. Davison for this article. During the last two months of my intensive study of the war in Gaza, I have found myself repeatedly being boiling-over angry at the Israelis and their loathesome behavior. It was good to be reminded that the Jews in Israel are victims of their context. This will help me refocus on the misbehavior without the load of anger I have been carrying.

    • Dfnslblty
      December 19, 2023 at 20:08

      Nonsense, professor Davidson.
      Biden is NOT one-eyed, and Biden is NOT leading!
      Protestors are current events — not historical! And protestors do NOT follow Biden!
      Genocide is current — until you, professor, call it historical.
      Please stop giving usa and Biden a pass on the current genocide in Palestine.

      • J Anthony
        December 20, 2023 at 08:15

        Idk how you read that as Davidson “giving usa and Biden a pass”, that’s not what I read. Seems clear enough he was merely explaining how the racist and violent mindset is inherent in Israeli/Zionist culture.

  9. Selina Sweet
    December 19, 2023 at 17:19

    A well reasoned exposition of “normal” behavior. In contexts where racism (and any other
    kind of “ism”) is normalized. Violence and gun carrying, too.
    One definition of sin is something “off the mark.” Mark meaning deep existential truth.
    How rare are leaders possessed by wisdom, capable of essential discriminations made
    by the synergy of heart and mind and body from experience. President Biden is an example of a human whose
    conditioning has severed him from his instincts. I wonder how an elephant would respond
    to the wantonness of the Israelis’ behavior? Or an octopus? The quality of Biden and his team of
    Blinken, Sullivan, Nuland et al seems cut from the same skewed narrow/superficial consciousness.
    Blind spot. An apt descriptor. And wholly devastatingly surreal-ly awe-full. Such terrible hubris.
    Acting out God(-like).

    Please, now, explore those who’ve escaped the binding narrowness of views of the community.
    How do they evolve the capacity to see and know more “large-ly/deeply/true-ly”? A person who
    is “trued.” The synonyms of which include: “accurate appropriate authentic bona fide correct genuine honest legitimate natural normal perfect proper pure sincere truthful typical.”(

    Thank you for an essay laced with an objectivity and calmness most unusual – given the theme.

  10. December 19, 2023 at 16:46

    It’s rather disturbing that Israeli children and youngsters can easily become the product (or victims) of a society justifying racism and abuse of others.
    It’s been 75 years since the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 and it seems they still have a huge mountain to climb.

  11. Robert Marcus
    December 19, 2023 at 15:46

    “Were there not an Israel the United States would have to invent an Israel to protect our interests in the region.” -Joe Biden
    There it is straight from the horse’s ass’s mouth – the burning of women and children alive by the tens of thousands is to protect our interests in the region. Oil interests. The U.S. is complicit in genocide (yet again) and while the Israelis are justifying it on biblical ideology, we’re doing it for oil, which is even worse.

    They would need to build a lot of prisons to house all the criminals should they ever convict all those that are responsible for genocide. From Jimmy (the butcher) Carter to Barack (nobody loves war more) Obama and beyond, they should all be doing life without parole. Not to mention thousands of senators and congressmen including the fake progressives Sanders, AOC, and all the rest of the neonazis who vote against an occasional war just to say they did, but vote for most of them. Sanders brags that he can’t wait to be president so he can commit more war crimes like the one in Serbia. Ask yourself how far to the left you have to go to escape the war criminals. Even Noam Chomsky has been pimping for war criminals for a long time, e.g. Biden, Obama, etc. Consortium News stands practically alone in taking a position of sanity.

    • Dave Grounds
      December 20, 2023 at 03:27

      I’ve read a lot of Noam Chomsky’s material over many years but I haven’t seen any pimping for war criminals. Perhaps you could enlighten me with the evidence?

  12. Daedalus
    December 19, 2023 at 15:39

    Thank you, Mr. Davidson. You ‘hooked’ me after your opening paragraphs. I have recently seen us as swimming (drowning) in a vast sea of propaganda, prisoners to our penchant for our unique (and limited) methods of communication. The ocean tides wash over us. Escape is almost impossible.

    Every now and then, however, an individual manages to pop their head above the surface. Thank you for your attempt at illumination as we approach a new Dark Age.

  13. Emma M.
    December 19, 2023 at 13:42

    Here is the mentioned Electronic Intifada article, for anyone interested:


    The song and accompanying video is one of the most sickening things I ever recall seeing, for reasons not entirely clear to me as to why I would feel that way compared to other atrocities or celebrations thereof. There is for some reason something uniquely nauseating to me about such casual delight and celebration of genocide in this form, as there also is with the mentioned depraved Israeli Youtube/Tiktok videos, which somehow to me are harder to watch than even an ISIS execution video.

  14. Drew Hunkins
    December 19, 2023 at 13:23

    During Israel’s current ethnic cleansing operation in Gaza against Palestinian infants, women and toddlers, the Israeli Defense [sic] Forces have now taken to committing ugly and sickening field-executions in the street of unarmed Palestinian civilian non-combatants.

    The IDF lines up unarmed men in civilian clothes in the south of Gaza (the south of Gaza, remember, the area Israel demanded Palestinians flee to for safety), binds their hands together behind their backs with zip ties, and promptly shoots them in the back of their heads.

    It appears not one member of our ruling class in Washington has spoken out against these revolting crimes against humanity.

    • Selina Sweet
      December 19, 2023 at 17:38

      I’ve sent multiple emails and called as many times to my Washington State Senators Murray and Cantwell every week
      imploring, demanding, scolding them into standing up for a permanent ceasefire. In my calls, it’s become relatively
      rare to get a staff member. I ask them what the rationale is for the Senators’ enduring silence on the matter. “I don’t know,” comes the reply. Dumbfounding. Weeks of this. Never has the separation been so absolutely clearly etched between me as “citizen” and they as “government”.
      Of course, basic to representative democracy is the give and take between citizen and representative. When there is a wall
      of silence erected by your representatives, the most intense feeling becomes impotence. Chilling. Alarming. Pregnant with possible significations.

      • Lois Gagnon
        December 20, 2023 at 00:15

        I have the same issue in Massachusetts with congress critters not responding to queries about Israel/Gaza. It seems we no longer have a government. We have an empire that acts on its imperial ambitions to encircle the globe, to stamp out all independent resistance. The cost to life on earth is inconsequential to the emperor’s court (congress.) They are the prisoners of that context.

        Indoctrination of the mind is frighteningly easy.

      • Drew Hunkins
        December 20, 2023 at 00:30

        It’s sickening the silence, censorship, deplatforming and outright ignoring of concerned people who know what the reality is.

        We’re dealing with extreme Zionist supremacism which is a supremacism that’s one of the most malicious, sadistic, and powerful the world has ever known.

        I’ve been studying this topic since I first debated against Zionism in a political sci class during my undergrad days c. 1991. So I’m sort of used to witnessing the power the Zionists wield at every level of govt and private industry. I’m seeing young activists for the first time truly understanding what this is all about.

        Stay strong.

      • Mark Stanley
        December 20, 2023 at 11:43

        Good work Selina, but you are asking the wolves to guard the henhouse. Patty and Maria have been in the game too long. How long now?

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