How the Palestinians Use Gaslighting to Win in a Post-Truth World
Or, as we've been facetiously saying since the start of this war: "gaza-lighting."
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A week into the current Israel-Hamas war, as Israel was starting to respond to Hamas’ October 7th terror attacks, someone replied to one of my Instagram posts about Hamas killing and kidnapping dozens of Israeli children.
“I mean, no one wants dead Palestinian children either,” he said.
At first I didn’t know how to reply — How does one morally defend the killing of children of any nationality? — but then I realized that there was something much deeper here. Something bizarrely deceptive. It wasn’t just a conversation about innocent children, to whomever they were born and wherever they may be living.
It was an attempt at psychological manipulation whereby a perpetrator commits atrocities and then uses the victim’s response to distort or reimagine the perpetrator’s actions. In other words: gaslighting. Or, as we’ve been facetiously saying since the start of this war: “gaza-lighting.”
The concept of gaslighting originated from Patrick Hamilton’s play, “Gas Light,” first performed in London in 1938. The plot revolves around a man (Gregory) intent on convincing his wife (Paula) that she’s insane, so he can gain access to her inherited jewels. At first, the relationship is tranquil, but small pockets of perplexing anger stir up.
Gregory intentionally hides a brooch and blames his wife for losing it. He places his own watch in her purse when she’s not looking, blames her for stealing it, and then later discovers the watch in her purse while she is in the company of several friends, to whom Gregory had warned earlier about Paula’s unstable condition. These incidents not only confuse and upset Paula, but contribute to her sense of isolation and conviction that she is indeed becoming mentally ill.
Gaslighting became a concept within psychoanalytic literature, where it is depicted as a transfer of psychic conflicts from the perpetrator to the victim. Those who gaslight don’t always have a clear destination or end goal. Instead their target is conscious manipulation fostered by repetitive performative acts which guarantee that the reality of their targets is altered or continuously up for debate, which ends up in a conflict of emotions versus facts.
Similarly, the idea of post-truth — Oxford Dictionary’s “word of the year” in 2016 — symbolizes a 21st-century theatrical performance anchored in the art of scheming, denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to intense emotion and paranormal belief.
In politics, gaslighting goes beyond a strategy of winning over voters, building a support base, or dealing with competition. Rather, political gaslighting is a favored tactic deployed by narcissistic and aggressive personalities focused on doing whatever it takes to acquire and maintain an expanding position of advantage over others. It is why, for example, both Hamas and the Houthis started out as social-religious movements, only to become robust terror organizations.
During the Second Intifada, the Palestinian Authority incorporated Islam into its political rhetoric and added jihad to its agenda. In other words, the Authority made a killing out of convincing Palestinians to murder themselves and as many Jews as possible, in the name of “resistance” and “liberation.” Why? Because the Authority knew that it would gain even more support financially and politically within the Arab and Muslim worlds, much like Al-Qaeda did later.
According to a report from 2001, during the Second Intifada’s initial year, the amount of money officially donated to the Palestinian Authority jumped 80 percent, from $555 million to more than $1 billion.
One graphic being circulated on Twitter superbly describes this twisted reality: “Certainly Islamic jihad uses mosques for military purposes. It is a holy war. But the best part is when Israel attacks them. Then we can whine to the world that Israel is bombing our holy places!”
The essence of political gaslighting is, therefore, a case of disorientating and destabilizing people, the media, and other institutions. Gaslighters create and harness people’s self-doubt, deflect blame onto others or their opponents, ruin others’ accepted realities, and consolidate their altered reality based on emotions and sheer partisan loyalty.
This is one of the reasons that Palestinian leaders are not worried about (and therefore do little about) what the rest of the world is so concerned with: destruction and death in Gaza and the West Bank. On the contrary, endless images of dead Palestinians are proof to the world that “Israel is committing genocide” — which politically, financially, and otherwise supports their gaslighting-charged causes.
Furthermore, gaslighting is a strategy that attracts wholly partisan followers and thrives in the era of identity politics. You cannot hold both liberal and conservative views, or support both Hamas and the Fatah (which runs the Palestinian Authority), or subscribe to a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s either one program or the other, our way or the highway.
Gaslighting is also a strategy that begets authoritarianism, the enforcement and advocacy of strict obedience to agents with status (“those who command”) who, at the expense of personal freedoms, disseminate demands to their subordinate followers. Such demands create potential correlative duties to which “those who obey” must comply by performing certain acts or public demonstrations that directly or indirectly drive division and reward certain groups (such as, in the Palestinian territories, Muslims and Jew-haters).
Quite literally, both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority dole out millions in grants to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons and their families, a self-perpetuating reward system that produces exponentially more terror, imprisoned terrorists, and “Martyrs.” To be sure, these grants are subject to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of if and how beneficiaries will support certain Palestinian factions, with those linked to terror activities often receiving more than others.1
Humanitarian organizations, like the United Nations and its agencies, as well as the International Red Cross and World Health Organization, have also become “those who obey” the Arab world’s demands, ostensibly for money, in return for being their mouthpieces and servants. If Qatar of all countries can bribe FIFA’s decision-makers to host the World Cup, only God knows that virtually everyone who runs these international organizations are proverbial “prostitutes.” That is, they all have a price, and the Arabs can easily outbid many others.
Thus, gaslighting as a sociopolitical strategy in an increasingly post-truth world means that every universally held fact is substituted with the demands of the political agent. Lying, misleading, and distorting (so long as they’re wedded to ideology) are perfectly acceptable.
Hence why, for instance, thousands of Palestinians and their supporters just tried to convince us, in time for Christmas, that Jesus Christ was a “Palestinian prophet” and “being Christian is to stand with the oppressed in Palestine” — because acknowledging that Jesus was a Jew means acknowledging Jews lived in Judea thousands of years ago, which means acknowledging Jewish indigenousness way before Arabs from Arabia migrated to and Arabicized the Levant, which means acknowledging Jewish rights in this land — a big turn-off for Jew haters, anti-Zionists, and terrorist sympathizers.
Ironically, the Arabic word for Jew is “yahud” because Jews are the people of Yahuda (Judea), presently called Israel. But as one reader commented to me, “Unfortunately in this antisemitic world, the truth does not set you free.”
Instead, factual truths are overshadowed with “social facts” — a term coined by sociologist Émile Durkheim to illustrate “category of facts with very distinctive characteristics: it consists of ways of acting, thinking, and feeling, external to the individual, and endowed with a power of coercion, by reason of which they control him.”2
This, at least, can help us understand the seemingly nonsensical, contradictory, and unsupported assertions that underlie Palestinian arguments, ranging from their indigenousness to the Levant, to describing Gaza as an “open air prison” with the highest population density on Earth. (It’s actually Manila in the Philippines, in case you were wondering.)
Consequently, post-truth politics and political communications subdue or even outlaw free speech altogether. Even in liberal democracies like the United States, free speech is not what it used to be.
At Harvard University, for example, the term “fatphobia” constitutes violence and “using wrong pronouns” is considered abuse. (But don’t forget: “Globalize the intifada” requires context.) People defending the virtue of free speech are doing so because they want to normalize hate speech, or shut down legitimate responses to it. And the very same people voice their nominal support for “free speech at all costs” in one breath, and then call for the censorship of views they despise in another.
Across the Arab world, free speech is virtually nonexistent. Both Hamas and Fatah, for example, regularly censor dissidents and peace activists. One Palestinian entrepreneur was arrested by the Palestinian Authority (run by Fatah) just because he advocated for more business-friendly conditions. And Hamas has used an outpatient clinic at Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital and military complex in Gaza, to interrogate, torture, and kill dissidents in an operation known as “Strangling Necks.”
But mainstream Palestinian education, media, and politics have composed a popular narrative that brainwashes Palestinians into thinking, no matter how absurdly corrupt their leaders are, and no matter how much their leaders don’t care about their basic wellbeing, Israel is entirely to blame for their suffering, troubles, and misery. Economic and political development in the Palestinian territories, it is claimed, can only move forward if Israel withdraws from the West Bank and voids its security requirements for border movement — the same border movement that led to many of the 1,000 Israeli deaths during the Second Intifada.
Thus, gaslighting is the deciding doctrine of who gets to say what, when, and in what manner (acceptable or unacceptable, objective facts or utter buffoonery). And this is why political gaslighting has the potential to debilitate democratic institutions, endanger Israel’s existence, give rise to Islamic hegemony across Europe and Asia, and a host of other dire developments.
So the next time that someone brings up “Palestinian children” (or the like), kindly remind them that it’s the Palestinians’ responsibility to take care of their own children.
Ask them: Don’t you find it weird how many adults around the world seem to care more about Palestinian children than Palestinian adults seem to care about their own?
Tell them that Hamas employs Palestinian children to build its tunnels, teaches them at “summer camps” how to shoot rifles and kidnap Israelis, uses them as human shields, and surrounds its leaders with children at public gatherings so it’s harder to assassinate them. During this war, Hamas has even coaxed young children into deceiving IDF soldiers and thus revealing their positions, so terrorists can attack them.
But most of all, make sure they know that gaslighting is not going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
James J.F. Forrest, "Conclusion", in James Dingley, Combating Terrorism in Northern Ireland, Routledge, 2008 pp. 280–300 .
Durkheim, Emile. “What Is a Social Fact?” In The Rules of Sociological Method. New York: The Free Press.