States & Truth

Dan Hanrahan
3 min readOct 27, 2023

States lie. Some more, some less, but they all lie. Indeed, they must lie because they understand that there are times when if they tell the public what they are really doing or why they are really doing it, the public will oppose it. The US is a settler colonial state that additionally maintained an enormous system of race-based slave labor, followed by 100 years of legalized apartheid under Jim Crow. Regardless of the level of public indoctrination and cultural degradation, there is no way the US state could have pursued for centuries its crimes against humanity without lying about the reality of these enterprises and the motives behind them.

The way to tell if a state is lying is to examine the actions of the state against its rhetoric. Its rhetoric, on its own, holds little water and is not particularly useful in helping us to understand the state’s actual projects. Robert Jay Lifton coined a phrase to refer to the rhetoric used by states and other political actors to justify their crimes. He called such rhetoric “claims to virtue.” This is to say, for example, that if you are going to commit genocide against the Native Americans because you covet the land they inhabit, you must invent a claim to virtue to offer to the public. We’re all familiar with them: “We are civilizing the natives.” “This is the ‘white man’s burden.’ ” “They don’t really use the land as it should be used,” etc. Rather similar inventions, with slight adjustments, were used to justify slavery.

Today I read, once again, a Netanyahu government spokesperson claiming that they are conducting the siege and relentless bombing campaign on the Gaza strip in order to completely eliminate Hamas and to protect Israeli people. Anybody with a rudimentary understanding of anti-colonial struggles for national liberation, which is how Palestinians view their resistance, understand that operations of mass slaughter of civilians do not result in peace and security for the ruling power moving forward — particularly not in 2023, when differences in weapons technology between the warring powers are nowhere near what they were during colonialism’s first several centuries. Indeed, such operations tend to have the opposite effect upon an oppressed population; they create more radicalized individuals. As such, I think it is logical to dismiss the second Israeli government claim mentioned above. So, what about the first claim, which states that the merciless military response of Israel on Gaza is being conducted in order to completely eliminate Hamas? As security analyst and Middle East specialist Helena Cobban outlines in a recent article for the Boston Review, Hamas — as both an organization and a set of ideas — is well entrenched in certain segments of Palestinian society. Killing or capturing them out of existence is not actually possible; their presence is too widespread, both materially and ideologically.

So what is the Netanyahu government actually pursuing in Gaza? As I indicated at the outset, one must look beyond the rhetoric to the actions taken by the state in order to determine this. The bombing campaign is not distinguishing between civilian and military targets. Literally, everything is being bombed. Separate from the bombing, water, food, electricity and fuel are being denied to all of Gaza. The Israeli state has told one million people in northern Gaza to flee south. Yet, the south of Gaza is also being bombed massively. Rather than a mission to defend Israeli citizens or to somehow round up and immobilize all of Hamas, the actions being taken by the Israeli state look far more like an operation of ethnic cleansing — specifically, the removal by lethal force of one million people living in the north of Gaza or perhaps something more widespread than this. This is why the shambolic President Joe Biden should assert the modicum of leadership required to call for a cease-fire and the immediate return of all hostages. The US holds incredible sway and leverage over this ongoing mass scale crime and is therefore partially culpable for it.