War Is Not Abstracted Anymore

Caitlin Johnstone
6 min readNov 28, 2023

Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

Pentagon contractor Elon Musk and war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu had a conversation that they broadcast on Twitter during Musk’s apology pilgrimage to Israel in a desperate bid to salvage his public image amid costly accusations of antisemitism.

The “conversation” was really more of a monologue, with the Israeli leader droning on in his conspicuously American accent while Musk meekly agreed with him on every point. During his lecture, Bibi said something worth highlighting while complaining about the worldwide pro-Palestine protests that have been underway since the beginning of Israel’s ongoing Gaza massacre.

“We have mass demonstrations,” Netanyahu said at around the 15:55 mark. “Where were these demonstrations when over a million Arabs and Muslims were killed in Syria, in Yemen, many of them starving to death, those who didn’t die in explosions. Where were the demonstrations in London? In Paris? In San Francisco? In Washington? Where are they?”

“The answer is they don’t care about the Palestinians, they hate Israel,” Netanyahu said. “And they hate Israel because they hate America.”

You hear this “where were the protests over Yemen and Syria?” talking point over and over again from Israel apologists, the argument essentially being that because few people protested the mass killings in those countries then Israel should get to do a little genocide of its own, as a treat.

This talking point is stupid for a few reasons, including the way it tends to avoid the inconvenient fact that the bloodshed in both Yemen and Syria was facilitated by US interventionism, just like the bloodshed in Gaza is. The civil war in Syria was only able to occur because the western alliance and its regional partners flooded the nation with weapons given to extremist factions in the hope of toppling Damascus, and Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen were fully backed by the US and its allies.

The talking point is also stupid because there are many entirely legitimate reasons the Gaza massacre is getting special attention. In a recent New York Times article titled “Gaza Civilians, Under Israeli Barrage, Are Being Killed at Historic Pace,” Lauren Leatherby explains that Israel’s actions in Gaza are actually quite different from other conflicts this century, killing far more civilians far more rapidly than the wars in places like Syria and Ukraine. Last week the UN’s emergency relief coordinator Martin Griffiths said during a CNN interview that Gaza is the worst humanitarian crisis he’s ever seen, even worse than the Killing Fields in Cambodia. This conflict is being treated differently because it is different.

Another reason this specific bombing campaign is getting so much more public backlash than others is because the pro-Palestine movement has had generations to build, whereas when the west lays waste to a country using military explosives it’s normally a fast ordeal which moves from manufacturing consent to execution very quickly. By the time people figure out they were lied to about the justifications for a depraved war the empire is usually two or three new wars down the track. The Israel-Palestine issue has been just sitting there for decades, so there’s been time to accumulate popular opposition. Once someone learns about the realities of the Palestinian plight they very seldom abandon their support for it, so every newly-opened pair of eyes stays open on this issue for a lifetime.

But perhaps the dumbest thing about this talking point is the fact that it ultimately works against the agendas of the people saying it. Israel apologists keep asking “Where were the protests over Yemen and Syria,” and gradually the millions of people who are beginning to wake up to the criminality of the US-centralized power alliance as a result of the Gaza massacre are going to start asking themselves the same question.

Because the assault on Gaza is so uniquely horrific and is being broadcast onto people’s social media feeds in real time, millions of people around the world are being snapped out of the propaganda-induced coma that has had them consenting to evil war after evil war over the years. People are starting to realize they’ve been deceived about the Israel-Palestine conflict, and they’re starting to wonder what else they’ve been deceived about. Keep asking them “Where were the protests over Yemen and Syria,” and eventually they’re going to start researching those conflicts and learning about their own government’s role in them, and from there it’s only a matter of time before they start asking, “Hey yeah! Where WERE the protests over Yemen and Syria??”

In a new article for The Guardian titled “The war in Gaza has been an intense lesson in western hypocrisy. It won’t be forgotten,” Nesrine Malik writes that “for the first time that I can think of, western powers are unable to credibly pretend that there is some global system of rules that they uphold. They seem to simply say: there are exceptions, and that’s just the way it is. No, it can’t be explained and yes, it will carry on until it doesn’t at some point, which seems to be when Israeli authorities feel like it.”

“Part of that inability to reach for convincing narratives about why so many innocent people must die is that events escalated so quickly,” Malik adds. “There was no time to set the pace of the attacks on Gaza, prepare justifications and hope that eventually, when it was all over, time and short attention spans would cover up the toll. Gaza has been a uniquely, inconveniently, intense conflict… The area is so densely populated that the toll of civilians is too high, and evidence for having undermined Hamas’s capabilities, the only possible justification for the casualties, is too low.”

This is the sort of political moment in which newly-formed critics of the western war machine are being asked to think carefully about why there hasn’t been a robust resistance to their governments’ other criminal actions. Which looks like a nightmare waiting to happen for the propagandists whose job is to manufacture consent for depraved acts of war.

One thing the empire is about to realize is that the western public has lost all its appetite for war. All the careful sanitising, video-gamifying and propagandizing that has been put in place since Vietnam in order to build a platform of consent for “humanitarian” wars has cratered into nothing over the course of mere weeks.

You can’t have an up close and personal relationship with the reality of bombs and all the things they do to human flesh and then go back to the way you were ever again. Millions of western eyes have been changed forever.

“War” is not abstracted any more.

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Featured image via Gaza Palestine (Public Domain)

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