Burying the truth is accorded a high priority when states commit atrocities.
On 30 January 1972, the British Army shot dead 13 unarmed demonstrators during a civil rights march in Derry. Edward Heath, then prime minister, was determined that the ensuing inquiry into Bloody Sunday – as the massacre became known – would be a whitewash.
“It had to be remembered that in Northern Ireland, we were fighting not only a military war but a propaganda war,” Heath told a judge tasked with “investigating” what happened.
It was a bloody Monday in Gaza last week. Dozens of unarmed demonstrators were shot dead. And – like the British authorities more than 40 years ago – Israel’s supporters launched the latest salvo in their propaganda war.
Europe Israel Public Affairs – a Brussels-based lobby group – alleged that Hamas had manipulated the media coverage of the killings. Journalists had been lured into “the sinister world of Hamas,” the group suggested.
The “sinister world” was, according to Europe Israel Public Affairs’ latest newsletter, one “where 62 innocents turn out to be overwhelmingly terrorists” and where photographs and videos are “doctored.”
The first segments of such videos – depicting an injured youth being carried on a stretcher – get sent to major broadcasters, the group claimed. Yet the full video, it added, shows “the teenager apparently having made a miraculous recovery and high-fiving his friends for the deception, all caught on camera.”
I contacted Europe Israel Public Affairs asking for an example of the photographs or videos to which it referred. It sent me two links, both videos.
One appeared to show a young man being carried on a stretcher through a fog of tear gas before standing up again. The video was uploaded to YouTube on 5 May – nine days before last week’s massacre.
It was titled “Gaza Pallywood” – a racist term implying that Palestinians are faking the pain inflicted on them by Israel.
The video had been uploaded by Legal Insurrection, a right-wing website. Legal Insurrection has helpfully named the source for the video: a tweet from the Israeli army.
That raises major questions about the video’s credibility..
An army which routinely violates human rights should not, to put it mildly, be regarded as an objective provider of information. Israel’s army has often told lies about Palestinians as part of its propaganda war.
Nor does the grainy 27-second video – which appears to have been edited – show precisely what is claimed. The man on the stretcher is never seen walking – as Legal Insurrection alleges.
What it appears to show is simply a person in a condition that made him unable to run being evacuated to an area deemed safer, and then standing up.
Since it appears the Israelis filmed it from a distance, it is unclear what incentive Palestinians would have to fake such an incident – especially since everyone involved would have been at very real risk of being shot. Israeli snipers have not spared anyone, including journalists and paramedics.
Distracting from the facts
An even more outrageous claim made by Europe Israel Public Affairs was that videos have emerged of “dead people under Hamas blankets coming back to life.”
The example which the group gave me of such a video was, it claimed, from 2014. In actual fact, the video was from a year earlier and had been filmed in Egypt, not Gaza.
It featured what activists call a “die-in” at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University.
No one looking at the video in good faith could conclude that it is anything other than what it appears to be: a demonstration – and the title of the original 2013 video describes it as such.
An October 2013 report in El Badil, the publication that uploaded the video to YouTube on the same day, describes the event as a student protest against the military coup in Egypt earlier that year. The students seen in the video are wearing shrouds bearing the names of people who had been killed in incidents around the country, according to El Badil.
The same video has also been deployed in efforts to discredit reports of atrocities during the war in Syria.
Europe Israel Public Affairs is led by Alex Benjamin. He is a former member of staff with Britain’s Conservatives, the party once led by the aforementioned Edward Heath.
One day after last week’s massacre, Benjamin wrote on Facebook that Iran is “seemingly paying Hamas to fund these protests with tragic consequences.”
Benjamin was almost certainly referring to press reports based on briefings from Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet. The Israeli media has acknowledged that Shin Bet has not provided any concrete evidence of Iranian involvement in the protests.
That story was published by some outlets last Monday – around the same time that news of the massacre in Gaza was breaking. The insinuation that Gaza’s protesters are effectively mercenaries for Iran looks like a desperate attempt to distract from incontrovertible facts – like how Israel has been deliberately killing and maiming Palestinians demanding basic rights.
Hypnotized by Hamas?
Contrary to what Europe Israel Public Affairs claimed, there is no reason to believe that Western media were hypnotized by Hamas last week. Much of the coverage repeated fallacious motifs about “clashes” on the “Gaza border.”
Israeli spokespeople were invited to take part in typically softball interviews. The BBC reported that the “only issue” at stake related to “proportionate force.” If Israel had chosen a more gentle form of “crowd control” – a euphemism for repression – then there would be nothing to worry about, the broadcaster implied.
Predictably, the pro-Israel lobby has pounced on a boast by one Hamas official that 50 of those killed last week were affiliated to the organization. The boast has not been verified and is ultimately irrelevant to the patent illegality of Israel’s conduct.
Long before last week, Israel had declared Gaza a “hostile entity.”
That designation is unknown in international law. It offered no more than a flimsy pretext for suffocating one of the most densely populated areas on earth.
The Great Return March represents a concerted effort to embrace an unarmed form of resistance. The tactics and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi are being practiced in Gaza.
Huge courage has been displayed in the face of snipers’ bullets. And the response of Israel’s supporters has been to blame and besmirch the victims.
Ali Abunimah contributed research.
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 23 May 2018.