Debunking Israel’s propaganda machine

Azza Radwan Sedky
Wednesday 20 Mar 2024

Israel has a history of lies and fabrications to gain international sympathy and deflect attention from its atrocities against the Palestinians.


The lies started early. Though 1.4 million Palestinians lived in 1,300 Palestinian towns and villages before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the idea presented to the world was that Israel, in other words Palestine, “is a land without a people for a people without a land”.

Israel embellished the lie further when it claimed that the Palestinians voluntarily left their homes in 1948 to be with relatives elsewhere. This phenomenon established Israel’s fundamental culture, which exploits the lie that Palestine belongs to the Jewish people.

Since then, the Israeli propaganda machine has not been idle. The weaponised fabrications are still ongoing today. Not only does Israel aim to win the support of the wider world, but it is on a mission to dehumanise the Palestinians by inundating minds with unsubstantiated allegations. The lies are repeated time and time again and rarely retracted, only to leave a mark on those concerned.

One example of many was the death of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in 2022. She was killed by an Israeli sniper while covering Israeli incursions into the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank even though she was wearing a “press” vest.

Israel blamed her death on the Palestinians and posted an unrelated video of Palestinian gunfire as proof. Later CNN and other Western media outlets found eyewitnesses who confirmed that the Israeli military had carried out the attack. It took Israel a whole year to backtrack and apologise for Abu Akleh’s death. Hers was the first of many similar deaths, since over 100 journalists have now been killed in Gaza.

Such lies have been circulating since 7 October last year. Three days after Hamas’ attack on Israel, the Israeli army took journalists on a tour of attacked kibbutzes to exhibit the horrendous massacres Hamas had committed. Undoubtedly, the destruction and losses were evident, but was it necessary to enhance the viciousness with lies and made-up stories?

First, Israeli officers reported that 40 babies had been murdered, most of them decapitated, by Hamas. One officer told journalists that “babies were hung on a clothesline in a row.” Another confirmed the death of an Auschwitz survivor. A third talked of a pregnant woman stabbed to death in front of her children.

Eli Beer, founder of the volunteer organisation United Hatzalah of Israel, travelled to the US and told Americans of the horrendous slaughter Hamas had performed. “These bastards put babies in an oven and turned on the oven,” he said.

“I saw little kids who were beheaded. We didn’t know which head belonged to which kid. I saw with my own eyes a woman who was four months pregnant. They came into her house, in front of her kids, they opened up her stomach took out the baby, and stabbed the little, tiny baby in front of her and then shot her in front of her family and then they killed the rest of the kids.”

How he could have known about such happenings in such detail is beyond me. It goes without saying that a four-month fetus weighs about four ounces and is about 12 cm long.

Giving such lies legitimacy, US President Joe Biden confidently reiterated such stories. “I saw some of the photographs when I was there — tying a mother and her daughter together on a rope and then pouring kerosene on them and then burning them, beheading infants, doing things that are just inhuman — totally, completely inhuman,” he said.

The White House then had to explain that Biden had in fact read the stories in news reports and had not seen photographs. “US officials and the president have not seen pictures or confirmed such reports independently,” it said. Nevertheless, even today the beheaded babies story is one of the most troubling from the Hamas attacks.

But there is no evidence that can be used to verify any of the above tales of savagery. They are complete fabrications that have been immediately regurgitated as facts by the Western media.

US journalist Jeremy Scahill of the Website the Intercept says, for example, that there “was no Holocaust survivor killed at Kibbutz Beeri that day. There were no mass beheadings of babies, no group executions in a nursery, no children hung from clotheslines and no infants placed in ovens. No pregnant woman had her stomach cut open and the fetus knifed in front of her and her other children. These stories are entirely fictional, a set of audacious lies weaponised to generate the type of collective rage used to justify the unjustifiable.”

Every time Israel commits a ferocious act, on the other hand, it claims that it had nothing to do with it and that it is above such actions. Later, it turns out that the act was indeed perpetrated by Israel.

Denial is a common tool used by Israeli officials. Israel denied using white phosphorous in its operations in Gaza and Lebanon, for example, but the international human rights group Human Rights Watch has verified videos of artillery-fired white phosphorus used by Israel.

White phosphorus is restricted under international law and must never be fired near a populated civilian area.

Fabrication is also a common strategy used by Israel. It has accused the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA) of being infiltrated by Hamas members who participated in the 7 October attacks. “The institution as a whole is a haven for Hamas’ radical ideology,” a senior Israeli official told the Wall Street Journal.

The Western media immediately repeated the allegations, and several Western countries then suspended funds to UNRWA. However, since Israel has not provided evidence to support its claim, many countries, Sweden, Canada, and the European Union among them, have now resumed funding the organisation. Reuters confirms that “many countries that paused funding to the UN Palestinian refugee agency are likely having second thoughts and payments could resume soon.”

The attacks on the Al-Shifa Hospital in the Gaza Strip were another source of lies. The Israeli Military claimed that the hospital was the base from which Hamas was operating. It produced a video apparently showing Hamas’ weapons stockpile – a handful of rifles, uniforms, a computer, and a radio – and a piece of paper on a wall that it said was a list of terrorist names. In Arabic, the list showed the days of the week.

Israel said the weapons cache was substantial, but the footage was neither convincing nor compelling, and soon it quietly deleted the video without explanation. US State Department legal adviser Brian Finucane said that “these arms by themselves hardly seem to justify the military fixation on the Al-Shifa Hospital.”

More fabrications followed. One such was a video of a nurse supposedly at the Al-Shifa Hospital who said that Hamas was holding women and children as human shields. She also said that Hamas was stealing all the food, fuel, and medicine at the hospital. The video went viral, but it was proven later that it was staged and that the woman was a Mexican-Israeli actor.

Meanwhile, the BBC has reported on how Israeli troops beat and humiliated medics at the Nasser Hospital in the Gaza Strip. Video footage shows a row of men stripped to their underwear, kneeling with their hands behind their heads. Medical robes are lying in front of some of them. The doctors and medical staff said they were doused with cold water, repeatedly beaten by Israeli troops, and detained for days before they were released.

According to the BBC, the Israeli army did not respond to questions but denied that medical staff were harmed during their operations. They also said that “any abuse of detainees is contrary to orders and is therefore strictly prohibited.” This is yet another version of how Israel denies its atrocities by using lies and fabrications. The deceptions are always loud and clear.

The lie of the hospitals being used as Hamas command centres allowed Israel to target them and kill thousands of Gazans who had found refuge in them.

As Israel resorts to such stories to gain sympathy abroad and portray the Palestinians as inhuman, it continues its carnage in Gaza. However, propaganda can only conceal deliberate genocide up to a point, and ultimately the lies are exposed. The world then understands the truth and is repulsed at those behind such atrocities.

*The writer is a former professor of communication who is based in Vancouver, Canada.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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