Debunking war propaganda

Ahmed Mustafa
Thursday 16 Nov 2023

The long list of lies, historical distortions, and twisted facts bearing on the Palestinian issue makes it more necessary than ever for the media to be objective.


It might be right to say that the Palestinian issue has been the biggest problem facing humanity for more than a century.

It has been the subject of unprecedented controversy in legal, moral, and political terms – understandable considering the unique nature of an issue that entailed the mass movement of migrants from all over the world into an occupied land in an effort to replace its native inhabitants and form a religious state.

The British Mandate in Palestine initiated this process early in the last century, and as the British Empire disappeared and was in a way inherited by the United States, sponsorship of the newly formed Israeli entity within historical Palestine became mainly a US responsibility.

Of course, some would argue that this is a simplification of a more complicated process. The complications arise partly from the conflicting narratives and political rhetoric that have been further entrenched by the Zionist massacres and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians that have been taking place for almost a century now.

Let us focus on the current flare-up of the issue and the propaganda surrounding it. The established media has unfortunately been playing a pivotal role in propagating falsified information, some of it pure propaganda. Social media is also rife with fabrications and conspiracy theories. Trying to sieve through this mass of disinformation and half-truths is a daunting task. There are, however, a few remarks that might help to debunk some of it.

The first issue to unpack is whether the present flare-up in the ongoing conflict can be classified as a war. Wars are usually fought between two armies or two states, but as Gaza is technically occupied territory and not a conventional state it lacks the luxury of having a fully-fledged army.

Instead, what we are seeing is the full-blown aggression of the Israeli army against the population of the Gaza Strip as a form of collective punishment. The 7 October attacks by Hamas operatives in Israel cannot be accurately framed as a war either, as they were carried out by members of Palestinian resistance factions in Israeli settlements. What happened on that day was a guerrilla operation against Israeli settlements and the army bases around them.

Secondly, this is not a Hamas-Israel war. The initial attack was carried out by several Palestinian resistance factions, but the Israelis have since taken control of the narrative in the Western media and have been adamant about making sure that people think that the 7 October attacks were carried out by Hamas alone, giving the Hamas political leadership in exile the so-called credit.

The West and other countries around the world have thus found a pretext to support Israel by assigning the attacks to a group classified as a “terrorist” organisation in many countries.

Labelling the present conflict as a religious war would be wholly inaccurate, but the fact remains that this line has been used to appeal to those who prey on public sensitivities. Since Israel adopted the basic law classifying itself as a Jewish state in 2018 under a previous government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it has often found it useful to describe its conflicts as “religious” ones.

Israel might claim to be a religious state, though many Jews around the world deny this and accuse Israel of defaming their peaceful religion through the use of Zionist slogans. A religious state is racist by nature, as it encourages discrimination and the marginalisation of minorities. There is only one other example of a state claiming to operate under a religious banner and that was the so-called “caliphate” set up by the Islamic State (IS or Daesh) group in Syria and Iraq.

UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 of 1975 that classified Zionism as racism did not mean that racial discrimination by Israel ended. US and UK pressure was also enough to see that classification revoked by another resolution in 1991. The same pressure from the US and the UK has also halted several other UN resolutions that have been rejected by Israel since the start of the occupation of Palestine.

The US and its European allies do not unconditionally support Israel because they care about the Jews or because they have an interest in fighting terror in the region. They do so because they feel their global influence is waning, and they want to prove to themselves that they still have an influence beyond their actual means. The Zionist leadership in Israel understands this and exploits it to the maximum.

Perhaps the most prominent fabrication that extends beyond the current conflict is the branding of criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism. In fact, most of the settlers occupying the land of the Palestinians are of Caucasian origin and are not Semites at all. The Arabs, on the other hand, including the Arab Jews, are Semites, whereas Netanyahu and the other Zionist leaders are not. However, the Western countries, adopting a bluntly hypocritical pro-Israeli and anti-Arab stance, have created laws accusing those who criticise Israel of being “anti-Semitic.”  

There is thus a long list of lies, historical distortions, falsified and twisted facts, and pure propaganda and disinformation bearing on the Palestinian issue. Debunking all these would require an encyclopaedia. The late Egyptian scholar Abdel-Wahab Al-Messiri made great contributions in this regard in his work on Jews, Judaism and Zionism carried out at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in the last decades of the last century and updated before his death. His work, however, was mainly academic. Today, the mainstream media and social media influence public opinion more than academics do.

What we need today is a concerted effort by journalists, broadcasters, and other pundits to avoid using politically charged rhetoric and terminology. This might help in debunking the prevailing demagoguery and war propaganda that characterises the Palestinian issue. There is a tendency among the younger generations to want to verify the flow of information that comes to them. This needs to be encouraged, and it is understood that critical thinking about the Palestinian and other issues requires those who shape public opinion to be less opinionated and more objective.

*The writer is a London-based veteran journalist.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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