By Craig McKee
That’s how I can best describe in a single word the perpetual propaganda war that accompanies the oppression and repeated slaughters of Palestinian civilians by Israel. The victims are painted as terrorists; the oppressors are painted as victims who are just defending themselves.
Yes, I get it: Hamas is firing homemade rockets into Israel. This practice has killed 28 Israeli civilians since 2001. But how many Palestinians have the Israeli armed forces killed over those 13 years? How about the past 13 days?
Each Israeli death is a tragedy for those killed and their families. And I feel for those who are traumatized by the rocket attacks – however unlikely it is that they’ll actually be hurt by them. But stress felt by Israelis over these rockets is hardly comparable to massacres unleashed on the Palestinians in Gaza three times in the past five years not to mention the theft of land and denial of basic rights they have endured for the past 67 years.
How do you suppose innocent civilians in Gaza are feeling when they try to go to sleep at night without knowing if they’ll even wake up? As the death toll in the recent assault reaches 1,100, mostly civilians and about a quarter of these children, I find myself incapable of comprehending how people can continue to claim that this is self-defense. I guess if you say it often enough …
The Palestinians are victims of a brutal and illegal occupation of their land by Israel. They are painted as aggressors and terrorists even as their homes, schools, hospitals, and mosques in Gaza are destroyed in an aerial assault and ground invasion that shows no signs of abating (despite a ceasefire the weekend before last that allowed Gaza’s beleaguered residents to dig out and to remove their dead).
But no matter how many people are killed, the Israel supporters always bring the story back to Hamas. According to them, all the atrocities that are happening are the fault of Hamas. Scarcely one pro-Israel comment I’ve seen in the last two weeks hasn’t included mention of them. If you ask about the slaughter of children, the answer is always that Hamas is killing them. Destruction of Gaza’s only power plant? Hamas. This is propaganda; this is spin.
And the latest slaughter is nothing new. To justify killing thousands in retaliation for rocket fire (that has killed three Israelis during the current conflict) is a complete inversion of reality. And to start this latest assault based on the allegation that Hamas killed three Israeli teenagers – now admitted to have no basis in fact – is nothing less than deliberate deception.
We hear repeatedly about Hamas storing weapons in densely populated areas so that civilians are forced to serve as “human shields.” I’m not sure where in Gaza one would store weapons that weren’t near or among civilians. But even if one accepts some criticism of Hamas’s tactics, my question would be, what options do the Palestinian people have if they are not willing to accept the status quo in Gaza? Many see Hamas as the only option to challenge the brutal blockade and siege of the embattled and courageous Palestinian people.
In April, Hamas signed a reconciliation “unity” deal with Fatah, leading many to see the timing of the attacks on Gaza as anything but coincidental. In fact, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said just last week that he sees the Israeli offensive in Gaza as a direct effort to destroy the unity government.
Palestinians denied basic human rights
I believe that all human beings have equal value and an equal right to live in freedom accompanied by peace and social justice. But it doesn’t seem that the state of Israel agrees. This is clear from the fact that Palestinians do not have anything close to equal rights. The residents of Gaza live under a punitive military blockade that prevents them from enjoying the kind of life that most us would take for granted.
And the people of the West Bank, not represented by Hamas, are also denied their very basic human rights by this same oppressive government that seems intent on driving them out of existence. Palestinians endure poverty, discrimination, and treatment that would be much more roundly attacked by North American governments if it were happening in any other part of the world. Palestinian land is stolen and their homes bulldozed to make room for illegal Israeli settlements. These settlements are off limits to Palestinians as are the highways that connect them.
A documentary called Stone Cold Justice, aired in February by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, deals with the routine arrest of children in the West Bank for alleged crimes like throwing stones (this was the subject of a 2013 Unicef report called “Children in Israeli Military Detention“). Some of these children are held without charge or trial for weeks, and their cases are handled by military courts, not civilian ones as would be the case with Israeli children. Some are coerced into signing confessions they don’t even understand, just so they can go home. These children are also questioned to gain intelligence about what their parents or others in their neighborhood are doing.
One arrest captured by the Australian crew was of a five-year-old boy who had been accused by one Jewish settler of throwing stones. The child was crying as he was loaded into a vehicle and taken away. He was interrogated and held for two hours before being released.
In the documentary we see Palestinian children having to be escorted to school by Israeli soldiers so that they won’t be attacked by Jewish settlers. One day the children had to make the trip without their military escort, and instead a very kind Jewish man volunteered to take them. This was the most touching moment in the film. This man looked at these young Palestinians and saw innocent children and not enemies. I believe there are many more like him: I just wish that those people were running the country.
I’ve been saddened in recent days by the response I’ve received from some friends and acquaintances over recent Facebook posts I’ve made about the Israeli assault on Gaza. The subsequent debates have been exhausting and depressing. Even though speaking out about this topic can make for awkwardness with these friends, I cannot let that stop me from speaking what I believe to be the truth. If people in Gaza can cope with their homes and loved ones being blown to bits, then I can handle a bit of tension and a few personal attacks.
But I refuse to allow anyone to label me anti-Semitic simply because I am harshly critical of Israel. This conflation of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel is disgusting and wrong. And frankly, it is a propaganda tactic used to intimidate people from standing up for what is right.
In an article in the Jerusalem Post, Israeli Knesset Member Shimon Ohayon says that “anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism.” The message is obvious: if you criticize Israel or Zionism you will be branded as anti-Semitic. In the same article, Israeli Jewish Congress president Vladimir Sloutsker used another one of these tactics when he linked the protests in Europe over Gaza to a potential Holocaust.
“Never before since the Holocaust, have we seen such a situation as today,” he said. “We are potentially looking at the beginning of another Holocaust now.”
There aren’t many occasions where I find myself quoting a current or past president of the United States – unless I’m pointing out their lies or hypocrisy. But Jimmy Carter had it right when he said that the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel “is one of the worst examples of human rights deprivation that I know.”
In an interview with MSNBC about his 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, he stated: “What is being done to the Palestinians is horrendous by the occupying power, which is Israel. They’ve taken away all the basic human rights of the Palestinians, as was done in South Africa against the blacks.”
Carter said that this action is “based on the desire of a minority of Israelis to acquire land that belongs to the Palestinians and to retain that land and to exclude the Palestinians from their own property and to subjugate them so that they can’t arouse and demonstrate their disapproval of being robbed of their own property.”
You can’t get much clearer than that. He states directly that the actions by Israel keep the Palestinians from having a valid avenue for protesting what is being done to them. So what are they then to do? I wish they weren’t using homemade rockets to make their point, but what is the alternative? Carter points out that no suicide bomb attacks have been initiated by Hamas against Israeli citizens since 2004.
Brooke Goldstein, director of the pro-Israeli Lawfare Project (Their slogan is “Protecting against the politicization of human rights”), was interviewed by Fox News and made the incredible statement that Hamas was part of the Islamic extremist effort that was also behind 9/11. This is beyond false, it is a lie, an insulting lie.
In fact, if I had to pick one word to describe this kind of propaganda, and the propaganda that paints the Palestinians as the aggressors in this latest siege, I’d go right back to the beginning of this article.