Saturday, January 17, 2009

The War on Gaza - The Finest Propaganda Campaign in History

The war on Gaza is not only a humanitarian disaster of massive proportions, it has also witnessed a propaganda campaign on a scale not witnessed before. The amount of mis-information, half-truths and, let's be frank, lies that have emerged over the past few weeks has meant that the casual viewer has been presented with an incomplete picture of the events in Gaza and what led up to them. This is the direct result of an attempt by the Israeli government to win the media battle and convince the international community that their assault on the innocent people of Gaza was entirely justified. It is a media battle that the world's media has been happy to play along with.

Ever since the start of the campaign, Israel has ensured that a spokesperson is free to talk to as many of the networks as possible to put their side of the story across. Barely a day has gone by without either Mark Regev or Major Avital Leibovich bombarding us with their 'truth' about the assault on Gaza. And yet, most of their words have been accepted as fact, without much in the way of interrogation. They have been able to make their accusations and claims entirely unchecked without providing a shred of evidence to support anything they have said. And the reason why they have been able to get away with this is down to the methods that the Israeli government has used to manage their message.

Take the reporting from Gaza. Or rather, the lack of reporting from Gaza. Since the beginning of the war on Gaza, journalists have not been allowed to provide independent verification of the claims of the Israeli government. Every time a claim is made by the Israeli state, there is no way to verify their accuracy. We only have the word of Israeli state officials to go on, and since when has a mouthpiece of the state been trustworthy? Of course, the Israeli government has been extremely pleased with the way the propaganda campaign on the media has been waged. They were said to be delighted with certain aspects of the BBC's coverage. The appearance of a BBC correspondent in a flak jacket in Israel certainly did much to convey the idea that Israel was under siege. Little wonder the Israeli government was so pleased.

One of the greatest fallacies about the war on Gaza has been the accusation that Hamas broke the terms of the ceasefire and have been launching hundreds of rockets into Gaza every day. Whilst it is true that rockets have been launched into Israel on a regular basis, there was a noticeable difference in the number of rockets fired from Gaza before the ceasefire and during. During the ceasefire, the number of rockets launched into Israel dropped dramatically. Hamas largely adhered to the terms of the ceasefire and ensured that their military arm did not fire rockets into Israel. There were, however, various other groups in Gaza who continued to fire rockets across the border, groups that are essentially hostile to Hamas and were keen to provoke Israel into launching an assault in the hope it would weaken Hamas. However, these groups were dealt with and those responsible for the launching of rockets were locked up. Despite the fact that Hamas were observing the ceasefire, on November 4th Israel launched a raid into Gaza and killed six Hamas 'militants'. It was after this point that rocket fire into Israel reached pre-ceasefire levels. And this is the point often neglected by the media. I have observed many BBC correspondents say to Israeli officials that no-one argues that Hamas broke the ceasefire, when it is entirely the case that Israel broke the terms of the ceasefire. But such is the power of the propaganda machine, this has been accepted as fact.

And not only has this been accepted as fact, but various little details seem to have been ignored by much of the media. For example, on 23rd December, Hamas offered to renew the ceasefire but, as Israel had already drawn up their plans to assault Gaza, it was rejected. Not only was that offer ignored, but it is barely mentioned that Ismail Haniyeh offered a ten year ceasefire with Israel. There may well be competing voices within Hamas but, like all political groups, there are a wide range of viewpoints. But, again, such things are barely worthy of mention in the West, particularly given the idea that has been spread around that Fatah and Fatah alone are worthy of our support. Given the West's habit of supporting corrupt and incompetent parties across the globe, this support for Fatah is perhaps unsurprising. Fatah, after all, had done very little for the Palestinian people before their election defeat, a defeat mainly as a consequence of the corruption that ran throughout Fatah.

But this is not the worst of the mis-information put out by the media and the Israeli state. Take the attacks on the UN buildings in Gaza. After the first schools were hit, Israeli representatives went on TV and claimed that the responsibility for these crimes lay with Hamas, not with Israel. Now, it would appear, the victims of the crime are responsible for what happened to them. Compare this with standard right-wing rhetoric that is hostile to what it sees as the perpetrator being the ‘victim’. Remember all the times they have treated that idea with disdain and then wonder how they can claim (straight faced) that the murder of civilians by their bombs, their rockets, their military, is somehow not their fault, but that of Hamas. Strange, no?

Not only did they claim that the fault of their military murdering innocent civilians was not there fault, they also went on to claim that Hamas were using installations such as the schools to launch attacks on Israel. One spokesperson even claimed they 'booby-trapped' a building containing civilians. The spokesmen showed no remorse, no pity. And then what do we discover a few days later, when more than forty innocent people have died? That there were no Hamas fighters there and it was a 'mistake'. Too late for all those brothers who lost sisters, mothers who lost children, children who lost parents. Just a shrug of the shoulders from the Israeli government and then they move on. The dead becoming merely an inconvenient statistic that undermines their rhetoric about not wanting a war with the Palestinian people. What is this if it is not?

Despite their unfounded accusations, it is not as if Israel has abided entirely by international conventions. Whilst largely ignored or dismissed by much of the media, there is growing evidence that war crimes have been committed by the IDF. These crimes include:

• attempting to bulldoze houses with civilians inside;
• killing civilians trying to escape under the protection of white flags;
• the use of indiscriminate force in a civilian area and the firing of white phosphorus shells.
• using powerful shells in civilian areas which the army knew would cause large numbers of innocent casualties;
• holding Palestinian families as human shields;
• attacking medical facilities, including the killing of 12 ambulance men in marked vehicles;
• killing large numbers of police who had no military role.

Even the United Nations’ most senior human rights official suggested that Israel may have to answer for war crimes in the wake of their assault on Zeitoun. Of course, the chances of Israel actually being prosecuted for these war crimes is minute. Especially as the propaganda campaign by the Israeli government has been so successful in pushing out its message. Will there seriously be any support for an independent inquiry into Israeli war crimes? And, if there is an inquiry, what are the chances of Israel being censored as a result? Zero. Because, as always, the United States will ride to the rescue and ensure that the Israeli government are well protected. Besides, by then the assault will be forgotten about by the media and will make little difference for those in Gaza who have suffered at the hands of the IDF. And as for the change of government in America, is there anyone who seriously believes that Obama will launch a radical shift in foreign policy? With a Clinton as Secretary of State? The suffering of the Palestinians will continue and the Israeli propaganda machine will continue unabated.