Published: October 20, 2023 (upd.)
A review of Israeli and Palestinian war propaganda – and why many “pandemic heroes” have turned into “Palestine zeroes” when it comes to exposing propaganda.
Beware of war propaganda
In response to the unprecedented October 7 Hamas cross-border attack on Israel, the well-oiled war propaganda machines on all sides once again shifted into high gear.
The Hamas attack itself consisted of multiple components, which has led to some confusion among analysts and commentators. In particular, Hamas militants:
- breached the Israeli security barrier (border wall) at multiple locations;
- stormed multiple Israeli military sites and killed and captured IDF soldiers;
- raided several Israeli settlements, killing and capturing Israeli civilians;
- killed and captured Israeli civilians at makeshift road checkpoints;
- stormed a nearby open-air music festival, killing and capturing fleeing visitors;
- battled approaching Israeli police and IDF forces while holding Israeli hostages;
- launched thousands of homemade rockets towards Israeli cities and settlements.
While the capture of Israeli military sites and soldiers (POWs) might perhaps be regarded as a legitimate military operation, the capture of civilian hostages during armed conflict is illegal since WWII, and the execution of soldiers and civilians is a war crime and atrocity in any case.
Overall, Israel has stated that Hamas militants killed up to 1,200 Israeli civilians and soldiers and abducted up to 200 Israeli hostages to the Gaza Strip. The crucial question of how this unprecedented cross-border attack came about will be addressed in a separate analysis.
Yet instead of focusing on the crimes actually committed by Hamas militants (best documented by the Israeli South First Responders telegram channel (18+)), the Israeli government and Western media for some reason have promoted several untrue atrocity propaganda stories.
The most notorious one was the WWI-style story of the “40 decapitated babies”, which made front page news (see cover image above) and was even amplified by the US President. American-Jewish independent media outlet, The Grayzone, later revealed that the story had initially been spread by an Israeli settler leader who previously advocated “wiping out” a Palestinian village in the West Bank.
In reality, there is currently no evidence of any decapitations, neither of soldiers, nor of civilians, let alone babies. There is also no evidence of any mass rapes or indeed any rapes at all. Nor is there any evidence of suicide bombers (pioneered by Hamas in the 1990s), which were often deployed by Western-backed Islamist fighters to storm Syrian military bases during the Syria War.
There is verifiable evidence of mistreatment, but not of torture of hostages. In fact, one liberated female hostage told a surprised Israeli radio host that they had been treated “very humanely”. The main purpose of the hostages was to prevent Israeli counterattacks and prepare prisoner swaps.
Nevertheless, there is clear evidence that Israeli soldiers and civilians, including children, were murdered during Hamas raids, mostly by gunfire and hand grenades. Unfortunately, some Israeli civilians and hostages appear to have been killed not by Hamas militants, but by friendly fire during shootouts between Hamas militants and approaching Israeli police and military forces.
(Update: American-Jewish website Mondoweiss highlights new reports according to which a substantial number of military and civilian deaths were caused not by Hamas militants, but by the IDF counterattack with tanks and even airstrikes against Hamas militants and their hostages.)
In response to the Hamas attack, the Israeli military has conducted large-scale airstrikes and prepared a possible ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. Within just one week, Israel not only mobilized more troops than Russia initially deployed in Ukraine, but also, tragically, committed more war crimes than Russia committed in Ukraine during 600 days of war.
In particular, Israeli airstrikes have already killed up to 3,000 Palestinian civilians, many of whom children, as well as several international journalists and aid workers. In addition, Israeli airstrikes damaged or destroyed multiple civilian facilities, churches and mosques, bakeries, universities and schools (some of which may have been used as Hamas bases). Israel also cut off the supply of electricity and water to the Gaza Strip, declaring a “full siege” on Gaza and its 2.5 million citizens.
Expectedly, the high number of well documented Palestinian civilian casualties has caused an international propaganda backlash against the Israeli leadership and its supporters.
In some cases, the Israeli leadership has denied responsibility for attacks on Gaza. In the case of the Gaza Baptist Hospital, for instance, the IDF argued that the hospital was hit by a misfired Palestinian rocket, but the available evidence indicates that it was an above-ground explosion of an Israeli precision-guided bomb. As the IDF previously issued evacuation orders to hospitals in the area, the idea may have been to send a shock wave through the hospital without destroying the building.
(Update: British Channel 4 has since all but confirmed that it was indeed an Israeli airstrike; moreover, the IDF appears to have edited audio and video evidence to deflect responsibility.)
In two instances, there is evidence that Palestinian militants may have been involved in a false-flag attack and war propaganda: the first one was an attack on the main border crossing from Gaza to Egypt, the second one was an attack on a refugee convoy from northern to southern Gaza.
In both cases, the Palestinian side claimed an Israeli airstrike, but video evidence indicates the border crossing was hit by a Palestinian missile, while the refugee convoy was hit either by a roadside explosive device or an accidental gas explosion. In both cases, the motivation may have been to stop the forced evacuation, or ethnic cleansing, of Palestinians from Gaza.
The Israeli government has compared the Hamas group to the ISIS group (“Hamas is ISIS”). Although Hamas militants committed horrific acts of terrorism during their October 7 attack, the comparison is questionable: ISIS declared war on Hamas and never attacked Israel, while Israel supported ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria and the rise of Hamas in Gaza.
From “pandemic hero” to “Palestine zero”
In a previous analysis, SPR reviewed the question of what groups of people had been able to resist pandemic propaganda. Interestingly, many of these “pandemic heroes” have since turned into “Palestine zeroes” and now promote war propaganda and atrocity propaganda.
This transition is not entirely surprising, though, and can be explained by three main factors:
First, many pandemic heroes were civil rights activists or medical professionals. Naturally, most of these people have little expertise in geopolitics, war propaganda and covert operations.
Thus, they don’t know that Hamas was indeed created and funded by Israel precisely to prevent a political solution to the Palestine question (which would limit Israel to its internationally recognized pre-1967 borders); or they believe the 1973 Yom Kippur War really was an Egyptian “surprise attack” (it wasn’t); or the 1967 Six-Day War was an Israeli “preemptive strike” (it wasn’t); or Pearl Harbor was a Japanese “surprise attack” (it wasn’t); or that Al Qaeda “did 9/11” (they didn’t).
Without such geopolitical and historical background knowledge, it is very easy to be led astray by multi-layered war propaganda, atrocity propaganda, and psychological operations.
Second, it has been noted that during the pandemic, many conservative activists were in a better position to challenge propaganda than progressive or socialist activists, many of whom fell for bogus government appeals to “solidarity”, “collective action” and “anti-racism”.
During the current Israel/Palestine conflict, though, this situation has been reversed. Many progressive and socialist activists have long supported the Palestinian cause, while many conservative activists have supported Israel for religious, ideological or strategic reasons.
Thus, many progressive and socialist activists have been in a better position to challenge Israeli and Western war propaganda and atrocity propaganda, although some of them fell for Hamas propaganda or even supported Hamas terrorist operations against Israel.
However, while many progressive activists are skeptical of “local Zionism” (in Palestine), a subgroup of conservative activists have long been skeptical of “global Zionism”, i.e. global Israeli influence. Thus, skeptical positions exist on both sides of the political spectrum.
Third, during the pandemic, Jewish citizens played a leading role not only among covid alarmists, but also among covid skeptics: indeed, many leading skeptics and civil rights activists were smart and courageous Jewish citizens of the United States, Britain, and Israel.
Understandably, during the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict, many of these Jewish activists support the Israeli government and its sweeping response to the Hamas attack. Unfortunately, though, many have also promoted war propaganda and atrocity propaganda.
In fact, some well-known Jewish-American covid skeptics previously served as operatives of the Israel Lobby in the United States, as an undercover investigation revealed in 2017.
Once again, however, there are important exceptions to this pattern, and Jewish activists and journalists focusing on universal human rights, anti-imperialism or even anti-zionism have played a leading role in questioning and defusing war propaganda and atrocity propaganda.
How to follow the conflict
For the most part, Western establishment media provide a pro-Israel perspective. To understand why, read The American Empire and Its Media and The Israel Lobby: Facts and Myths. Only a few Western establishment journalist have dared to ask questions about the current conflict.
Most independent Western media provide a more skeptical perspective. These media outlets and journalists typically take an anti-war, anti-imperial, or even anti-zionist position.
Semi-independent media outlets are yet another category. On the conservative side, these are often “alt-right” media outlets, most of which are strongly pro-Israel. Examples include the American-Israeli Breitbart media operation, Canadian-Jewish Rebel News, and Ben Shapiro’s online media empire, which has incorporated conservative Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson.
In the progressive semi-independent category, many media outlets are sponsored by security-state connected billionaires and foundations, such as The Intercept (funded by Pierre Omidyar) and Democracy Now (backed by George Soros), or are directly linked to the US Council on Foreign Relations (such as The Nation and its publisher). Nevertheless, many of these media outlets continue to provide some independent and skeptical journalism.
Online encyclopedia Wikipedia, although sometimes a useful first reference, is rarely a reliable guide to world events, since the platform is largely run by political activists and administrators linked to Western and Israeli intelligence services. In the case of the SPR Wikipedia page, the main author has recently been exposed as an FBI informant from Dallas specialized in “online marketing”.
In terms of internet search engines, anyone who wants to access the full spectrum of online media sources has to use a search engine other than Google, whose search suggestions and search results remain heavily censored and biased in favor of official establishment narratives.
In addition to traditional media outlets, various Twitter channels play an important role in real-time coverage and analysis, but there continues to be a lot of noise and propaganda on this platform, in addition to censorship driven by institutions such as the EU and the ADL. The more decentralized Telegram platform remains the premier place to review uncensored on-the-ground war footage.
In conclusion, the covid pandemic, the Ukraine war and the Israel/Palestine conflict once again illustrate that readers usually cannot rely on a single media outlet, or even a single category of media outlets (such as establishment media or alt-right media), to gain a comprehensive and objective perspective on multiple complex topics and developments.
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Propaganda: From the Pandemic to Palestine
An analysis by Swiss Policy Research.