Rivaling the Israel Defense Forces in its determination to crush Gaza is Israel's effort to win global hearts and minds through disinformation. As Israeli missiles rain down on UN refugee centers, hospitals, schools, a power plant and private homes in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's propagandists spread untruths that echo in the US electronic and print media.
When such misleading statements are repeatedly broadcast as facts, it's not surprising that the polls show a majority of US citizens back Israel in its war on Gaza. Here are some examples of the blatant untruths that shape American views:
1. Hamas started the war. Untrue. The Israeli military responded to the June abduction (and later murder) of three Israeli youths with major military assaults in the West Bank and Gaza. On July 7, Israeli forces bombed and killed six Hamas members in Gaza. According to the Israeli think tankMeir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center,it was at that point that Hamas ended its 19-month cease-fire and began firing its rockets into Israel.
2. Hamas, not Israel, is responsible for civilian casualties (mostly children) at UN schools and refugee centers. Untrue. It strains credulity to believe that Hamas would have made such attacks on its fellow Palestinians. UN witnesses confirmed that the attacks came from the vastly superior Israeli forces and that Hamas' weapons werenotstored in those places. Even if there were Hamas militants nearby (an unproven assertion), that would not justify the firing on innocent civilians - especially so because the UN repeatedly communicated the locations of refuge seekers to the IDF in advance.
3. Hamas uses civilians as shields. Untrue. In its July 25 Q&A, Amnesty International said it had noevidence "that Palestinian civilians have been intentionally used by Hamas or Palestinian armed groups during the current hostilities to 'shield' specific locations or military personnel or equipment from Israeli attacks." Due to the sheer density of the Gaza population, a defined separation between Hamas fighters and Palestinian civilians would be virtually impossible. That fact, however, does not excuse Israel from obeying international humanitarian law by avoiding the collective punishment of innocent civilians.
4. Hamas and Israel are equally to blame. Untrue. In an effort to avoid any appearance of blaming one side more than the other, the US media regularly take refuge in this statement (or variations of it). Yet on the face of it, there is no equality. Israel's overwhelming force has to date killed more than 1,800 Palestinians, (between 50 and 80 percent of them civilians, including more than 400 children), while Israel has lost only three civilians. Hamas militants who fire rockets indiscriminately into Israel must be held accountable for war crimes. So must Israeli officials who order or carry out firing on civilian sites in Gaza.
In his 2013 book, Goliath, author Max Blumenthal quotes Netanyahu in an address to his Likud activists: "It doesn't matter if justice is on your side. You have to depict your position as just." (taking the quote from a November 11, 2011, article inHaaretz). In their war of words against Gaza, Israeli publicists are doing just that: claiming justice for what is injustice.
Beyond the cited media fictions, lie two important truths:
1. Israel's "Protective Edge" operation, now being enhanced by the call-up of 16,000 reservists, pits a disproportionately armed military power against a densely crowded, already devastated Gaza Strip population. Attacks on that population are prohibited as collective punishment under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
2. Through its multibillion-dollar military aid to Israel, the United States has become the chief enabler and sponsor of Israel's human rights abuses.
If the Obama administration really wants to secure a cease-fire in Gaza, it must stop supplying arms to Israel, suspend its military aid and support the UN's call for a war crimes inquiry.