Atrocity Propaganda

MEDIA, 23 Oct 2023

Elizabeth Vos | Consortium News - TRANSCEND Media Service

Gaza under Israeli bombardment, Oct. 11, 2023
(Courtesy of MedGlobal, ©2023, All Rights Reserved)

Israel and its supporters in the West are helping to provide psychological cover for an ongoing massacre of Palestinian civilians.

17 Oct 2023 – As merciless bombing in Gaza continues, Israel and its supporters have weaponized dead Israeli children and false narratives about them to justify massacring Palestinian children on an unimaginable scale in Gaza.

First it was the “40 beheaded babies” story, then it was a series of images of apparently burned infants, which whether fake or real, were published by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to further justify Israel slaughtering thousands of Palestinian children.

And slaughter we have seen. Israel so far has killed over 2,800 Palestinians, over 1000 of them children. Israel was reported to have bombed a pediatric hospital in Gaza with illegal white phosphorus, and shelled at least one school where dozens of children and their families sought shelter, killing at least 27 children. Entire extended families wiped out in their homes.

Civilians were told to flee to Southern Gaza, a potentially official ethnic cleansing in itself (if they are never allowed to return), before being bombed in their attempt to flee. (Israel says those were Hamas IEDs in the road to prevent people from leaving.) Medics were shelled in their effort to help the injured.  [The WHO decried an Israeli order to evacuate 2,000 patients from 22 hospitals to southern Gaza.]

Dozens of journalists have been killed, or witnessed the death of their own families. Images and videos of dead Palestinian children pulled from the rubble have flooded social media (before Israel cut off the internet). All of this was achieved under a cloak of respectability in Western media by using the images and stories of killed Israeli children.

After the initial Hamas surprise attack, an oft-repeated rallying cry of Israel apologists was that Hamas had beheaded 40 Israeli babies. Despite the claims being referenced publicly by U.S. President Joe Biden (since walked-back by the administration), there has to date been no confirmation of such a story. According to The Grayzone, the claims were sourced to “David Ben Zion, a Deputy Commander of Unit 71 of the Israeli army who also happens to be an extremist settler leader who incited violent riots against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank earlier this year.”

Forced to Apologize

CNN journalist Sara Sidner, who first aired the narrative, was forced to publicly recant and apologize for her statements:

“Yesterday the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said that it had confirmed Hamas beheaded babies & children while we were live on the air. The Israeli government now says today it CANNOT confirm  babies were beheaded. I needed to be more careful with my words and I am sorry.”

This wasn’t only a journalistic error. It was Western media falling in line with the Israeli government’s claim of an atrocity, only to walk back the narrative when Israel refused to confirm the story. Her apology came after the original story went wildly viral on social media and repeated in multiple corporate news outlets, as noted by Mintpress News.

As the 40 babies narrative fell apart, Netanyahu and the Israeli government published three shocking images on X, formerly Twitter, to further justify the pulverization of Gaza: one of a dead infant, two of what appears to be the bodies of either one or two horrifically burned toddlers.

When right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro republished the images, he received accusations that one of the images was generated by artificial intelligence. It has not yet been confirmed that the image was in fact created by AI. However, even if the images are real, the Israeli government has not provided any additional information about the image. As journalist Dan Cohen pointed out,

“1. None of these photos show evidence of beheading – let alone 40 of them.

2. There is no evidence that these photos are from Kfar Aza.

3. None of the journalists who visited Kfar Aza in the aftermath personally saw any beheaded or burned babies.

4. No families have come forward, none of the allegedly beheaded children have been named, and no photos of them from when they were alive have been presented. 5. Netanyahu is a notorious liar and is currently murdering hundreds of children in Gaza.”

Even if we assume that these images do document Israeli infants killed by Hamas in their recent attack, the moral math of excusing genocide doesn’t add up.

Israeli and Palestinian deaths preceding the war. Most were civilians. (ARandomName123, based on data from the U.N., Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

[Data sources for the above chart archived here.]

One cannot accept the weaponization of such a crime, no matter how horrendous, in order to commit equally horrific crimes against other innocents. That an official Israeli government social media account would publish such images — and that Netanyahu would show them to U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to drum up support for the Israeli cause — represents a direct effort by Israel to weaponize the death and (so far alleged) imagery of dead Israeli babies to excuse a multitude of war crimes.

Blinken preparing to travel to Israel and Jordan on Oct. 11. (State Department, Chuck Kennedy, Public domain)

In addition to the Israeli government, media outlets and individual supporters of Israel have engaged in multiple examples of misleading atrocity appropriation over the last week, portraying Palestinian children and damage to property as Israeli.

The Times of London ran a headline regarding the previously discussed images of dead Israeli children misleadingly alongside images of terrorized Palestinian children, with a tiny caption properly citing the image most likely missed by casual observers.

Israel’s supporters in the U.S. also — apparently unwittingly — reappropriated images of traumatized and injured Palestinian children to generate public support across the West for Israel, before deleting their posts in embarrassment.

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis and musician Justin Bieber posted images of Palestinian children and land respectively, as if they were Israeli children and bomb damage, only to later delete their mistaken posts.

Footage of Palestinian children kept in chicken coop cages by Israeli forces circulated online, wrongly described as Israeli children captured by Hamas.

Other videos falsely purporting to show Hamas members with abducted children were widely circulated on social media.

A video of a woman being burned at a concert was found to have originated in Guatemala after going viral as a victim of Hamas. All of this, whether intentionally spread as misinformation or by mistake, acts to strengthen psychological cover for an ongoing massacre of Palestinian civilians.

Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, publicly stated regarding the cutting off of food, electricity, water and other necessities to all of Gaza that “we are fighting human animals and acting accordingly.” Even if his comments refer specifically to Hamas fighters, such collective punishment is illegal under international law and is one of the many war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinian civilians in the week since Hamas’s attack.

Gallant, left, with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Tel Aviv on Oct. 13. (DoD, Chad J. McNeeley)

Daniel Kovalik, a human rights lawyer, peace activist, professor and author, posted on social media regarding the death of his friend:

“I just learned that my friend in Gaza, Heba Zagout, a great artist, was killed by Israel. Her last words to me, in a text, were: “We are sitting with the children. There is bombing. I feel afraid.” Her words were accompanied by these photos”

For Palestinian children and civilians who escape being killed or maimed by the more than 6,000 bombs Israel dropped on Gaza in under a week, dehydration and starvation still looms large.

Although Israel says it has begun letting water into [only southern] Gaza after cutting it off for days, there is little hope that water will be delivered given the lack of power to run pumps and the damage done to water pipes by Israeli bombs.

Medical emergency response effort in Gaza, Oct. 14. (Courtesy of MedGlobal, ©2023, All Rights Reserved)

With Israel also having cut the internet to Gaza, there is now little opportunity for journalists to broadcast the unfolding atrocity to the rest of the world. Caitlin Johnstone and others argue that this is a direct effort to hide atrocities that previously had been documented by journalists and Gaza residents on their phones.

In the war of propaganda, Israel and its supporters have highlighted the deaths of Jewish children, spread false stories about alleged beheadings of Jewish babies, and dishonestly portrayed Palestinian trauma as Israeli trauma.

There is one conclusion to be drawn from the ongoing atrocity appropriation and the carnage it excuses: even if the crimes by Hamas as described by Israel were all true, it doesn’t justify ethnic cleansing, collective punishment, the targeting of civilians and the murder of children by bomb, by starvation, and lack of medical care. Nothing could ever justify this.



Elizabeth Vos is a freelance reporter, co-host of CN Live!


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