09.12.23 (7)

From private screenings to media manipulations and outright lies, the Israeli military is pulling out all the stops in its propaganda blitz to justify a total war on Gaza

William Van Wagenen

As the third month unfolds since the Hamas-led 7 October Al-Aqsa Flood operation and Israel’s scorched earth response on the Gaza Strip, it is evident that all is not progressing as planned for Tel Aviv. Both on the ground and in the online propaganda war, Israel’s claims are consistently debunked and exposed as fake news.

Under scrutiny now is the much-ballyhooed 43-minute video compilation of 7 October events that the Israeli army has screened exclusively for select journalists and dignitaries. The footage allegedly shows the “worst atrocities” committed that day – acts that Israel says are too brutal for viewing by the general public.

When first presented to 100 international media representatives on 23 October, Israeli army spokesperson Daniel Hagari drew parallels between Hamas and ISIS. He stated Hamas had:

“Decided to commit this crime against humanity … to rape, to kill indiscriminately, to behead people. And yes … also babies. And they did this with complete understanding of what they were doing and what will happen afterward in Gaza as a consequence.”

But now prominent Guardian journalist Owen Jones, who watched the footage at a private screening, has emerged to say that not only does the video fall short of those claims, but it is being deliberately used to justify Israel’s horrific assault on Gaza’s civilians.

Horrific scenes

The fact that Jones is one of the few journalists questioning Israel’s video narrative speaks volumes about how carefully the Israeli army has screened its invitation list and limited invites to a trusted coterie of VIPs.

Like many others, Owen’s Guardian colleague Rory Carroll, who wrote about the footage after its first screening at a military base in Tel Aviv, dutifully recited the Israeli narrative without questioning its purpose. Although it is unclear whether Carroll himself viewed the video, he lists some truly horrific scenes that “left some reporters in tears,” and “included the killing of children and decapitation of some victims.” 

Carroll’s only hint at a possible motivation behind the Israeli army’s video is in his penultimate paragraph: “The screening took place amid renewed appeals to Israel to halt its bombing of Gaza, which killed at least 400 Palestinians in the past 24 hours,” while adding that Israeli bombing had killed more than 5,000 Palestinians including 2,055 children, since 7 October.

But when fellow Guardian journalist Owen Jones was finally granted access to the video a month later, he found plenty of inconsistencies in the Israeli military’s assertions. 

Jones acknowledged the horrific nature of many scenes in the video, such as a Hamas fighter using a grenade to kill a father and injure his two young sons, and another brutally beheading a Thai farm worker with a garden tool. However, Israel’s most high-profile claims were conspicuously absent. Jones explains that,

“We were told of large-scale beheading, including of 40 babies … [But] we don’t see children being killed … If there was torture, no evidence is given … If there was rape and sexual violence committed, we don’t see this on the footage either.” 

Similarly, Jones’ Guardian colleague had written that the footage showed Hamas attackers entering a house and killing a young girl, perhaps 7 years old, whom they found hiding under a table. But Jones confirmed that no such footage of a young girl being killed existed in the video of the screening he attended.

Jones also states that the video included an audio recording of a Hamas fighter who calls his mother from the phone of one of his Israeli victims, bragging to her of having killed “ten Jews.” 

However, Jones notes that the Israeli military has previously released audio recordings “whose veracity has been challenged by experts” to bolster its propaganda since 7 October. For example, Israel has conveniently produced dubious audio recordings helpful in covering up its bombing of hospitals and ambulances.

Defending Israel’s massacres

By showing the footage only to select journalists viewed as sympathetic to Israel, rather than releasing it publicly for broader scrutiny, the Israeli military appears to be seeking to to justify its own war crimes in Gaza. 

Jones stated that he and the other journalists were “told at the beginning of the screening, the point of this exercise was to encourage us to use our platforms to defend Israel’s onslaught on Gaza.”

It is a shocking directive from the Israeli military, one that hundreds of other journalists did not bother to reveal to their global audiences.

But Jones refused to use his platform for that purpose, stating instead that: “Watching this film of horrors, and they are horrors, does not lead me to want to support other horrors.” 

Jones explained that by the time of the screening, the death toll in Gaza had already reached some 20,000, including 8,000 children. Jones pointed out that just the number of children Israel had killed in Gaza was almost ten times greater than the 900 Israeli civilians Hamas had allegedly killed on 7 October.

In this regard, Jones agreed with the son of Vivian Silver, a Canadian-Israeli woman thought kidnapped by Hamas on 7 October but later found dead. When asked if he agreed with the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza, he responded: “No, I don’t think you can heal pain with more pain.”

But the Israeli army’s private screening of Hamas attacks on 7 October had an additional objective. 

Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesperson, said the video was being shown to counter the “Holocaust denial-like phenomenon” about the scale of Hamas atrocities. Levy was concerned that Israel’s propaganda had already lost credibility, even among US officials and western journalists. 

The claim of Hamas’ wide-scale beheading of children originated on 10 October when the i24 news site, seen as close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claimed that, “Some soldiers say they found babies with their heads cut off, entire families gunned down in their beds. Multiple babies and young children have been taken out on gurneys — so far.” 

This merged with another unverified claim from the outlet that Hamas had killed 40 children to become 40 beheaded babies.

An Israeli military spokesperson stated the claims could not be confirmed but asked reporters to believe them anyway. “We couldn’t see it with our own eyes, but obviously, it happened … This stuff happens,” he told the Intercept on 11 October.

US President Joe Biden even repeated the allegation, saying the Israelis had shown him “confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children.” But a White House spokesperson later clarified that neither the president nor US officials had seen images or heard independently confirmed reports of beheaded children.

Ashes and bones

At the time of the first video screening, Israeli spokespersons Levy and Hagari were also dealing with the fallout from Israeli media reports showing that, in addition to those killed by Hamas on 7 October, many Israeli civilians and soldiers had been killed by the army itself.

To regain control of the military bases and settlements taken over by the resistance, and to prevent them from taking soldiers and civilians captive back to Gaza, the Israeli military employed overwhelming firepower, including armed Zik drones, Apache helicopters, and Merkava tanks. In accordance with the Hannibal Directive, occupation forces massacred many of their own civilians and soldiers. 

The video showing Hamas’ actions, some real but others imagined, was therefore needed to deflect responsibility for these deaths. This included responsibility for the killing of 12-year-old Liel Hetzroni.

Naftali Bennett, the former Israeli Prime Minister, expressed his outrage over her death on the social media site X, claiming “Liel Hetzroni of Kibbutz Beeri was murdered in her home by Hamas monsters.”

However, Israeli eyewitnesses revealed that the young girl, her twin brother, and her aunt were killed by Israeli tank fire, along with at least eight other captives barricaded in a home with Hamas fighters.

When the remains of Liel’s body were identified, only ash and bone fragments remained.

But Bennett used the horror of Liel’s death to justify further horrors in Gaza, claiming, “We’re fighting the most just war: to ensure this can never happen again.”

Just one day after Bennett’s post about 12-year-old Liel, Reuters reported the plight of a four-year-old Palestinian child, Ahmed Shabat. 

“The boy keeps asking for his parents, and he wants to get up and walk, but his parents are dead and his legs have been amputated,” after an Israeli airstrike hit their home in the town of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.

The force of the blast threw the boy into a neighboring house. His two-year-old brother survived the Israeli attack, but 17 members of the boys’ family were killed, Reuters added.

Amateurish and crooked

As the Israeli army’s killing of Palestinians in Gaza continues, so do its efforts to manipulate the media to justify them.

On 28 November, Ishay Cohen of Kikar HaShabbat, a Haredi news website, published an interview with an Israeli soldier who claimed that dead “babies and children were hung in a clothesline in a row,” by Hamas on 7 October.

Cohen later deleted the video, as the claim could not be confirmed, but not before it went viral.

One X user criticized Cohen, writing, “How do you upload such a video online without having 100% certainty? Why is everything here amateurish and crooked?”

Cohen explained the reasons for his mistake, saying: 

“I admit that I didn’t think it was necessary to check the truth of a story brought by a lieutenant colonel, a general officer of the Gaza division … Why would an army officer make up such a horrific story? I was wrong.”

Tragically, Israeli propaganda to win support for its onslaught in Gaza has so far been a success, at least based on the inaction of the international community to hold the occupation state accountable for its war crimes. Moreover, despite feigning concern about protecting Palestinian civilian life, the Biden administration has provided Israel roughly 57,000 artillery shells and 15,000 bombs, including 100 BLU-109, 2,000-pound bunker buster bombs since 7 October.

The Wall Street Journal reported that according to US officials, Israel used one such bomb in “an attack that leveled an apartment block in Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, killing more than 100 people.”

While the tragic killing of 112 Israelis in Kibbutz Be’eri on 7 October will long be remembered as part of “Israel’s 9/11,” the killing of 100 Palestinians in Jabalia on 31 October was only briefly in the headlines. It was quickly overwhelmed in the following days and weeks by almost daily additional Israeli massacres, the videos of which anyone can freely see online for themselves – with no invitation-only, private screenings involved.The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Thanks to new.thecradle.co