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The Lying Game: Failing in Gaza


By Mitchell Plitnick (source: LobeLog)

Rescue crews search for survivors in Shujaya after the Israeli attack which left 72 dead in the town.
Credit: Joe Catron/ Published under a Creative Commons License)

We’ve all seen it in movies and television shows. A man with a gun is pointing at an innocent, making demands of the “good guys.” When our heroes do not deliver, the man shoots the innocent and tells our heroes that it was their fault. Do we buy it? Of course not.

On or around August 6, 1945, US Air Force jets dropped copies of two leaflets on Japanese cities, including Nagasaki, according to the Harry S. Truman Library. Both included a similar message: You saw what we did to Hiroshima. If you don’t want the same thing to happen to you, overthrow your emperor. Failing that, flee your cities.

In fact, the leaflets were dropped on Nagasaki (and Hiroshima) only after the city had been hit with an atomic bomb. Previously, leaflets had been dropped on dozens of Japanese cities warning of devastating bomb attacks (these did not reference atomic bombs), and indeed those cities were devastated. But, of course, with so many cities being targeted, it would not have been possible for Japanese citizens to flee in great numbers even if their government would have permitted such mass flight.

So why drop the leaflets at all? This memo describes the purpose as psychological warfare aimed at Japan. It has been noted elsewhere that it has the ancillary benefit of making these strikes, both the carpet bombings and the atomic attacks, seem much more humane to US citizens and the rest of the world. Does all of this sound familiar?

It should, because we’ve heard much the same story coming from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the moment the latest Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip began. We’ve been told ad nauseum about the great care Israel takes to avoid Palestinian casualties. They drop little bombs on rooftops just before the big bombs. They send text messages and automated phone calls. And yes, they drop leaflets.

So why, with all these extraordinary measures, are the vast majority of the dead and injured in Gaza civilians? Why have more than 100 Gazan children been killed? Why are 35-50,000 Gazans displaced, and why are all of these numbers growing and getting more disproportionate with each passing day?

A dead Palestinian child killed: One of the civilian casualties of Israel attack on Gaza
(photo by Islamic Republic News Agency)

Israel wants you to think that Hamas is using these civilians, the children as well, as human shields. At this point, there are only three groups of people who could possibly believe that in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary: 1) Those who are simply ignorant; 2) Those who will believe anything Israel says no matter what; and 3) The congenitally stupid. Sadly, it seems these groups comprise a very large part of the population in the West.

Despite that unfortunate reality, there does appear to be a strong sense that Israel is acting, at the very least, disproportionately or irresponsibly. Much, though far from all of the mainstream coverage of the fighting has focused on the devastation being experienced in Gaza. It is reminiscent of the 2008-09 onslaught, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, but in that event, the comparatively (and one must stress that word) negative coverage of Israel’s action took much longer to coalesce.

Really, it is astounding that people can continue to cling to the frankly absurd notion that “Hamas is responsible” for the civilian casualties in Gaza. I oppose almost everything Hamas stands for; they are a regressive, anti-democratic, faith-based organization with antiquated ideas about women, and with repressive ideas of government. The organization clearly did rise to prominence through acts of terrorism, and they continue to commit war crimes.

But their crimes are clearly dwarfed by Israel’s actions. Columnist Dalia Scheindlin described Gaza as “ area that [Israel] has already imprisoned by occupation from 1967, and then through suffocating border, movement, import and export control since 2007. Its residents have been stateless since 1948.” None of that just happened; Israel did that, and security concerns cannot justify such actions, according to international law. Not to mention basic ethics.

In this case, however, loathe as I am to admit it, it is Hamas that is the one standing and seeing the innocent being held hostage, and who has to watch as Israel kills the innocent for Hamas’ refusal to surrender. One can question, as I certainly have, whether Hamas made the right choice in rejecting a ceasefire which they had good reason to see as little more than terms of a surrender in order to stop Israel before it pushed things even further, as it did this past weekend in the Gazan town of Shujaya. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was Israel holding the gun to the head of the Palestinian civilians. It is not, and has never been, the other way around.

The notion that Israel is trying to avoid civilian casualties is belied by the reality that Israel has made no secret of the fact that it targets the homes of Hamas leaders where their children, and their families live. It is belied by eyewitness accounts of Israeli actions. Even the United States has told Israel it is “not doing enough” to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza. Coming from America, that is a very damning indictment indeed to be directed at Israel in what is generally perceived here in the US as a time of war.

Finally, one has to ask the Israeli government this question: when you tell the Palestinians to run, where, in one of the most overcrowded places in the world with sealed borders, are they supposed to run?

Secretary of State John Kerry forgot he was at Fox News when, during a commercial break, he spoke on the phone to an aide and said, sarcastically about Israel’s efforts, “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.” Fox aired it immediately to put Kerry on the spot, and Kerry of course scrambled to cover his tracks, but his perspective was already out.

There can be little doubt that the US and our good friend in Egypt, General-President al-Sisi would love to see Netanyahu wipe out all of Hamas, but that is not possible. Meanwhile the Obama administration has to be concerned about the potential for the latest Gaza onslaught to cause the West Bank to boil over, and possibly even get intertwined with broader regional conflicts. Every civilian death raises that possibility a little higher.

But there remains a steadfast refusal to confront Israel, especially on a “security matter,” and never mind that Netanyahu willfully set this entire scenario up from the moment he heard about the deaths of the three young Israeli settlers last month. Incredibly, on the same day as his gaffe, Kerry told CNN that “Israel is under siege by” Hamas. Apparently, Hamas is sealing off Israel’s borders, ports and airspace and severely limiting most goods and almost all exports from crossing the borders. This is turning reality on its head. But it is no less than what we have come to expect from public US pronouncements.

Still, it seems like much of the global public, and even much of the mainstream media, is starting to understand that this Israeli government, much more than the ones in the past, is the one holding the gun to the heads of innocents. Perhaps the massive rise in street hooliganism so reminiscent of fascism and right-wing authoritarianism in so much of the world is attributing to this growing reality.

Whatever the cause, it cannot have escaped Israel’s notice that even the United States is having a hard time supporting Netanyahu’s story with a straight face given the blatant discrepancy between the facts as everyone sees them and the Israeli line. As with the US in 1945, the purpose of the leaflets is to sell the story, not to protect civilians. But this isn’t 1945, and people can see a lot more for themselves. In any case, Israel may have used this tactic one time too often.


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About the Author: Mitchell Plitnick is the former Director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and was previously the Director of Education and Policy for Jewish Voice for Peace. He is a widely published and respected policy analyst. Born in New York City, raised an Orthodox Jew and educated in Yeshiva, Mitchell grew up in an extremist environment that passionately supported the radical Israeli settler movement. Plitnick regularly speaks all over the country on current issues. His writing has appeared in the Jordan Times, Israel Insider, UN Observer, Middle East Report, Global Dialogue, San Francisco Chronicle, Die Blaetter Fuer Deutsche Und Internationale Politik, Outlook, and in a regular column for a time in Tikkun Magazine. He has been interviewed by various outlets including PBS News Hour, the O’Reilly Factor and CNBC Asia. Plitnick graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in Middle Eastern Studies and wrote his thesis on Israeli and Jewish historiography.

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