Israeli Propaganda and the Politics of Revenge against Gaza
Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal discuss how the Israeli government manipulated the public into accepting an escalated military operation against Gaza after the murder of three Israeli teenagers
ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.
Over 100,000 Gazans who live near the border with Israel were warned to leave their homes as Israeli officials continue to hint towards a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. The news comes as at least 77 Palestinians have been killed since Tuesday, most of them civilians.
Joining us now to give their analysis on the situation is Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal.
Ali Abunimah is the cofounder and executive director of the Electronic Intifada and the author of the new book The Battle for Justice in Palestine.
Max Blumenthal, who’s also joining us, is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author. His latest book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.
Thank you both for joining us.
ALI ABUNIMAH, COFOUNDER, ELECTRONIC INTIFADA: Thank you.
MAX BLUMENTHAL, AUTHOR, GOLIATH: LIFE AND LOATHING IN GREATER ISRAEL: Good to be with you.
WORONCZUK: So, Max, let’s start with you. Let’s get your response to recent news that 100,000 Gazans have been warned to leave their homes. Do you think that a ground invasion is imminent?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, the Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip are 80 percent refugees–80 percent of them are descended directly from those who were forced off their land in what is now Israel in 1947 in 1948. And now they’re being told to leave again. And they have nowhere to go. There are no bomb shelters in the Gaza Strip. There is nowhere for these refugees to flee. And the coup–the brutal military dictatorship of Egypt, which has risen to power through a coup, will refuse to let them out through the other side, through the Rafah Crossing. So this is another humanitarian catastrophe which Israel seems to cause every two years or so within the Gaza Strip.
I have heard a lot of rumblings about a military invasion, that it would be a limited incursion of 10,000 ground troops or so. The right-wingers in Israel’s governing coalition are pushing Netanyahu for this invasion for the pure purposes of revenge and to satiate the braying masses who represent their constituents, who are taking to Facebook to post calls for the death of Arabs and taking to Twitter to do the same. The military intelligence apparatus is pushing for such an invasion to suppress rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and to assassinate as many high-level leaders of Hamas as possible. So it seems like forces are aligned in support of an invasion, but we’ll have to see how events play out in the coming day or two.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And, Ali, what do you think is the Israeli strategic objective in this offensive against Gaza?
ABUNIMAH: Well, I think Max is right that it’s revenge and it’s largely revenge and an effort to satiate, for political reasons, the bloodlust among the Israeli public, which has reached unbelievable proportions. We see human rights organizations warning that the levels of incitement from Palestinian leaders–excuse me, the levels of incitement from Israeli leaders calling for violence have reached unprecedented proportions. And Israel is satisfying that bloodlust with horrifying attacks which are targeting and killing civilians.
Last night, for example, Israel bombed the Fun Time Beach Cafe in Gaza, where young people had gathered to watch the World Cup match, Argentina versus Netherlands, in order to escape some of the horror that was around them. And Israel bombed it, killing nine people and, according to the AFP report, scattering body parts all over the beach. And this comes as, you know, at least now 22 children have been killed.
And most of the civilian casualties, according to the UN–I quote from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs today: “The targeting and destruction of residential buildings in Gaza continues to be the main cause of civilian casualties.” And that’s so important, because all of the Israeli propaganda which is being parroted in the mainstream media is that Israel does its best to avoid civilian casualties, when in fact, by yesterday, Israel had targeted over 150 private homes. And this is collective punishment. It’s a war crime. They’re targeting the family homes of people that Israel says may be involved in military resistance, and they’re killing their families and their children in the process. It’s pretty shocking that this is happening at the same time that the Israeli ambassador went before the UN Security Council today and told that body that the Palestinians celebrate death. Nobody is celebrating the deaths of all of these innocent people except for the Israeli government ministers that are ordering these crimes and the mobs in the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv chanting “death to the Arabs”.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And, Max, the pretext for this offensive, though not really much mentioned now, is the murder of the three Israeli teenagers and Israel’s claims that Hamas was responsible. Now, we also know now that the gag order that was originally issued regarding the deaths of the Israeli teenagers was made when the Israeli officials were making public statements that implied that they did not know that the Israeli teens were in fact dead. So let’s start from this gag order and trace how did we get to this offensive against the Gaza Strip from the gag order.
BLUMENTHAL: I’ll try to keep it brief–it’s difficult to do so, although it’s easy for our mainstream media to do so.
They are covering this escalation of violence as though it’s happened in a vacuum, as though Hamas provoked the whole thing without any political context. The kidnapping of the three Israeli teens occurred on June 12 against the backdrop of unprecedented political pressure on Netanyahu, the Hamas-Fatah unity deal, which he sought to shatter, which the U.S. recognized was a source of deep anxiety among Netanyahu and his inner circle. There was the killings of two Palestinian teens in Beitunia on May 15, captured on closed circuit TV and by a CNN cameraman, which Human Rights Watch had called a war crime–more political pressure. Netanyahu wanted to reframe the discussion.
So the three Israeli teens were kidnapped. A recorded call indicated, with gunshots heard on the recorded call to the police by the teens, that they had been killed right away. The Israeli government and police knew who the two suspects were, two characters with affiliation to a rogue Hamas cell, indicating that Hamas had no knowledge of the kidnapping and that it contravened their political goals and the goals of the unity agreement. Netanyahu seized the opportunity to milk this kidnapping for all the propaganda value it was worth, lying even to the parents of the teenagers, telling them that their teens are alive and that those gunshots they heard in the phone call were blanks.
The military and the Shin Bet intelligence service imposed a gag order preventing the Israeli media from reporting on any details of the investigation into the killings, convincing the Israeli public that the teams were alive. And as Israeli troops rampaged through the West Bank, raiding over 15,000 Palestinian homes, arresting over 560 Palestinians without charges, killing six Palestinians, Israelis believed that they were on a rescue mission, while Netanyahu and his diplomatic corps deployed a propaganda campaign to bring back our boys even while they knew that those boys were dead. They set the Israeli public up for this orgy of revenge.
When the bodies were found, Israelis reacted, Jewish Israelis reacted with extreme shock. Mobs poured out into Jerusalem with young men chanting “death to Arabs”. A group of young men apparently met at one of these spontaneous racist rallies in Jerusalem and went out on a hunt in occupied East Jerusalem for young Palestinian boys to abduct. They found one, 17-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, burned him alive, forcing him to drink gasoline, dumping his body in the woods. And the situation deteriorated from there.
Netanyahu had blamed all of Hamas, calling them “human animals” in an official statement, and declaring, “Vengeance for the blood of a small child Satan has not yet created.” Netanyahu inspired and incited this orgy of revenge. And the official campaign of revenge, apart from the vigilante campaign which claimed the life of Abu Khdeir, is now taking place in Gaza Strip, governed by Hamas.
And just another point. The three suspects in the killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir have been released. They are now under house arrest, and the Israeli police are claiming one had an alibi. Well, Palestinian suspects in crimes against Jewish Israelis never get to have an alibi. The Israeli government has reinstituted its policy of collective punishment and the destruction of the homes of accused Palestinian terror suspects. I don’t think bulldozers will be showing up at the homes of these Israeli teens who responded to Netanyahu’s call for revenge.
WORONCZUK: And, Ali, let’s get your take on how well do you think that the mainstream press, the mainstream media has been reporting on this conflict, on the offensive against Gaza and the United States.
ABUNIMAH: Well, with a few exceptions it’s been absolutely disastrous. [In one of the more] egregious examples the other day, ABC News, on its main evening news, showed pictures of Palestinians picking through the rubble of their destroyed homes, but told a nationwide audience that these were Israelis, so reinforcing the false narrative that, you know, it’s Palestinians who are the aggressors and Israelis who are the suffering victims. ABC News has apologized for that now, but the damage was done. I don’t know if it was deliberate or not, but it certainly shows the level of ignorance among many media makers and producers in the mainstream who wouldn’t have been able to tell who was who, because they have so little background and so little context.
Yesterday I heard a report from Daniel Estrin on NPR, and he began almost every sentence with the phrase Israel says. It was like he was reading a government press release. You take The New York Times, where Jodi Rudoren, the bureau chief, doesn’t take anything, doesn’t give readers anything, unless she’s first, quote-unquote, confirmed it with the Israeli army.
And I have to say, sadly, that progressive media have not been any better. When you look across the board at progressive media, whether it’s the famous shows on MSNBC or The Nation magazine and others, this issue has been really absent, or when they’ve invited voices in it’s often been very, very rarely Palestinians who get to speak directly about their experience. That’s really a problem.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And, Ali, let’s also briefly talk about you were recently filming participants at a pro-Israel rally in Los Angeles. Tell us what happened?
ABUNIMAH: Well, this was on Tuesday. I was in L.A. for a couple of days, and there was a big rally. Actually, hundreds of people turned out outside the Israeli Consulate in solidarity with Palestinians and to oppose the attacks. But before I went to that rally, I went to a pro-Israel rally, which was across Wilshire Boulevard, and I was openly filming and talking to people. And just as I was being told by one of the participants–I’d asked him, how could we make all this stop? He said the answer is to eliminate Muslims. And then he began an anti-Muslim tirade. I was in a conversation with others. There were others at that pro-Israel rally who disagreed with him. And we were talking. And then out of the blue I was simply jumped on by LAPD officers and dragged away and threatened and handcuffed, and I was effectively removed and prevented from recording and filming and reporting. I was–I believe that what happened is that one of the organizers of that rally saw me, saw the fact that embarrassing things were being said on camera that exposed the racism at these rallies, the anti-Palestinian hatred that is endemic, and he set the police on me. I believe that is what happened. And it was caught on video that is posted at the Electronic Intifada.
WORONCZUK: And what would you say to critics that say that you put yourself in this situation where you knew that it could possibly escalate and that police did the right thing preventing you from entering the situation in which you might have been attacked?
ABUNIMAH: Well, the only escalation was by the police, because anyone who watches the video can see that even though I was being told some pretty racist things, it was a totally calm conversation. I was having a back-and-forth with participants at that rally. They knew I was filming them. I was doing it openly. You can see me in one of the videos that was taken by someone else. I’m holding the camera up like this. There’s no mistaking what’s going on. The only escalation is when the LAPD assaulted, battered, and handcuffed me.
BLUMENTHAL: Can I interject something?
WORONCZUK: Of course, Max. Go on.
BLUMENTHAL: I’m fairly well known for filming at these kind of rallies of pro-Israel partisans in New York City. You can see my videos on YouTube. I go with a camera and a microphone and I ask them what they think. I have never had any problem with police interfering with my right to film and conduct journalism, which is exactly what Ali was doing in a very polite manner.
And so, you know, to me–it indicates to me that Ali was profiled. He was profiled for having olive skin. And he was asked by the cops, “Are you with the Palestines?” He was then informed that he was trying to fire people up when he was doing no such thing. So it was a clear act of police overreaction by an LAPD which has been involved, ever since Bill Bratton’s tenure as LAPD chief, in close coordination, training coordination with the Israeli military. And Bratton has brought that coordination back to New York City, where he has been appointed police commissioner by the supposed progressive Bill de Blasio. These relationships have had a deleterious impact on the relationship between police and communities, because they’re being influenced by an occupying sectarian force that views a certain civilian population as endemically violent, hostile, and dangerous.
WORONCZUK: Okay. Max Blumenthal and Ali Abunimah, thank you both for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.
WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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