Lies, Damned Lies, & Israeli Propaganda
by Anthony Arnove and Paul D'Amato
International Socialist Review, May-June 2002
Israel's current war in the Occupied Territories is one of
conquest, not defense. The West Bank and Gaza Strip, along with
the eastern, Arab half of Jerusalem, were seized by Israel in
the June 1967 war. It considers these lands to be part of "Eretz
Israel" (Greater Israel). Since then, Israel has engaged
in a policy of colonization, demolishing Palestinian olive groves,
homes and towns and setting up strategic Jewish colonies. Israel
then justifies its extension of its military control over the
region, as well as its seizure of key water sources, as necessary
security measures to defend its settlements. As one historian
explains, Israel is the region's most powerful state-not a besieged
victim, but a colonial aggressor:
The postwar tactics of the Israeli government in the occupied
territories are characterized, in the contemporary euphemism,
by the continuous "creation of facts." Among these facts
are the expropriation of Arab land, the expulsion of the Arab
population and the establishment of Jewish colonies. The overall
strategy, again in the popular phrase, is "creeping annexation"
of the occupied lands. This strategy is pursued by the dominant
military and unique nuclear power in the region; it has been adopted
neither from any overpowering force of circumstances nor from
a compelling need for greater security. This much has been publicly
conceded in Israel by ranking members of the military establishment
who claim that at no time before, during or since the June war
has Israel been in any danger of defeat.
Today, Israel's massive military power makes its position
even more unassailable. Palestinian resistance against the occupation
has prompted massive Israeli violence to suppress it, the latest
being Sharon's invasion of the West Bank with tanks, F16s, bulldozers
and Apache helicopters-all paid for by the United States.
The Israeli state, in fact, was founded in 1948 on the forced
expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland. Hundreds
of emptied Arab villages were renamed and repopulated with Jews.
Israeli defense forces and militias committed a number of massacres
in order to terrorize Palestinians into fleeing their homes, the
most well-known being that of Deir Yassi in April, 1948, where
Jewish paramilitary forces-the Ster Gang, the Haganah, and the
Irgun-slaughtered 250 men women, and children. But there were
many others, including th massacre of October 29, 1948, in which
Israeli soldiers murdered 80 -100 men, women, and children from
the village Dawaym in the Haifa subdistrict. Th Jenin refugee
camp that was as brutally devastated in early April was first
created for Palestinians who were forcibly removed from the coastal
region of Haifa in 1948. Now thousands of them are refugees yet
The Oslo Accords of 1993 and subsequent "peace"
agreements did not slow the process of "creeping annexation."
Since Oslo, the number of Jewish colonists in East Jerusalem,
the West Bank, and Gaza have almost doubled to over 400,000. Thirty-four
new settlements have been approved since Ariel Sharon took office.
Some try to describe the current conflict as a "cycle
of violence." But as Haim Bresheeth, writing in the May 2-8
Al Ahram Weekly notes, this assumes "there is a symmetry
between the occupier and the occupied-as if the violence of a
mighty army destroying all before it is equal to the despair,
hopelessness and anger that forces people to kill others by committing
Ariel Sharon nicknamed the "bulldozer," is a war
criminal, responsible for numerous atrocities against Palestinians.
He oversaw the Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which Lebanese fascist
militia slaughtered hundreds of Palestinians while Israeli troops
surrounded the camps. He has overseen the expansion of Israeli
settlements, the brutal Israeli invasion and occupation of southern
Lebanon in 1982, and years of repression in the Occupied Territories.
Despite his talk of being willing to "make painful compromises,"
Sharon is committed to a vision of Eretz Israel, in which Israel
would take all of the land of historic Palestine for an expanded
Jewish state. As he wrote, "We must say very clearly that
our concern for our own survival does not permit the establishment
of a second Palestinian state on the West Bank" (Jordan being,
in Sharon's mind, a Palestinian state).
Sharon recently said he would not withdraw from a single Israeli
settlement. "The fate of Neztarim is the fate of Tel Aviv,"
Sharon told a committee of the Knesset (parliament) in mid-April
2002, indicating that the illegal colonial outpost of Netzarim
in the Gaza Strip (an area that the Palestinians supposedly control)
is as much a part of Israel as its second major city. Sharon has
repeatedly said that he will not allow a withdrawal of Israel
to the borders it has established before the June 1967, invasion
of its neighbors. According to Sharon, "Israel cannot return
to the '67 borders," which he referred to as "Auschwitz
According to Ephraim Sneh, the Israeli transport minister,
Sharon is planning to annex half the West Bank to Israel. And
one of Israel's leading historians, Martin van Creveld predicts
that Sharon is planning to use the cover of a U.S. war against
Iraq to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the West Bank.
Sharon, rather than seeking peace of any kind, has deliberately
provoked the Palestinian movement in order to justify all-out
war in the Occupied Territories. Whenever there has been a lull
in the conflict, Israel has upped the ante by carrying out an
assassination of a respected Palestinian militant, expecting reprisals,
which could then be used as an excuse to "retaliate."
Alexander Cockburn, citing a November 25 article in the right-of-center
Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot, made this observation:
Alex Fishman is the main commentator on security matters
for Israel's largest mass circulation paper, Yediot Ahronot, a
publication with right-of-center politics. Fishman is known for
his excellent contacts in the military. On Sunday, November 25,
Fishman issued a prediction based on the recent assassination
on November 23 by Israel's security services of the Hamas leader,
Mahmud Abu Hunud....
"Whoever gave a green light to this act of liquidation
knew full well that he is thereby shattering in one blow the gentleman's
agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority; under that
agreement, Hamas was to avoid in the near future suicide bombings
inside the Green Line, of the kind perpetrated at the Dolphinarium
[discotheque in Tel-Aviv]."
Fishman stated flatly that such an agreement did exist, even
if neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas would admit to
it in public. "It is a fact," he continued, "that,
while the security services did accumulate repeated warnings of
planned Hamas terrorist attacks within the Green Line, these did
not materialize. That cannot be attributed solely to the Shabak's
impressive success in intercepting the suicide bombers and their
controllers. Rather, the respective leaderships of the Palestinian
Authority and Hamas came to the understanding that it would be
better not to play into Israel's hands by mass attacks on its
In other words Arafat had managed to convince Hamas to curb
its suicide bombers. This understanding was shattered by the assassination
of Abu Hunud. "Whoever decided upon the liquidation of Abu
Hunud," Fishman continued, "knew in advance that that
would be the price. The subject was extensively discussed both
by Israel's military echelon and its political one, before it
was decided to carry out the liquidation. Now, the security bodies
assume that Hamas will embark on a concerted effort to carry out
suicide bombings, and preparations are made accordingly"
Sharon has consistently refused to negotiate with Yasser Arafat,
who, despite his compromises with Israel, is universally regarded
as the main representative of the Palestinian people. In Sharon's
words, "with Arafat, no one will be able to make peace."
When Bush described Sharon as a man of peace, Israel was in the
midst of its most violent and sweeping campaign against the Palestinians
Israel's brutal invasion imprisoned Arafat, destroyed the
infrastructure not only of Palestinian Authority rule, but of
Palestinian life. Israel wants peace, certainly: a peace built
upon the homes of expelled Palestinians. They want a solution
to the Palestinian problem in which the Palestinians peacefully
acquiesce to the dispossession of their land, their homes, and
are left, at best, with tiny, isolated, walled enclaves (prisons,
really) of poverty and destitution.
Journalist Chris Hedges, in his "Gaza Diary," published
in Harpers describes one incident that reveals the attitude Israeli
soldiers have toward killing Palestinian children:
It is still. The camp waits, as if holding its breath. And
then, out of the dry furnace air, a disembodied voice crackles
over a loudspeaker.
"Come on, dogs," the voice booms in Arabic. "Where
are all the dogs of Khan Younis? Come! Come!"
I stand up. I walk outside the hut. The invective continues
to spew: "Son of a bitch!" "Son of a whore!"
"Your mother's cunt!"
The boys dart in small packs up the sloping dunes to the
electric fence that separates the camp from the Jewish settlement.
They lob rocks toward two armored jeeps parked on top of the dune
and mounted with loudspeakers. Three ambulances line the road
below the dunes in anticipation of what is to come.
A percussion grenade explodes. The boys, most no more than
ten or eleven years old, scatter, running clumsily across the
heavy sand. They descend out of sight behind a sandbank in front
of me. There are no sounds of gunfire. The soldiers shoot with
silencers. The bullets from the M-16 rifles tumble end over end
through the children's slight bodies. Later, in the hospital,
I will see the destruction: the stomachs ripped out, the gaping
holes in limbs and torsos.
Yesterday at this spot the Israelis shot eight young men,
six of whom were under the age of eighteen. One was twelve. This
afternoon they kill an eleven-year-old boy, Ali Murad, and seriously
wound four more, three of whom are under eighteen. Children have
been shot in other conflicts I have covered- death squads gunned
them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were
lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children
in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in
Sarajevo-but I have never before watched soldiers entice children
like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.'
The current Israeli offensive has involved indiscriminate
killing of men, women and children; the systematic destruction
of property; the cutting off of water supply; and the prevention
of travel even for ambulances. It is a full-scale war against
the entire population. Like the war in Vietnam, Israeli soldiers
make war on the whole people, because the vast majority of the
Palestinian people oppose Israel's occupation. Thousands of Palestinian
men have been rounded up, stripped, blindfolded, detained, and
many tortured and beaten. Palestinians have routinely been used
by Israeli soldiers as human shields to conduct house-to-house
In its attacks on Palestinian refugee camps and towns from
March 1 to April 28, 2002, the Israeli military reportedly killed
345 Palestinians (35 of them under the age of 18) and wounded
1,346. (At least eight more were killed when Israel entered Hebron
on April 29.) "The mismatch in force of arms was stark,"
the New York Times was forced to admit:
The Israeli Army used Vulcan antiaircraft guns, able to shoot
3,000 rounds a minute, inside the camp. It used Cobra helicopters
with thermal detection capability to fire TOW missiles -intended
for use against tanks on open battlefields- through the walls
of houses, some with noncombatants inside. It deployed scores
of Merkava tanks and armored vehicles equipped with machine guns.
It used bulldozers to raze civilian homes, crushing more and more
of them-but with less and less warning, Palestinians said.'
Sharon launched a major offensive into Ramallah and ordered
the army to target Arafat's own headquarters, "smashing through
walls and battling room to room," cutting off electricity
to the building, and firing on his office, leaving him sitting
at his desk by candlelight.' As the army went house to house and
rounded up all men in Ramallah aged 15 to 45, Israel ordered out
foreign reporters and also solidarity activists trying to disrupt
the army's operation. Reporters were shot at and tear gassed as
they tried to report on Israel's operations in the West Bank.
''Journalists are banned, and [Israeli] government officials have
warned that those caught [in Ramallah] could have their press
cards revoked. A new list today of dosed military zones includes
every city and town the army has entered." Conditions were
so grim that even the World Bank protested that "the [Israeli]
army had destroyed water and electricity facilities, homes, schools
and public buildings" in the towns it had occupied.'
Palestinians are routinely denied necessary health care, as
this report from B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization,
reported on this incident in Nablus:
On April 29, 2002, at around 7:00 PM, 28-year-old Amal Afaneh
who was seven months pregnant, began feeling extreme abdominal
pain. 'Afaneh's relatives considered taking her to the hospital
in Nablus by car, a distance of only 5 to 6 kilometers from their
village of Azmut. They decided against it, as they feared being
shot by Israeli soldiers who are positioned at the entrance to
the village and along the road between Azmut and Nablus. The family
called the Red Crescent and the Red Cross to request that they
send an ambulance. The family was told that this could only be
done following coordination with the Israeli military.
While the Red Crescent and the Red Cross worked on obtaining
the required Israeli approval, the family called a nurse who lives
in the village. The nurse gave 'Afaneh preliminary treatment,
and herself called the Red Crescent to urge them to hurry, as
'Afaneh needed treatment that she could not provide.
At 9:00 PM, the family was told that approval had been received
and an ambulance was on its way In fact, the Red Crescent ambulance
had already arrived at the entrance to 'Azmut, but was detained
for thirty minutes by an Israeli tank crew. The soldiers ordered
the ambulance driver, Samir Abu Seir, and the paramedic, Jamal
Abu Hamdeh, to open the doors of the ambulance, and take off all
their clothes. The soldiers then took away their identification
papers, turned off their walkie-talkies, and made them sit on
the ground. After searching the ambulance, the soldiers ordered
the two men to return to Nablus. The ambulance was forced to leave
When 'Afaneh's relatives heard that an ambulance had been
seen leaving 'Azmut, they called the Red Crescent again, and were
told that the IDF denied the ambulance entry into the village,
and nothing more could be done.
At 9:30 PM, Amal 'Afaneh gave birth. Her baby did not survive.
She remains at home, still unable to reach the hospital for follow-up
The Red Cross protested Israel's attacks on its ambulances,
and facilities, which limited its ability to "feed and provide
medical care to Palestinian civilians," while the Israeli
human rights group B'Tselem petitioned Israel's High Court "after
receiving reports of torture at the Of her detention center near
Israeli troops moved into Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, Salfit,
Beit Jala, Nablus, and Tulkarm, and Qalqilya, conducting house-to-house
searches. "In each city," the New York Times reported,
"the [Israeli] army was proving more intense, ruthless and
thorough than in any prior incursion, including the raids month."
Israeli army Major General Yitzhak Eitan announced, "This
operation will last as long as necessary, without a time limit,"
as Israel called up 20,000 reservists for duty.
Israel's destruction of the Jenin refugee camp in early April
was the most horrific. Terje Roed-Larsen, the United Nation's
special envoy to the Middle East, said the conditions in the Jenin
refugee camp after Israel's massive onslaught there were "horrific
and shocking beyond belief . . . No objective can justify producing
such suffering for the population."
"The devastation is worse than I expected," said
one aid worker who emerged from the camp this afternoon. "I
couldn't have imagined anything worse than this." The aid
workers see the camp as the equivalent of an earthquake zone,
where hundreds of homes have been flattened and thousands are
in need of immediate food and housing. An estimated 3,000 people
re main in the camp and 10,000 are believed to be scattered across
the area. The Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg said Jenin "look[ed]
more like the scene of an earthquake than combat zone after it
was flattened by Israeli army bulldozers."
One eyewitness description of the Jenin "incursion"
gives sense of the horror experienced by Jenin's citizens:
Khadra Samara, 33, the wife of the hospital cook [at Razi
Hospital], said she was inside her home on Rawabi Street in the
Jenin refugee camp about 11:30 Sunday night when an Israeli bulldozer
approached and tore through the front gate and began slamming
into the house.
"We started screaming and lighting lamps and candles
so they'd know someone was inside," she said. "We were
15 women and children.... But as we screamed, a missile was fired
at the house, destroying the second and third floors. The whole
house shook, there was a flash of light, and all the windows were
In a panic, Samara called her husband at the hospital and
pleaded for help. Inexplicably, the bulldozer backed off. But
before dawn Monday it smashed into the house again, shaking the
cinder-block walls of the bedroom where the children were sleeping.
"The top of the wall started to give, and I started
grabbing the kids and hauling them away from there," she
said. "They destroyed the house with everything in it. We
didn't even take one T-shirt for one child."
Samara tried to get out the front door, but found it was
blocked by rubble. She handed the children through a side window
into a neighbor's house.
"I was so furious I wanted to make a suicide bomb and
use it on them," she said. "I picked up a cylinder of
cooking gas to carry with me so I could blow it up. I was so scared
I was screaming. I thought I was going to die.
"When I picked up the cylinder my daughter said, 'Mom,
don't do it! For God's sake don't do it!"'
The second house provided little respite. An hour after they
took refuge there, the bulldozer came again. They fled to a third
house; it came under attack from missiles fired by helicopter
"From 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. we ran from bedroom to bathroom
to kitchen, wherever we thought was safest to go. The children
became sick from fear and started vomiting," Samara said.
They finally emerged waving white scarves. By that time,
with residents of the two other houses having joined the group,
they counted nearly 30 women and children. The soldiers held them
for three hours, then let them go, Samara said.
An untold number of people were buried by tanks and bulldozers
under the rubble of their own homes in Jenin. Reporters and human
rights workers reported seeing piles of rubble under which wafted
the stench of rotting corpses. Given Israel's closing off of Jenin
after its assault and its rebuff, with U.S. acquiescence, of a
UN inspection team, we will likely never know the full extent
of Israel's war crimes in Jenin.
Defenders of George W. Bush like to talk about how "plain
spoken," "honest," and "direct" he is.
But apparently the terms "without delay," "now,"
and "immediately" have eluded the president and his
good friend Ariel Sharon. But even when Colin Powell and George
Bush were finally pressured on April 4 into calling for an end
to Sharon's brutal assault, "Israel's West Bank offensive
continued unabated . . . as the government of Ariel Sharon sought
to beat what was seen as a warning," the Financial Times
reported. "I'm not sure that we have to be concerned,"
one Israeli official said of the Bush call for Israel to pull
back. Indeed, Israel escalated its attacks and entered new Palestinian
population centers after Bush's statement. When Bush sent Powell
to meet with the Israeli government, Powell communicated the urgency
of his visit by flying to Morocco, Egypt, Spain and Jordan, before
eventually making his way to Israel on April 11. Israel moved
into the largest town in the West Bank, Hebron, on April 29. As
of this writing-early May-Israel has not fully withdrawn to its
preMarch 2002 positions.
The truth is that the Bush Administration has given the green
light to Israel's assault, calling it "self defense."
The Boston Globe quoted a defense department official saying that
Powell delayed his arrival to Israel for several days in order
to allow Israel to complete its offensive.
[New York Times columnist] Thomas Friedman, a supporter of
Israel and its current war, has no problem with the taking of
a few thousand Palestinian lives by Israeli soldiers-in fact he
calls for Israel to "deliver a military blow" to crush
the Palestinian resistance. Friedman is attempting to paint the
Palestinian people as less than fully human. Ran HaCohen dissects
Friedman's focus on suicide bombers is intended to dehumanize
the Palestinians. By blaming Palestinians of carelessness towards
"the sacredness of every human life, starting with your own",
Friedman is claiming that they do not care about their own life.
He is then patronizingly pretending that he does care about their
life (more than they do!), and now, having assumed responsibility
for the Palestinians, Friedman has a suggestion: "First,
Israel needs to deliver a military blow". Bravo. Look how
easily the great moralist Friedman is translating the sacredness
of every human life" into "a military blow". All
in the name of "the basic truth civilization is built on"
- what else?
The Palestinian struggle is morally justified, even though
some of its manifestations are unjustifiable. Reducing this struggle
to the issue of suicide bombing is just another way of dehumanizing
and thus legitimizing the killing of Palestinians, instead of
removing the reasons for their horrifying desperation (remember
Epictetus). Dehumanizing an entire people in the name of the "sacredness
of every human life", as Thomas Friedman has done, is an
especially repulsive example of demagoguery.
One need not support the tactic of suicide bombing aimed at
killing Israeli citizens-though it isn't clear why it is more
reprehensible than blowing up Palestinians with U.S.-made bombs
and missiles-in order to make the important distinction between
the violence of the oppressor (Israel) and the violence of the
oppressed (Palestinians). In fact, Sharon, as argued above, has
deliberately provoked the suicide bombings because he sees them
as a good cover for Israel's brutal invasion. But it is the purest
hypocrisy to attack the Palestinians for using violent means to
seek their freedom. If Israel uses tanks and bombs to invade Palestinian
land and homes, bulldozing people alive, bombing and strafing
their homes, do not Palestinians have a right to use violence
in their defense?
Washington is anything but an "honest broker." Palestinian
children's lives have never meant anything beside Israeli ones.
Regardless of who has been in power in Washington, Israel has
been given a blank check by the U.S. government for decades. Every
year, the U.S. sends billions of dollars to Israel in the form
of grants, low-cost loans, and subsidies. No other country in
the world has received as much aid or support. And U.S. manufacturers
are always ready to supply Israel with more weapons. When Israel
bought nine of Boeing's deadly AH64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters
in February 2001, the Jerusalem Post noted that Israel "will
be paying for the $500 million deal with U.S. military grant money."
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in May 1999, "Israel
has acquired 260 of Lockheed's F-16s over the years, consisting
of 210 new planes and 50 used ones from the U.S. armed forces.
That's the largest fleet of F-16s anywhere in the world outside
the U.S. Air Force." The Post-Dispatch's calculation appeared
two months before Israel purchased another 50 F-16s-in a $2.5
billion deal paid for with U.S. funds.
The United States has long committed itself to Israel as a
strategic asset in the oil-rich and geostrategically crucial Middle
East. It gives more than $3 billion a year to Israel, and provides
it with invaluable military, economic, and political backing.
(In its fiscal year 2001 budget, the State Department explained
"The United States has a significant interest in a stable,
democratic, and economically and militarily strong Israel"
and is committed to "Maintaining the qualitative edge of
the Israeli Defense Forces in the regional balance of power.")
As Noam Chomsky has rightly pointed out, "It is highly misleading
to use the phrase 'Israel-Palestine conflict'... [I]t should be
termed the 'U.S./Israel-Palestine' conflict." That description
is not only a more accurate way of understanding the roots of
the problem, but it points to the urgency that activists in the
United States must have to organize a movement to cut off all
support the United States gives to Israel.
Anthony Arnove is the editor of Iraq Under Seige (South End
Press) and Terrorism and war (Seven Stories Press). He is a contributing
author in The Struggle for Palestine (Haymarket Books) and a member
of the International Socialist Review editorial board. Paul D'Amato
is associate editor of the ISR.