Israel’s lie machine goes into overdrive

June 2, 2010

Israel's slander campaign against peace activists from the Gaza Freedom Flotilla isn't only about justifying the murder of at least 10 of them, writes Alan Maass.

NO SMEAR is too crude and no lie too outrageous in Israel's attempt to justify the murderous commando assault on a flotilla of boats carrying humanitarian aid to besieged Gaza.

The flotilla carried hundreds of peace activists from more than 40 countries, many of them renowned for their commitment to nonviolence and the struggle for justice.

But that didn't stop Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon from announcing that "[t]he organizers are well-known for their ties to global jihad, al-Qaeda and Hamas. They have a history of arms smuggling and deadly terror."

Ayalon didn't provide any evidence of "a history of arms smuggling" by former State Department official and Code Pink activist Ann Wright. Or of Viva Palestina organizer Kevin Ovenden's "ties to al-Qaeda." He didn't recount the terrorist exploits of Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, who is on board another vessel headed toward Gaza in an attempt to break Israel's siege.

But Israeli officials never do. In a bitter irony, they seem prepared to use the same techniques as Joseph Goebbels, the German Nazis' propaganda chief, who infamously said: "When one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it."

Israeli commandos on the deck of a ship in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla
Israeli commandos on the deck of a ship in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla

The Israeli strategy in a crisis is to flood the airwaves with distortions, myths, innuendo and outright falsehoods--and count on sympathizers among Western political leaders and the mainstream press to take up the war cry without asking too many questions.

The approach worked once again with most of the American media. The assault was a military operation, carried out by heavily armed, elite commandos in the dead of night, boarding civilian vessels in international waters. Yet virtually every article in the U.S. media used the unspecific weasel words "violence broke out onboard" to avoid making it clear that Israel was the aggressor.

As in the Israeli military's encounters with Palestinians, casualties from the confrontation were wildly uneven--at least 10 and as many as 20 peace activists killed, and dozens more injured, compared to fewer than 10 injured among the Israeli commandos, only one of them serious. But media accounts focused on Israel's claims about weapons found on board the activists' ship. As one person commented as the story unfolded on Monday, "Peculiar how Israel is always violently attacked, but it's only the 'attackers' who die."

The media left unasked some obvious questions, like: If Israel did have a reason to search a civilian vessel in international waters, why didn't it ask permission to come aboard, and do so during the daytime, so as not to appear as a violent threat? Why did it instead order a commando raid in the middle of the night?

Another question for the media: If a U.S. vessel in international waters was boarded by a team of Iranian commandos in the middle of the night, wouldn't you expect the passengers to see the raid as a violent act and to attempt to defend themselves as best they could?

IF ISRAEL is especially concerned about slandering the peace activists from the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, it isn't only to justify the murder of some of them, but also to distract attention from their mission--to break the no-less-deadly Israeli siege of Gaza.

Palestinians and those struggling in solidarity for Palestinian rights have for years referred to Israeli-occupied Gaza as an "open-air prison." But that phrase has taken on new meaning with the siege imposed by Israel in 2007. Gaza City resident and left-wing activist Haidar Eid says that what is happening to the 1.5 million residents of occupied Gaza is a "massacre in slow motion."

The blockade, carried out with the cooperation and support of the U.S. government, is punishment for the victory of the Islamist Hamas party in 2006 elections for the Palestinian legislative assembly--and an attempt to further divide Gaza, where Hamas is strongest, from Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Basically, Israel's strategy has been to tighten the noose until Palestinians cry "uncle."

The Israeli government ritually claims that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but even its supporters in Washington can't go along with this fraud--the evidence is too overwhelming.

To take the latest example, just days before the assault on the flotilla, Amnesty International released its annual report on human rights, which had this to say about Gaza under the siege:

Mass unemployment, extreme poverty, food insecurity and food price rises caused by shortages left four out of five Gazans dependent on humanitarian aid. The scope of the blockade and statements made by Israeli officials about its purpose showed that it was being imposed as a form of collective punishment of Gazans, a flagrant violation of international law.

Former President Jimmy Carter was harsher still in a speech at American University in Cairo in 2008:

Palestinians in Gaza are being actually "starved to death," receiving fewer calories per day than people in the poorest parts of Africa. This is an atrocity that is being perpetrated as punishment on the people in Gaza. It is a abomination that this is allowed to go on. Tragically, the international community at large ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are treated more like animals than human beings.

Israel claims that the blockade is limited to so-called "security" items that could be used to carry out violence against Israelis. But when Sen. John Kerry visited Gaza in 2009, he and other members "of the highest-ranking American delegation to tour Gaza were shocked to discover that the Israeli blockade against the Hamas-ruled territory included such food staples as lentils, macaroni and tomato paste," reported the Independent.

As of mid-May, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that Gaza health facilities had run out of 110 types of medication and 123 types of medical supplies as a result of Israel's blockade--and within three months would be without 76 more types of medication and 60 types of medical supplies.

When the siege was first imposed, Dov Weisglass, an adviser to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, commented coldly: "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger."

This "diet" has been catastrophic for the people of Gaza, as Jamie Stern-Weiner documented at the New Left Project Web site.

As of November 2009, 60 percent of people in Gaza were "food insecure," according to the UN's World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization, and another 17 percent were considered vulnerable to food insecurity.

Among those at risk for hunger, two-thirds are children, and they are suffering rising levels of malnutrition and stunted growth. The level of anemia in infants aged 9 to 12 months was 65.5 percent, according to a World Health Organization assessment.

According to a survey by the UN Relief and Works Agency, "[T]he number of Palestine refugees completely unable to secure access to food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationary and safe drinking water...has tripled since the imposition of the blockade in June 2007."

Because of the blockade, there has been almost no reconstruction of homes and buildings destroyed in the 2008-09 Israeli onslaught against Gaza. According to the UN Development Program, one year after the assault ended, at least 20,000 Palestinians were still displaced from the nearly 3,500 homes destroyed during Operation Cast Lead. Only 17.5 percent of schools and educational facilities had been rebuilt.

These are just some of the consequences of Israel's slow strangulation of Gaza--yet the Israeli lie machine is working overtime to demonize the international activists who were part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla for their supposed violence.

The truth is obvious: The sticks and other improvised weapons that activists used to defend themselves from a commando assault could never do a fraction of the damage that Israel does every day with its siege of Gaza.

THE ASSAULT on the Freedom Flotilla shows how seriously Israel takes the international solidarity effort to defeat the siege of Gaza. The Israeli establishment was willing to deal with another international outcry against its violence in order to set an example. As Middle East expert Juan Cole wrote at his Informed Comment blog:

[T]he deaths and woundings may have been a brutally frank warning to any future Gaza aid activists that they are taking their lives in their hands if they plan any more flotillas to help the Palestinians. The Israeli far right may have felt that there was otherwise a danger that in a few months there would be an even bigger flotilla and that eventually the blockade of Gaza would be broken.

If this was, in fact, Israel's aim, it backfired in one respect. On Tuesday, the Egyptian government, under pressure from the growing anger at Israel's assault, announced that it was opening its border with Gaza "for an unlimited amount of time." By previously keeping its Rafah border crossing sealed, Egypt had played a crucial role as a junior partner to Israel and the U.S. in maintaining the siege of Gaza.

Nevertheless, Israeli leaders can always hope to regain the upper hand as long as they have the support of the U.S. government.

That's the crucial factor in all their calculations. Israel needs the backing of the U.S. government--not only its political support in deflecting international opposition at the United Nations and elsewhere, but even more critically, the $3 billion-plus that Washington provides in aid every year for its Middle East watchdog.

"The Israelis seem to be making decisions as if they can get away with anything," wrote Atlantic commentator Andrew Sullivan at the end of a long blog post about the Israeli assault. That the far-from-radical Sullivan would express so much outrage at Israel is a sign of how opinion, even among political moderates in the U.S., has shifted.

But ultimately, Israel can get away with just about anything--so long as it can count on the U.S. government to back it up. That's why U.S. opponents of the Israeli war on Palestine have a special duty to organize against the lifeline that Washington provides with its political support and financial backing for Israel.

We can start by confronting the Israeli lie machine with the truth--and make sure the facts get told about the commando raid on the Freedom Flotilla and the murderous siege imposed on the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza. We can continue building the movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel--and organizing to break the blockade of Gaza.

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