As Israel continues its war crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza, Western media and politicians have been complicit in the attempted genocide.
Central to this has been the claim that Hamas beheaded babies during its attack on Israel on Saturday 7 October. However, this allegation forms part of a wider media and political propaganda operation. Its explicit goal is to dehumanise Palestinians and absolve Israel of its own, heinous crimes. Not that this is new – as it’s always been the rationale for violent colonisers.
‘Babies… their heads cut off’
The claim that Hamas beheaded around 40 babies originated from right-wing, Netanyahu-backing Israeli news channel i24 News on Tuesday 10 October. Reporter Nicole Zedek originally said an Israeli reservist soldier (who we now know is a right-wing racist settler) told her he found:
Corporate journalists began repeating the claim on social media. However, as early as 10 October some Israeli army officials were telling media outlets they had no evidence of Hamas beheading babies. Yet on Wednesday 11 October, many UK newspapers ran the story on their front pages anyway without question.
These accusations were accepted at the topmost levels by Western superpowers – with US president Joe Biden claiming that:
I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed, pictures of terrorists beheading children
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The far-right Israeli ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, repeated the claim on BBC Newsnight on Wednesday 11 October. She said:
40 bodies of babies that their heads were cut off… we’ve seen… the bodies of those babies and children, and actually this is evidence-based.
However, by 12pm on Thursday 12 October, the claim was unravelling.
The claim unravels
For example, CNN had to backtrack just after 12pm BST. It reported the Israeli government ‘could not confirm’ the beheadings. However, the claim was repeated again by right-wing editor of the Jewish Chronicle Jake Wallis Simons on Question Time on 12 October. Co-panelist Piers Morgan also echoed this – saying:
Jerusalem Post reporting tonight confirmation of these rumours that were swirling that some of… [the babies] have been beheaded.
The right-wing Jerusalem Post did indeed claim this. It said – citing Netanyahu’s office sharing photos of the beheaded babies with the US’s Anthony Blinken, then putting them on X.
However, the Israeli PM Twitter account does not show decapitated babies – nor does it claim to. Bear in mind, hours earlier the US government had to walk back Biden’s claim – admitting he had not seen any photos of beheaded babies and was basing his assertion on news reports and the Israeli government.
By the early hours of Friday 13 October, even Reuters began to unpick the story. It noted that, within photos Israel had given to NATO:
There were no images to suggest militants had beheaded babies – a particularly explosive accusation that first emerged in Israel’s media and initially confirmed by Israeli officials.
Yet now, what’s looking like a piece of Israeli propaganda that turned into a lie repeated by countless journalists and politicians, will stick. It will stick partly because it forms part of a colonialist propaganda campaign against Palestinians.
Western corporate media: colonialist to the core
This campaign to paint Palestinians as aggressors and barbarians, and to dehumanise them, is sometimes explicit – like Simons’ now-deleted tweet:
Some of it is more subtle yet still obvious – like right-wing Telegraph columnist Madeline Grant’s latest emotive – yet still racist – article:
Then a lot of it flies under the radar, barely even being noticeable.
For example, the Canary analysed the first 20 minutes of BBC News at Six on 11 October. When you remove anchors Clive Myrie and Sophie Raworth’s monologues, the BBC dedicated 84% of the reporting to human stories and analysis around Israel. It gave just 16% of the same type of coverage to Gaza.
Some of the propaganda is implicit – like the BBC‘s use of the passive voice (Palestinians have “died”, while Israelis have been “killed”):
More than 500 people have died in Gaza after Israel launched massive retaliatory air strikes, according to Gaza's health ministry
More than 700 people have been killed in Israel since Hamas launched its attacks on Saturday
Follow the latest ⬇️
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) October 9, 2023
And some of the propaganda is enacted by corporate media like the BBC simply not reporting on stories in a timely manner – like Human Rights Watch confirming that Israel is illegally using white phosphorus in Gaza. Amnesty is also investigating this.
Yet all of the propaganda – whether its proponents say it with their chests or whisper it in the shadows – has the same goal: the incitement against, and ‘othering’ of, Palestinians:
🔺 NEW: British academics have been accused of justifying the attacks by Hamas militants on civilians in online posts, including one that said the killings were a “consequence” for “partying on stolen land” https://t.co/rm2XHFMsY8
— The Times and The Sunday Times (@thetimes) October 11, 2023
It’s easy for the corporate media to get away with this – as they have a partially captive audience. Research from Birmingham University found that over 25% of people in the UK “feel negatively” towards Muslims, with over 36% saying Islam “threatens the British way of life”.
Politicians inciting ethnic cleansing in Gaza
So, this gives the majority of politicians a free pass to also engage in this propaganda – like the head of the EU Ursula von der Leyen’s brazen double standards:
Compare & contrast! Attacking "civilian infrastructure, especially electricity, are war crimes. Cutting off men, women, children of water, electricity and heating with winter coming – these are acts of pure terror". UNLESS the attacker is Israel. Then it's NOT terror!?@?!!! https://t.co/AJ64ZXuVAj
— Yanis Varoufakis (@yanisvaroufakis) October 11, 2023
Others are implicitly endorsing Israel’s war crimes – like leader of the UK Labour Party Keir Starmer:
“I think that Israel does have that right.”
— LBC (@LBC) October 11, 2023
Then, others try and tread that oh-so white, Western liberal path of implying both sides are equally to blame – like US senator and alleged left winger Bernie Sanders:
My statement on the continuing violence in Israel and Gaza. pic.twitter.com/WE4o5a6rLl
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) October 11, 2023
And some, like UK defence secretary Grant Shapps, even turn on media like the BBC for not being biased enough:
fantastic example by @grantshapps using diversion tactics, instead of hearing exactly HOW 1.2 million Gazans are expected to flee within 24Hours within infrastructure that’s trashed @MishalHusain is having to explain Ofcom rules about why the @bbc doesn’t use the word terrorist pic.twitter.com/I5KMIC5BQv
— poppy jay (@Poppy_Jay_) October 13, 2023
The end result of all this is becoming clear: Israel’s attempted ethnic cleansing of Gaza:
UN says Israel wants all Palestinians in north Gaza – 1.1m people – to move to south within 24 hours https://t.co/uNeL3TD06Z
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) October 13, 2023
— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) October 12, 2023
As leader of the Palestinian National Initiative Mustafa Barghouthi told VOA News:
clearly now Israel is conducting not only bombardment and a total blockade, but also, they are trying to conduct ethnic cleansing of 2.2 million Palestinians… We are facing here a very grave, very serious violation, not only of international law, but of the life of human beings.
As of 13 October at 1pm, despite Israel’s actions, the corporate media’s dehumanisation was continuing apace:
1,300 Israelis have been killed since Hamas conducted an attack on the weekend, and more than 1,500 Palestinians have died in retaliatory strikes.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) October 13, 2023
Manufacturing consent for Israeli war crimes against Palestinians
To be clear, none of this is about debating whether Hamas should or should not have killed Israeli citizens. What this about is ‘manufacturing consent’ to the ideas that:
- Hamas’s attack was unprovoked – despite decades of Israeli apartheid, killings of Palestinians, and war crimes against them.
- The far-right Israeli government is the victim and a ‘good guy’ in this – when it is an openly racist, authoritarian colonial occupier.
- Israel’s actions in Gaza and the Occupied Territories are permissible – when it is clear it has repeatedly broken international law in recent days.
However, Western colonialists were never going to manufacture anything other than consent for hatred of Palestinians – and for Israel’s killing of them. It’s sadly working, too. Polling in the US found more people support Israel than the Palestinians – with support having spiked since Hamas’s 7 October attack:
However, the reality of the situation is very different.
Responding with the colonialist’s “internal logic”
Professor of sociology Muhannad Ayyash wrote for Al Jazeera that the Palestinians have reached a breaking point. He surmised that:
They could continue to try and plead their case, from within the confines of their prison, obeying the rules of those who imprison them, and hope that someone with some humanity would eventually intervene to stop their constant brutalisation. Or they could start acting in a manner that responds to the brutal, inhumane system in which their tragedy is playing out in accordance with that system’s internal logic.
Looking at the states holding leadership positions in the global arena – states that have a say over the fate of Palestinians, there is one clear thing: these states, including Israel, and its main protector the US, achieved their positions of influence, power and security through organised state violence. No state or actor in this current system can gain enough authority and power to ensure its safety and dictate its will on the global community by merely speaking of higher ideals. In fact, higher ideals are proclaimed in this wretched world order only to conceal the brutal violence required to gain and maintain any authority whatsoever.
As such, mirroring the behaviour of the states oppressing Palestinians through acts of organised violence emerged as a rational way forward for the Palestinian struggle.
Colonialists still writhing in their immoral abyss
Dr Yara Hawari is a Palestinian academic. She told Sky News:
This was not a provocation by Hamas. The provocation is that the Israeli regime has for decades placed Palestinians under colonial occupation – and in Gaza in particular we’re talking about 16 years; a brutal military siege… the level of dehumanisation is astounding. One of your previous guests that was providing analysis said something incredibly horrific.
He said that, referring to a ground invasion… ‘every piece of rubble in Gaza is a potential bunker for Hamas’.
Every piece of rubble was people’s homes, was children’s hospitals, was children’s schools. There are still bodies in the rubble – Palestinian bodies… that have not been recovered. And the level of dehumanisation is so phenomenal. You can’t even see us as humans. You’re talking about this as if it’s some kind of military exercise.
We’re talking about real lives here. And the onus has to be placed on the Israeli regime which is continuing to receive not only international impunity, it’s actually receiving more arms on top of the billions of dollars of military aid it already receives…
This is, no doubt about it, an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in Gaza.
We are watching, in real-time, the West descend further into the writhing immoral abyss that it has existed in for centuries. The circumstances may be different, but the rationale is always the same. Brown people are expendable if it suits colonialist agendas. It’s just this time, the sordidness, depravity, and inhumanity of white people against the Palestinians is even clearer for everyone to see – and will not be forgotten.
Featured image via Middle East Eye – YouTube
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