One of the most horrific of the many horrors of the last three weeks in Gaza was the shelling of a group of Palestinian civilians who had sought refuge in a UN school in Beit Hanoun on July 24th.
The immediate response from the Israeli government, the moment the news came out that a UN school had been hit, was to say they they were not responsible, that this was a ‘Hamas rocket gone astray’.
This is the tactic used by the Israeli military on every similar occasion, in which a high-profile attack on civilians actually reached the international media, but the international media apparently have pretty short memories, since every single time they just repeat the Israeli line – even though, in virtually every single case, the initial Israeli pointing of fingers ultimately turns out to be completely false.
As Deepa Kumar pointed out on a recent piece in Mondoweiss, this tactic of immediately blaming ‘the other’ for Israeli crimes is exactly that – a tactic – and one which has been laid out precisely in the ‘2009 Global Language Dictionary”, which is a handbook for Israel’s supporters to engage in ‘hasbara’ (Hebrew for propaganda) on behalf of the state of Israel.
This is part of the reason why Israel’s propagandists frequently resort to the same argument (even using the exact same words) in defending Israel’s most indefensible actions.
Kumar examined the ‘Dictionary’, and found that it instructed Israel’s propagandists, “When innocent Palestinian children and women are killed, the first response should be to show empathy; the next is to reframe the issue stating that Israel is not to blame and that it is only defending itself and further that it only wants peace.
Even when it is raining death and destruction on Palestinians, the manual is clear: ‘Remind people—again and again—that Israel wants peace.’” http://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/telegenic-israels-crumbli….html
In an interview on July 27th, Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner told Jon Donnison of the BBC:
‘We know that from what we’ve seen, and I’m sure that you’ll be broadcasting the visuals that we’ve shared with you, that there was nobody around.’
Jon Donnison (BBC): So you’re basically saying that Jon Turner, the head of UNRWA in Gaza –
Peter Lerner (military spokesman): Wasn’t there.
Jon Donnison (BBC): Is lying?
Peter Lerner (military spokesman): Wasn’t there.
Jon Donnison (BBC): He’s lying? He’s presumably spoken to all his staff.
Peter Lerner (military spokesman): Maybe he was lied to. Maybe they – in the heat of the battle – maybe their heads were down….extremely logical that people were caught up in some kind of crossfire between surrounding houses and then brought to the UN premises for help.
Jon Donnison (BBC): Now I saw that you suggested yesterday that it was possible that bodies were brought in –
Peter Lerner (military spokesman): No, I never said that. I never said that.
Jon Donnison (BBC): Well you said that directly.
Peter Lerner (military spokesman): I said that people were brought to the UN premises from the surrounding premises for help, because they knew that there were UN people on site, they knew there was aid there, they knew there was international assistance, perhaps on the site
Jon Donnison (BBC): So you think that the thirteen who died, were – died outside the school and were brought there.
Peter Lerner (military spokesman): Possibly.
Jon Donnison (BBC): Why have you only released 10 seconds of video footage – why not release five minutes, so we can get a more accurate picture, we can see the whole context of what’s going on?
Peter Lerner (military spokesman): We have – uh, y’know, operational security concerns, to begin with. Uh, we have limitations on what –
Jon Donnison (BBC): What could be the security concern of releasing five minutes –
Peter Lerner (military spokesman): We don’t want to expose how we operate, who operates, what’s going on.
Jon Donnison (BBC): But there was nobody there on the Israeli side. What’s the difference of releasing five minutes – then we can get a full picture of all the fires that was going on, where people were firing from, how close to the school it was. You’ve released 10 seconds that fit the narrative of what you believe that happened. Why not release more?
Peter Lerner (military spokesman): We can look into it.
Rex Brynen, of UNRWA-Gaza, wrote on his blog after listening to this audio, “…for Lerner to suggest that no one was actually injured at the school at all is simply mind-numbingly irresponsible.”
Following their initial blanket denial of responsibility, Israeli officials, faced with mounting evidence (despite their efforts to block a UN investigative team into the site the following day), did have to admit that it was an Israeli tank shell that hit the UN compound (survivors had produced pieces of the artillery shells – some of which were extracted from the bodies of the dead and wounded –showing clearly that they were Israeli tank shells).
But, incredibly, the Israeli military still tried to deny responsibility for the dead and wounded, claiming that ‘no one was present’ when the five tank shells hit the school.
Israeli spokesmen have shifted their story each day since the attack took place, in an apparent attempt to confuse and obfuscate what actually took place. And reporters like the Gaza correspondent for the New York Times, Isabel Kershner, seem willing to accept these contradictions without question, and report every Israeli statement as fact – even when it directly contradicts their previous statement. And, Kershner has not found it worth her time to investigate the incident herself, instead depending on Israeli military press releases to provide her with her headline.
See: http://prrnblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/shelling-of-th…ysis/ for some of the contradictory statements
A reporter from “The Daily Beast”, Jesse Rosenfeld, did manage to get into the facility on July 26th, two days after the attack, and reported “Children’s paintings on the white walls are pockmarked with shrapnel. One shell blast in the middle of the courtyard has demolished the grey brick cobblestones.
A second blast hit near the school’s garden, demolishing flowers. Random shoes and torn mattresses litter the ground along with half-drunk bottles of water and soda. The signs of a panicked and traumatic attempted escape from the school are everywhere.
Here are shards of splintered writing desks. There are scattered pages from notebooks that rustle listlessly in the dust. The two most deadly blasts hit classrooms on the second and third floor of the school and even days later the sulfur smell of explosives still hangs in the air. The rooms are blackened and charred; light pours in through shattered windows and shell holes in the walls. Desks are piled neatly in the corner where they’d been moved to make more room for people seeking shelter. Broken glass crunches under my feet as I walk through the school. In some rooms the floor is caked with dry blood.”
One of the survivors who spoke with Rosenfeld said “when his shrapnel-filled leg mends enough for him to leave the hospital, he will not have a home to return to. He doesn’t think it will be safe to return to Beit Hanoun and despite the attacks that UNRWA facilities have been facing, he likely will end up in another one. ‘I will go to stay in a school in the Jaballia refugee camp,’ he said. ‘God willing, I’ll be safe there.’
Unfortunately a school in Jabalia has been the latest one to be hit by Israeli shelling, on Wednesday night, July 29th. At least fifteen people were killed and dozens wounded.
The Israeli military spokesman hasn’t yet commented on the latest strike, which comes in the midst of literally hundreds of Israeli bombs dropped between Monday and Wednesday July 28th to 30th, but he did weigh in on the bombing of Shifa Hospital, and the airstrike which hit a crowd of children in a playground in Shati refugee camp, killing 8 kids and 2 adults.
Despite a preponderance of evidence indicating Israel’s responsibility for the two attacks, Israeli spokesman Peter Lerner managed to blame Hamas within minutes, providing a ‘graphic diagram’ to support his theory. If investigators actually manage to get to the sites without being prevented from entering by the Israeli military, the truth of these incidents will come out as well.
And, even though it won’t be reported in the New York Times, and no Israeli will ever be held to account, it’s extremely likely that Israel is to blame.