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Jeremy Scahill: Israel Has Waged a “Deliberate Propaganda Campaign” to Justify Brutal Gaza Assault

StoryFebruary 07, 2024
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The United States and more than a dozen other countries quickly moved to suspend funding to UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, a vital lifeline for millions of people in Gaza, shortly after Israel accused a handful of the agency’s staff of taking part in the Hamas attack on October 7. But the U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 obtained the intelligence dossier on UNRWA that Israel shared with allied countries, and found “no evidence to support its explosive new claim.” The Financial Times and Sky News also reviewed the materials and came to the same conclusion. Israel’s claims about UNRWA are just the latest example of what journalist Jeremy Scahill says is a “deliberate propaganda campaign” to justify its brutal assault on Gaza. “This is one of the most epic frauds in modern history, reminiscent of the lies told to explain and justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq,” says Scahill, senior reporter and correspondent at The Intercept.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Nermeen Shaikh, with Amy Goodman.

A key Israeli intelligence document used by over a dozen countries, including the United States, to justify defunding UNRWA, the primary aid group for Palestinian refugees, contains no evidence to back up Israel’s claims, according to several news reports. The allegations made in the Israeli document include accusations that several UNRWA employees participated in the Hamas attack on October 7th. Britain’s Channel 4 obtained the document and found that it, quote, “provides no evidence to support its explosive new claim that UNRWA staff were involved with terror attacks on Israel.” The Financial Times, which also reviewed the materials, came to the same conclusion, as did Sky News. Now the aid agency, which is critical to providing humanitarian support in Gaza, says it will run out of funds by March as a result of the funding cuts.

The allegations made by Israel are just the latest in what journalist Jeremy Scahill calls, quote, “Israel’s information warfare campaign,” which is aimed at, quote, “flood[ing] the public discourse with a stream of false, unsubstantiated, and unverifiable allegations.” In his latest article, published today in The Intercept, Scahill writes, quote, “Nearly every week, sometimes every day, the Israeli government and military have unloaded a fresh barrage of allegations intended to justify the ongoing slaughter.” He adds, quote, “The tactic is effective, particularly because the U.S. and other major allies have consistently laundered Israel’s unverified allegations as evidence of the righteousness of the cause.”

Jeremy Scahill is a senior reporter and correspondent at The Intercept. His latest article is headlined “Netanyahu’s War on Truth: Israel’s Ruthless Propaganda Campaign to Dehumanize Palestinians.” He joins us now from Germany.

Jeremy, welcome back to Democracy Now! If you could just begin by laying out the case that you make in your latest piece?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, in the early morning hours of October 7th, members of Hamas from the Qassam Brigades, the Nukhba, their elite special forces, as well as members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, led a multipronged attack in Israel. Everyone is familiar with this. And the initial targets that they hit constituted almost the entirety of Israel’s infrastructure in what Tel Aviv calls the “Gaza envelope,” and they were able to actually quite swiftly overpower the Gaza Division, the main entity of the Israeli state responsible for enforcing the prison conditions of the people of Gaza, for carrying out drone strikes, for waging war, for conducting all manner of warfare against the people of Gaza. And then the militant Palestinian fighters made their way into a series of settlements in the area.

And the intent was quite clear: They were trying to take hostages captive so that they could negotiate the release of their own prisoners. But what they did on that day was nothing short of shattering the paradigm, of sending a message that the big lie that is promoted by Israel — not just under Netanyahu, but certainly under Netanyahu — that Israelis could somehow live in peace a stone’s throw away from what is effectively a concentration camp filled with 2.3 million people that are deprived anything vaguely resembling a human existence, that that is tenable.

And Israel was, by all accounts, caught off guard, despite the fact that its own intelligence analysts had been warning that it appeared that Hamas was preparing and training for something that was quite spectacular, and not simply some small, one-off attempts to fire rockets or even do a minor incursion into Israeli territory. And by all accounts, those were overlooked and dismissed.

And what we saw happen then, as the Palestinian fighters made their way across these various Israeli communities and overtook the Gaza Division and took many, many military personnel prisoner and brought them back to Gaza, was the Israeli government engage in sustained counteraction, including with Apache attack helicopters, with drones. When the military did finally arrive in some of these communities — and, mind you, it was hours and hours before any official Israeli security forces were responding to some of these civilian areas — they engaged in widespread firefights. At Kibbutz Be’eri, we know that eyewitnesses have said that Israel forces shelled a house, likely killing at least a dozen Israelis who were being held captive by Palestinian fighters. And so, the Israeli government then was reeling from the shock of having these crucial military bases overrun, communities being flooded with Palestinian fighters.

And within hours of these attacks happening, the Netanyahu government began to craft a very deliberate propaganda campaign to sell the United States, other Western leaders and the global public on a scorched-earth war of annihilation against Gaza. And this campaign kicked into such high gear immediately. And what they did, what was central to this, is that the Israelis began showing President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, the heads of state of NATO countries and other Western nations images and videos that they then proceeded to tell an unverified story about what they depicted. And the characterization from Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was that this was the greatest act of violence against Jewish people since the Holocaust, that the tactics that Hamas used included rape, beheading of babies, mutilation of bodies, torture of families, the bounding of children in groups, including in a nursery in one of the kibbutzes, and then engaging in mass execution of small children, setting children on fire. And President Biden, Secretary Blinken and many Western leaders then started to repeat these claims.

But what happened is that when the Israeli social security agency began to actually document the deaths on October 11th, they documented 1,139 deaths; 695 of them were civilians. And we started reviewing the public documentation of the deaths. It turns out that there was only one infant that was killed in all of the attacks combined on October 7th, a 9-month-old baby named Mila Cohen. And she was hit by a bullet during gunfire while she was in her mother’s arm. There were also — I think there were 36 children under the age of 19 that died that day. Fourteen of them were actually killed in Hamas rocket attacks. So, when journalists started actually looking then at the official death toll — and you can go — the Israelis have published the stories, the photos of many, many, many of the victims — you realize that these were all lies. It was a massive fraud that was perpetrated on the world, particularly this business about mass decapitation of babies. And Joe Biden, on numerous occasions, said that he saw actual photographic evidence of the beheading of babies and the bounding and burning alive with kerosene whole families.

And what I discovered in my research was that these stories appear to have ended up in the heads of Biden and Blinken and others based on the totally fraudulent version of events on October 7th that was offered by private Orthodox rescue operations — the most famous of them is Zaka — telling stories, you know, about a pregnant woman who had a fetus cut out of her body, and then the fetus was decapitated in front of the woman and her two children. There’s no evidence whatsoever to indicate that that happened. In fact, there’s no documentation that any pregnant woman died on October 7th. There was one pregnant woman who was shot while in her car on the way to deliver her baby. She was a Bedouin woman. And the doctors were able to save her life. They tried to deliver the baby. The baby died some hours later. But that wasn’t Hamas cutting a baby out of a stomach. And yet these lies were sold. And some of the most obscene things that Israel said, that we now know are false, were repeated by Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, in testimony in front of the Senate, by Joe Biden himself. And this has gone on and on and on. I’ve just given you a couple of the most graphic examples of this.

But what’s clear is that the Israeli government understood that they needed to sell this as like the worst crime against humanity in modern times, in order to justify a long-planned siege of Gaza that Benjamin Netanyahu — he represents the most extreme and violent version of the Israeli state project. And it’s very, very clear that they sold this fraud, and the White House laundered it, and that’s why we’ve seen — and I think 27,000 people killed in Gaza is a conservative estimate. I think it’s much greater than that, because there’s an estimated 7,000 or 8,000 Palestinians missing, many of them in graves that are the rubble of their former home. So, this is one of the most epic frauds in modern history, reminiscent of the lies told to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, I’m wondering if we can jump for a moment to the beginning of this segment, from October 7 to the UNRWA story, that something like, what, the Israeli government was alleging 12 — and then that number got larger — members of UNRWA, which has something like 13,000 workers in Gaza, were involved with the October 7th attack. Talk about, if you will, the way you do in your piece, take apart, as Channel 4 did, as a number of news organizations have, the evidence for this, that has been used by now almost 20 countries to defund this essential organization that supports the hospitals and the schools of Gaza for over 2 million people.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, UNRWA is nothing short of the most important humanitarian organization operating in Gaza. In fact, it was explicitly established in 1949 during the Nakba, where 750,000-plus Palestinians were forced from their homes in an extermination/annihilation campaign that then paved the way for the establishment of the state of Israel in the aftermath of World War II. And the mandate of UNRWA was to care for those Palestinians and ensure that their right of return to their homes and land was going to be protected. And so, the Israeli government, certainly under Netanyahu, but under other heads of state, as well, has always wanted UNRWA eliminated, because this represents a very serious problem for the Israeli agenda of eliminating Palestinian territory in its entirety. So, just to give that context.

But then, the Israelis decide that — immediately after the International Court of Justice rules in favor of South Africa and orders provisional measures that include the prevention of genocidal acts, the stopping of killing Palestinians, that the court recognized as a protected group, and to allow, with immediate effect, the entry of aid sufficient to confront the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the Israeli war on Gaza, the Israelis then choose to open a new front and just blast the public and the ears of Western leaders with a propaganda campaign aimed at trying to get them to join the crusade to eliminate UNRWA. And Israel then prepared what it called an intelligence dossier, alleging that 12 employees of UNRWA — it has 13,000 or so employees in Gaza, 30,000 employees spread out across the Middle East where displaced Palestinians reside.

And the response from the Biden administration was to immediately announce it was suspending all funding to UNRWA. And Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted publicly that the United States had not even done its own review or investigation of these assertions that 12 members of a 30,000-member organization had some link to the October 7th attacks.

And then what happened — and this is so reminiscent of Judy Miller, The New York Times, the mushroom cloud, Dick Cheney, build-up to the War in Iraq — they go to The Wall Street Journal, and the Israelis provide the The Wall Street Journal with what the Journal then advertises as a dossier, an intelligence dossier. And they go further than the 12. They say that a full 10% of UNRWA’s Gaza staff, 1,200 employees, are connected to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and they say this is not just a few bad apples.

Well, this laundering of Israeli propaganda in the form of an article for a major American newspaper was — the lead author of that article was Carrie Keller-Lynn. She’s a new contributor to The Wall Street Journal. I started digging into who is this person, because she didn’t have a full bio on The Wall Street Journal website. Well, it turns out that she is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces. She was a militant opponent of the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement when she was at university in the United States. And her close friend, who she did a joint interview with for an organization that takes American grad students to Israel, she credits her with, during the 2009 Gaza war, creating the social media strategy for the Israeli Defense Forces. This is the reporter that was the lead journalist writing this UNRWA story for The Wall Street Journal.

And once we started to draw attention to that and put photos of her in her IDF uniform and talking about her ties to someone she said helped create the social media strategy for the IDF during a previous war in Gaza, then these organizations she was affiliated with scrubbed all of these articles and photos from the internet. The Journal has locked her Twitter account.

But this was very, very clearly a sophisticated propaganda campaign, where they knew which journalists to go to, they knew which governments would buy into it. And what they got is the Biden administration now being actively complicit in violating the orders of the International Court of Justice, which has Israel under watch for potential plausible genocidal actions in Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Jeremy, do you think, on the October 7th investigation, that it wasn’t simply enough for Israel to say over a thousand Israelis and other people, majority of them civilian, were killed in the Hamas attack, was not enough of a justification to go into [Gaza] and then multiply that over 27,000 [sic] times — 27 times, to more than 27,000 dead today?

JEREMY SCAHILL: The Israelis, particularly the civilians who were killed that day, deserve the truth about what happened. The Israeli government responded with very heavy firepower. There’s indications that the Hannibal Directive may have been invoked, which says that it’s better to injure and possibly even kill Israelis than let them be taken hostage. They also made sweeping allegations about sexual violence being systematically committed by Hamas, that they have provided no proof that such a systematic campaign took place. The victims in Israel deserve the truth. And the 30,000-plus Palestinians who have been murdered with American bombs, whose deaths have been justified by the killing of those Israelis, possibly including by their own government, they also deserve the truth, and they deserve justice.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Jeremy, I’m afraid, I’m sorry, we’re going to have to leave it there. Jeremy Scahill, senior reporter and correspondent at The Intercept. His latest piece, out today, “Netanyahu’s War on Truth: Israel’s Ruthless Propaganda Campaign to Dehumanize Palestinians.” And that does it for the show. I’m Nermeen Shaikh, with Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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