Gareth Porter reviews the Netanyahu government’s process of planting stories of nonexistent atrocities by Hamas on Oct. 7 with credulous foreign-news outlets and the Biden administration.
In the days after Hamas entered Israeli kibbutzim near Gaza on Oct. 7, foreign press accounts of what happened have broadly reflected the Israeli interpretation of events of the deliberate slaughter and dismemberment of innocent civilians by Hamas fighters.
Those stories were blood-curdling in the extreme: Babies beheaded. People dismembered and deliberately burned to death. And the total of innocent civilians murdered in cold blood were said to be as high as 1,400.
The Israelis quickly recycled parallels between Hamas and the Islamic State, with its glorification of killing innocents.
But a reconstruction of how that story line emerged as the dominant theme in early press coverage shows that it was deliberately created by a decision by top Israeli officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It was done by inventing stories about nonexistent atrocities and planting them with credulous U.S. news outlets.
Origins of the Hamas Atrocity Stories
The documentary evidence now available shows that the stories about Hamas atrocities committed in the Kfar Aza Kibbutz and elsewhere were politically motivated fabrications. And how and why those atrocity stories became the dominant political reality within days of the offensive is an important political question bearing on the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The first explanation for those stories is that they came from Israeli private “first responder” organizations with an obvious self-interest in peddling such a line: they were competing with one another to generate the biggest donations, as reported by Max Blumenthal at The Grayzone.
But the real source of those Hamas atrocity stories from Kfar Aza was the Netanyahu government itself, and it is now clear that the objective was to ensure that the Biden administration would go along with the plan to reduce all of Gaza to an inhabitable pile of rubble.
In an address to the nation on Oct. 9 Netanyahu invoked a long-time basic Israeli propaganda line: Hamas is ISIS. “We have always known what Hamas is,” he declared. “Now the whole world knows Hamas is ISIS.”
When he spoke to the nation the day after the Hamas offensive, of course, the rest of the world had no such idea. That is why Netanyahu ordered a special project of hasbara — the Israeli term for propaganda to reshape public opinion abroad — to ensure that both the U.S. public and the Biden administration fully supported the Israeli position on Hamas’ attack.
The first part of that program was to have a senior IDF commander pass information to the news media, who were allowed to enter Kfar Aza Kibbutz on the morning of Oct. 10, while ensuring that a senior IDF commander would be on hand to speak to the press about Hamas atrocities in the kibbutz.
Thus Maj. Gen. Itai Veruv, commander of the Israel Defense Forces Depth Corps, told CNN correspondent Nic Robertson that women, children, toddlers and the elderly had been “brutally butchered in an ISIS way of action.”
A later CNN story quoted Gen. Veruv as saying,
“I saw hundreds of terrorists in full armor, full gear, with all the equipment and all the ability to make a massacre, go from apartment to apartment, from room to room and kill babies, mothers, fathers in their bedrooms.”
Veruv had not seen anything of the sort himself, but it was emblematic of the IDF manipulation of the Western press on the issue. When Business Insider contacted the IDF from New York about the story, spokesperson Major Nir Dinar claimed that its soldiers had found the decapitated corpses of babies at Kfar Aza.
But when the Turkish Anadolu Agency and The Intercept sought confirmation of the claim of beheaded babies from the IDF on Oct. 10 and 12, respectively, the IDF couldn’t back up the statement by Veruv.
Anadolu reported in a post on “X” that the IDF had “no information” confirming the allegations of beheaded babies.
And the IDF spokesperson told The Intercept that the military had not been able to independently confirm the claim.
Despite the absence of actual evidence for that propaganda claim, a cascade of such stories were aired by major U.S. television networks and the BBC. It was a major triumph of deliberate Israeli deception by manipulating broadcast media eager for Hamas atrocity stories.
The second part of the Netanyahu plan — ensuring the full political support of U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Biden for the utter destruction of the urban society of Gaza — was easy as well.
Blinken was already fully committed to the Zionist cause. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he invoked his Jewish ancestry and likened the Hamas attacks to those of the Nazis against Jews.
And he endorsed the Israeli claim of “babies slaughtered, bodies desecrated, young people burned alive, women raped, parents executed in front of their children, children in front of their parents.”
Behind IDF’s ‘Preliminary Estimate’ of Civilians Killed
On Oct. 14, the IDF put out a “preliminary estimate” of 1,400 innocent civilians killed by Hamas in the attack, a figure that stood until Nov. 10, when the Israeli Foreign Ministry reduced the estimate of civilians “murdered in cold blood” to 1,200.
However, that figure, too, was shown to be seriously misleading when IsraeI’s Social Security Administration in mid-December released a complete list of those killed in the attack, with the circumstances of death of each.
That official document showed that 695 of the deaths were Israeli civilians, 373 were Israeli security forces, and 71 were foreigners, for a total of 1,139 victims.
Hamas gunmen certainly did fire indiscriminately during the rampage, and they caused a large number of civilian deaths when their plan for taking hostages quickly went awry, because people refused to come out of their houses.
To force the occupants to jump out through open windows, some Hamas gunmen set fire to the houses, but some families never made it and were burned to death.
Hamas operatives were not the only ones to destroy houses and kill those inside it, however.
In the two communities where the largest number of civilians said to have been killed — Kfar Aza, where total civilian deaths was variously estimated at between 38 and 46; and Be’eri, where it was estimated at 112, numerous civilian deaths from tank and/or helicopter fire — including the deaths of a number of those who were being held as hostages — have been well documented.
The IDF commanding officer who unleashed violence on Be’eri spun an elaborate lie to cover up the actual circumstances in which many houses were destroyed by Israeli tank fire or by rockets from helicopters.
In a report in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz, the deputy commander of an IDF armored reserve battalion, Brig. Gen Barak Hiram, described how his tank unit “fought…from house to house, with tanks” in Be’eri, adding, “We had no choice.”
In another interview, this time in The New York Times, Hiram also presented a completely falsified and self-serving account of his handling of the situation he encountered at one house where Hamas gunmen held 14 hostages.
He claimed that one hostage, Yasmin Porat, had managed to escape, and that the gunmen inside then fired two RPG rounds at IDF troops outside the house they were occupying. In fact, however, the Hamas group’s leader had decided to surrender and contacted the police by phone.
He gave himself up along with Porat, according to her account, leaving the other Hamas gunmen to fend for themselves. But Gen. Hiram immediately demanded that the house be taken by force “even at the cost of civilian casualties,” with the result that all 13 remaining hostages but one were killed.
In Kfar Aza, which had more than 49 civilian deaths, a parallel process unfolded, as Lt. Col. Golan Vach similarly ordered a tank attack on houses that Hamas had taken over and in which 19 Israeli hostages were being held.
Both decisions reflected the explicit implementation of the IDF’s “Hannibal Protocol,” under which it is required to kill Israeli hostages to ensure that they could not be exploited by Israel’s enemy — even though that requirement was supposedly canceled by the IDF in 2016.
Most of the civilian deaths appear to have taken place at or near the grounds of the early morning music festival, where 260 bodies were found.
Hamas operatives sought to take people hostage as they fled from the grounds, but many of the victims were killed by firing from helicopters from troops who were unable to distinguish Hamas operatives from revelers.
No one knows how many were killed by each side but the 28 Israeli helicopters were firing rounds of 30-millimeter cannon mortars, without any intelligence to guide their shooting, certainly took a share of the human toll, especially in the chaotic scene during the flight from the rave that morning, according to Electronic Intifada.
In light of the new evidence, the number of innocent civilians killed by Hamas was clearly significantly less than the 322 victims identified by the Israeli Social Security Administration and a fraction of the 1,200 civilians the Netanyahu government has claimed, and the IDF itself was responsible for a significant proportion of the deaths of innocent civilians.
It is also clear, however, that the Hamas offensive was poorly conceived and badly executed. And most importantly, it handed Netanyahu and the whole extremist Israeli socio-political system a golden opportunity to pursue their genocidal plans in Gaza.
Within 24 hours of Hamas’ operation, that Israeli genocide plan had already gone into operation with its campaign of phony atrocity stories. And nearly three months later, little or nothing has been done to stop its murderous progress toward its genocidal goal.
Gareth Porter is an award-winning journalist and author of several books on Vietnam and the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program. He is currently finishing a book on the Cold War as a deception.
Source: Consortium News
Photo: Kibbutz Be’eri four days after the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas offensive (Kobi Gideon / Government Press Office of Israel).
The New York Times "weaponized" Hamas rape story is a fraud. Ali Abunimah debunks it. (Electronic Intifada, 01.05.2024)