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War on Gaza: We were lied into genocide. Al Jazeera has shown us how

Myth-busting documentary finally breaks the stranglehold of Israel and its western media acolytes over the story of what happened on 7 October

For weeks, as Gaza was battered with bombs and the body count in the tiny enclave rose inexorably, western publics had little choice but to rely on Israel’s word for what happened on 7 October. Some 1,150 Israelis were killed during an unprecedented attack on Israeli communities and military posts next to Gaza.

Beheaded babies, a pregnant woman with her womb cut open and the foetus stabbed, children put in ovens, hundreds of people burned alive, mutilation of corpses, a systematic campaign of indescribably savage rapes and acts of necrophilia.

Western politicians and media lapped it up, repeating the allegations uncritically while ignoring Israel’s genocidal rhetoric and increasingly genocidal military operations these claims supported.

Then, as the mountain of bodies in Gaza grew still higher, the supposed evidence was shared with a few, select western journalists and influencers. They were invited to private screenings of footage carefully curated by Israeli officials to paint the worst possible picture of the Hamas operation. 

These new initiates offered few details but implied the footage confirmed many of the horrors. They readily repeated Israeli claims that Hamas was “worse than Isis”, the Islamic State group.

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The impression of unparalleled depravity from Hamas was reinforced by the willingness of the western media to allow Israeli spokespeople, Israel’s supporters and western politicians to continue spreading unchallenged the claim that Hamas had committed unspeakable, sadistic atrocities - from beheading and burning babies to carrying out a campaign of rapes.

The only journalist in the British mainstream media to dissent was Owen Jones. Agreeing that Israel’s video showed terrible crimes committed against civilians, he noted that none of the barbarous acts listed above were included.

What was shown instead were the kind of terrible crimes against civilians all too familiar in wars and uprisings. 

Whitewashing genocide

Jones faced a barrage of attacks from colleagues accusing him of being an atrocity apologist. His own newspaper, the Guardian, appears to have prevented him from writing about Gaza in its pages as a consequence.

Now, after nearly six months, the exclusive narrative stranglehold on those events by Israel and its media acolytes has finally been broken.

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Last week, Al Jazeera aired an hour-long documentary, called simply “October 7”, that lets western publics see for themselves what took place. It seems that Jones’ account was closest to the truth.

Yet, Al Jazeera’s film goes further still, divulging for the first time to a wider audience facts that have been all over the Israeli media for months but have been carefully excluded from western coverage. The reason is clear: those facts would implicate Israel in some of the atrocities it has been ascribing to Hamas for months. 

Middle East Eye highlighted these glaring plot holes in the West’s media narrative way back in December. Nothing has been done to correct the record since.

The establishment media has proved it is not to be trusted. For months it has credulously recited Israeli propaganda in support of a genocide

The establishment media has proved it is not to be trusted. For months it has credulously recited Israeli propaganda in support of a genocide.

But that is only part of the indictment against it. Its continuing refusal to report on the mounting evidence of Israel’s perpetration of crimes against its own civilians and soldiers on 7 October suggests it has been intentionally whitewashing Israel’s slaughter in Gaza.

Al Jazeera’s investigations unit has gathered many hundreds of hours of film from bodycams worn by Hamas fighters and Israeli soldiers, dashcams and CCTV to compile its myth-busting documentary.

It demonstrates five things that upend the dominant narrative that has been imposed by Israel and the western media. 

First, the crimes Hamas committed against civilians in Israel on 7 October - and those it did not - have been used to overshadow the fact that it carried out a spectacularly sophisticated military operation on 7 October in breaking out of a long-besieged Gaza. 

The group knocked out Israel’s top-flight surveillance systems that had kept the enclave’s 2.3 million inhabitants imprisoned for decades. It smashed holes in Israel’s highly fortified barrier surrounding Gaza in at least 10 locations. And it caught unawares Israel’s many military camps next to the enclave that had been enforcing the occupation at arms’ length. 

More than 350 Israeli soldiers, armed police and guards were killed that day.

Second, the documentary undermines the conspiracy theory that Israeli leaders allowed the Hamas attack to justify the ethnic cleansing of Gaza - a plan Israel has been actively working on since at least 2007, when it appears to have received US approval.

True, Israeli intelligence officials involved in the surveillance of Gaza had been warning that Hamas was preparing a major operation. But those warnings were discounted not because of a conspiracy. After all, none of the senior echelons in Israel stood to benefit from what unfolded on 7 October. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is finished politically as a result of the Hamas attack, and will likely end up in jail after the current carnage in Gaza ends. 

A colonial arrogance

Israel’s genocidal response to 7 October has made Israel’s brand so toxic internationally, and more so with Arab publics in the region, that Saudi Arabia has had to break off plans for a normalisation agreement, which had been Israel and Washington’s ultimate hope.

And the Hamas operation has crushed the worldwide reputation of the Israeli military for invincibility. It has inspired Yemen's Ansar Allah (the Houthis) to attack vessels in the Red Sea. It is emboldening Israel’s arch-enemy, Hezbollah, in neighbouring Lebanon. It has reinvigorated the idea that resistance is possible across the much-oppressed Middle East. 

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No, it was not a conspiracy that opened the door to Hamas’ attack. It was colonial arrogance, based on a dehumanising view shared by the vast majority of Israelis that they were the masters and that the Palestinians - their slaves - were far too primitive to strike a meaningful blow. 

The attacks of 7 October should have forced Israelis to reassess their dismissive attitude towards the Palestinians and address the question of whether Israel’s decades-long regime of apartheid and brutal subjugation could - and should - continue indefinitely. 

Predictably, Israelis ignored the message of Hamas’ attack and dug deeper into their colonial mindset. 

The supposed primitivism that, it was assumed, made the Palestinians too feeble an opponent to take on Israel’s sophisticated military machine has now been reframed as proof of a Palestinian barbarousness that makes Gaza’s entire population so dangerous, so threatening, that they have to be wiped out. 

The Palestinians who, most Israelis had concluded, could be caged like battery chickens indefinitely, and in ever-shrinking pens, are now viewed as monsters that have to be culled. That impulse was the genesis of Israel’s current genocidal plan for Gaza.

Suicide mission

The third point the documentary clarifies is that Hamas’s wildly successful prison break undid the larger operation. 

The group had worked so hard on the fearsome logistics of the breakout - and prepared for a rapid and savage response from Israel’s oppressive military machine - that it had no serious plan for dealing with a situation it could not conceive of: the freedom to scour Israel’s periphery, often undisturbed for many hours or days. 

Hamas fighters entering Israel had assumed that most were on a suicide mission. According to the documentary, the fighters’ own assumption was that between 80 and 90 per cent would not make it back.

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The aim was not to strike some kind of existential blow against Israel, as Israeli officials have asserted ever since in their determined rationalisation of genocide. It was to strike a blow against Israel’s reputation for invincibility by attacking its military bases and nearby communities, and dragging as many hostages as possible back into Gaza.

They would then be exchanged for the thousands of Palestinian men, women and children held in Israel’s military incarceration system - hostages labelled “prisoners”

As Hamas spokesman Bassem Naim explained to Al Jazeera, the breakout was meant to thrust Gaza’s desperate plight back into the spotlight after many years in which international interest in ending Israel’s siege had waned. 

Of discussions in the group’s political bureau, he says the consensus was: “We have to take action. If we don’t do it, Palestine will be forgotten, totally deleted from the international map.”

For 17 years, Gaza had gradually been strangled to death. Its population had tried peaceful protests at the militarised fence around their enclave and been picked off by Israeli snipers. The world had grown so used to Palestinian suffering, it had switched off. 

The 7 October attack was intended to change that, especially by re-inspiring solidarity with Gaza in the Arab world and by bolstering Hamas’ regional political position.

It was intended to make it impossible for Saudi Arabia – the main Arab power broker in Washington – to normalise with Israel, completing the marginalisation of the Palestinian cause in the Arab world. 

Judged by these criteria, Hamas’s attack was a success. 

Loss of focus

But for many long hours - with Israel caught entirely off-guard, and with its surveillance systems neutralised - Hamas did not face the military counter-strike it expected. 

Three factors seem to have led to a rapid erosion of discipline and purpose. 

With no meaningful enemy to confront or limit Hamas’ room for manoeuvre, the fighters lost focus. Footage shows them squabbling about what to do next as they freely wander around Israeli communities. 

With no meaningful enemy to confront or limit Hamas’ room for manoeuvre, the fighters lost focus. Footage shows them squabbling about what to do next

That was compounded by the influx of other armed Palestinians who piggybacked on Hamas’ successful breakout and the lack of an Israeli response. Many suddenly found themselves with the chance to loot or settle scores with Israel - by killing Israelis - for years of suffering in Gaza.

And the third factor was Hamas stumbling into the Nova music festival, which had been relocated by the organisers at short notice close to the fence around Gaza.

It quickly became the scene of some of the worst atrocities, though none resembling the savage excesses described by Israel and the western media. 

Footage shows, for example, Palestinian fighters throwing grenades into concrete shelters where many dozens of festivalgoers were sheltering from the Hamas attack. In one clip, a man who runs out is gunned down.

Fourth, Al Jazeera was able to confirm that the most extreme, sadistic and depraved atrocities never took place. They were fabricated by Israeli soldiers, officials and emergency responders. 

One figure central to this deception was Yossi Landau, a leader of the Jewish religious emergency response organisation, Zaka. He and his staff concocted outlandish tales that were readily amplified not only by a credulous western press corps but by senior US officials too. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken graphically told of a family of four being butchered at the breakfast table. The father’s eye was gouged out in front of his two children, aged eight and six. The mother’s breast was cut off. The girl’s foot was amputated, and the boy’s fingers cut off, before they were all executed. The executioners then sat down and had a meal next to their victims.

Except the evidence shows none of that actually happened.

Landau has also claimed that Hamas tied up dozens of children and burned them alive at Kibbutz Be’eri. Elsewhere, he has recalled a pregnant woman who was shot dead and her belly cut open and the foetus stabbed. 

Officials at the kibbutz deny any evidence for these atrocities. Landau’s accounts do not tally with any of the known facts. Only two babies died on 7 October, both killed unintentionally.

When challenged, Landau offers to show Al Jazeera a photo on his phone of the stabbed foetus, but is filmed admitting he is unable to do so. 

Fabricating atrocities 

Similarly, Al Jazeera’s research finds no evidence of systematic or mass rape on 7 October. In fact, it is Israel that has been blocking efforts by international bodies to investigate any sexual violence that day. 

Respected outlets like the New York Times, the BBC and Guardian have repeatedly breathed credibility into the claims of systematic rape by Hamas, but only by unquestioningly repeating Israeli atrocity propaganda. 

Madeleine Rees, secretary general of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, told Al Jazeera: “A state has instrumentalised the horrific attacks on women in order, we believe, to justify an attack on Gaza, of which the majority suffering are other women.”

The question is why, when there were plenty of real atrocities by Hamas to report, did Israel feel the need to fabricate even worse ones?

In other cases, Israel has blamed Hamas for mutilating the bodies of Israeli victims, including by driving over them, smashing their pelvises. In several cases, Al Jazeera’s investigation showed that the bodies were of Hamas fighters mutilated or driven over by Israeli soldiers. 

The documentary notes that reporting by the Israeli media - followed by the western media - “focuses not on the crimes they [Hamas] committed but on the crimes they did not”.

The question is why, when there were plenty of real atrocities by Hamas to report, did Israel feel the need to fabricate even worse ones? And why, especially after the initial fabrication of beheaded babies was debunked, did the western media carry on credulously recycling improbable stories of Hamas savagery?

The answer to the first question is that Israel needed to manufacture a favourable political climate that would excuse its genocide in Gaza as necessary. 

Netanyahu is shown congratulating Zaka’s leaders on their role in influencing world opinion: “We need to buy time, which we gain by turning to world leaders and to public opinion. You have an important role in influencing public opinion, which also influences leaders.” 

The answer to the second is that western journalists’ racist preconceptions ensured they would be easily persuaded that brown people were capable of such barbarity.

'Hannibal directive'

Fifth, Al Jazeera documents months of Israeli media coverage demonstrating that some of the atrocities blamed on Hamas - particularly relating to the burning alive of Israelis - were actually Israel’s responsibility.

Deprived of functioning surveillance, an enraged Israeli military machine lashed out blindly. Video footage from Apache helicopters shows them firing wildly on cars and figures heading towards Gaza, unable to determine whether they are targeting fleeing Hamas fighters or Israelis taken hostage by Hamas. 

In at least one case, an Israeli tank fired a shell into a building in Kibbutz Be’eri, killing the 12 Israeli hostages inside. One, 12-year-old Liel Hetsroni, whose charred remains meant she could not be identified for weeks, became the poster child for Israel’s campaign to tar Hamas as barbarians for burning her alive.

A makeshift sign reading in Hebrew 'help, 3 hostages' using leftover food reportedly shown by Israeli hostages before being shot dead by Israeli soldiers, 17 December 2023 (AFP)
A makeshift sign reading in Hebrew 'help, 3 hostages' using leftover food reportedly shown by Israeli hostages before being shot dead by Israeli soldiers, 17 December 2023 (AFP)

The commander in charge of the rescue efforts at Be’eri, Colonel Golan Vach, is shown fabricating to the media a story about the house Israel itself had shelled. He claimed Hamas had executed and burned eight babies in the house. In fact, no babies were killed there - and those who did die in the house were killed by Israel.

The widespread devastation in kibbutz communities - still blamed on Hamas - suggests that Israel’s shelling of this particular house was far from a one-off. It is impossible to determine how many more Israelis were killed by “friendly fire”.

These deaths appear to have been related to the hurried invocation by Israel that day of its so-called “Hannibal directive” - a secretive military protocol to kill Israeli soldiers to prevent them from being taken hostage and becoming bargaining chips for the release of Palestinians held hostage in Israeli jails. 

In this case, the directive looks to have been repurposed and used against Israeli civilians too. Extraordinarily, though there has been furious debate inside Israel about the Hannibal directive’s use on 7 October, the western media has remained completely silent on the subject.

Woeful imbalance

The one issue largely overlooked by Al Jazeera is the astonishing failure of the western media across the board to cover 7 October seriously or investigate any of the atrocities independently of Israel’s own self-serving accounts.

The question hanging over Al Jazeera’s documentary is this: how is it possible that no British or US media organisation has undertaken the task that Al Jazeera took on? And further, why is it that none of them appear ready to use Al Jazeera’s coverage as an opportunity to revisit the events of 7 October? 

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In part, that is because they themselves would be indicted by any reassessment of the past five months. Their coverage has been woefully unbalanced: wide-eyed acceptance of any Israeli claim of Hamas atrocities, and similar wide-eyed acceptance of any Israeli excuse for its slaughter and maiming of tens of thousands of Palestinian children in Gaza.

But the problem runs deeper. 

This is not the first time that Al Jazeera has shamed the western press corps on a subject that has dominated headlines for months or years. 

Back in 2017, an Al Jazeera investigation called The Lobby showed that Israel was behind a campaign to smear Palestinian solidarity activists as antisemites in Britain, with Jeremy Corbyn the ultimate target.

That smear campaign continued to be wildly successful even after the Al Jazeera series aired, not least because the investigation was uniformly ignored. British media outlets swallowed every piece of disinformation spread by Israeli lobbyists on the issue of antisemitism. 

A follow-up on a similar disinformation campaign waged by the pro-Israel lobby in the US was never broadcast, apparently after diplomatic threats from Washington to Qatar. The series was eventually leaked to the Electronic Intifada website.

Protesters gather outside the BBC Scotland building as people take part in a demonstration to show solidarity with the Palestinian People, in Glasgow on October 14, 2023, in support of "their right to resistance
Protesters gather outside the BBC Scotland building to show solidarity with the Palestinians, in Glasgow on 14 October 2023 (AFP)

Then 18 months ago, Al Jazeera broadcast an investigation called The Labour Files, showing how senior officials in Britain’s Labour Party, assisted by the UK media, waged a covert plot to stop Corbyn from ever becoming prime minister. Corbyn, Labour’s democratically elected leader, was an outspoken critic of Israel and supporter of justice for the Palestinian people.

Israel and its partisans have unfettered access to western establishments, where they fabricate claims and smears that are readily amplified by a credulous press corps

Once again, the British media, which had played such a critical role in helping to destroy Corbyn, ignored the Al Jazeera investigation.

There is a pattern here that can be ignored only through wilful blindness. 

Israel and its partisans have unfettered access to western establishments, where they fabricate claims and smears that are readily amplified by a credulous press corps. 

And those claims only ever work to Israel’s advantage, and harm the cause of ending decades of brutal subjugation of the Palestinian people by an Israeli apartheid regime now committing genocide.

Al Jazeera has once again shown that, on matters that western establishments consider the most vital to their interests - such as support for a highly militarised client state promoting the West’s control over the oil-rich Middle East - the western press is not a watchdog on power but the establishment’s public relations arm.

Al Jazeera’s investigation has not just revealed the lies Israel spread about 7 October to justify its genocide in Gaza. It reveals the utter complicity of western journalists in that genocide.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

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