The rush to excuse mass murder by labeling every Gazan as a terrorist has gone singularly unchallenged by most of our fearless mass media, happy to accept the Israeli hasbara interpretation of events.

In this article for JVL, Stephen Marks surveys the critical voices that have shown how impossible it is to sustain the hasbara view.

An Israeli soldier raises his rifle toward unarmed Palestinian protesters along the border fence separating Israel. Photo: ActiveStills

Q: How does one justify the murder of 114 targeted by sniper fire?
A: Simple: they were Hamas

Stephen Marks for JVL
26 May 2018


With 114 killed by targeted sniper fire and thousands wounded, often with expanding bullets intended to cause maximum injury, and almost all the victims unarmed demonstrators, surely this must be a challenge for even the most hardened apologists? But not where Israel’s massacre on the Gaza perimeter is concerned.

The method is simple. First, blame Hamas. According to Joshua Davidovich in The Times of Israel on 17 May:

What seemed like an offhand comment by Hamas official Salah Bardawil Wednesday, that 50 of the 62 Gazans killed in protests Monday and Tuesday were members of Hamas, became widely shared by Israel backers as proof that the demonstrations were mobilized by Hamas as a cover for violent attacks.

However as Associated Press noted:

Bardawil did not elaborate on the nature of their membership in the group and his claim could not be independently verified. It was unclear if the protesters he was referring to were militants or civilian supporters of the Islamic group, which rules Gaza and opposes Israel’s existence.

And according to Adam Rasgon in the Jerusalem Post the previous day:

Bardawil did not specify what role the people who he said were Hamas members had in the organization or whether any of them belonged to its armed wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades.

There was less publicity however for an Agence France Presse report (cited here) that”

Hamas spokesman Fawzy Barhoum did not confirm all 50 were members of the Islamist movement. He said Hamas paid for the funerals for all 50 “whether they are members or supporters of Hamas, or unrelated to the factions.”

And as Davidovich coarsely but tellingly put it:

There’s also the question of whether Bardawil was speaking from experience, or pulling a number out of his tuches [Yiddish for arse – sm] to help boost Hamas to a domestic Gazan audience.

A judgement confirmed by the many civil society activists involved in organising the demonstrations independently of Hamas and of other established factions. As one of those involved, Jehad Abusalim, explained on vox.com on 18 May:

The idea of the march has been part of the political discussion in Gaza for years, and I witnessed it evolve. Contrary to Israeli propaganda, which claims that the march is staged by Hamas, participation in the march transcended factional and ideological affinities. The march was a product of Palestinian civil society efforts.

The sophistical chop-logic involved was anatomised by Nathan Robinson in Current Affairs on 21 May  in his forthrightly titled “Propaganda 101: How to defend a massacre“:

The marches were partly organized by Hamas. Hamas is not peaceful. Therefore the marches were not peaceful and were a provocation. Therefore they were an attack. Therefore there was no choice but to behave as if the country was under attack…. If “the right to defend itself” means “use any amount of force it feels is necessary” and “violent attacks” mean “teenagers setting tires on fire” or “people cutting holes in a fence” then the concept of “national self-defense” comes to mean “the mass murder of people who have caused no actual injuries to anyone” without anybody noticing the drift.

In any event the relationship of those shot to Hamas is irrelevant, as B’Tselem the widely respected Israeli human rights group pointed out at the beginning of the killings in its report If the Heart be not Callous:  on the unlawful shooting of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza:

Israel’s position that it may use live and potentially lethal fire against unarmed demonstrators who are endangering no one undermines every moral principle, contradicts the provisions of international law and is unlawful.

[The NGO adds that] the identity of the demonstrators and their organizational affiliation make no difference; blaming Hamas, as if it were Hamas operatives who shot the demonstrators, is baseless.

None of these justifications pass muster, B’Tselem asserts.

The open-fire policy cannot be dictated by worst-case scenarios that may or may not materialize, nor can the existence of such scenarios justify the widespread shooting of persons who in no way participate in realizing them.

As Haggai Matar pointed out in 972 Mag on 16 May in his “What does the IDF have to hide about the Gaza killings?”:

If a Hamas member approached the fence and wasn’t armed and didn’t pose a threat to anyone then it is still not justifiable to kill them. The retroactive discovery that he is a Hamas member does not change that one bit.

Other bizarre Hamas memes were enumerated by Uri Avneri in his article The Day of Shame:

For example;  the story that the terrorist Hamas had compelled the Gazans to go and demonstrate – as if anyone could be compelled to risk their life in a demonstration.

Or: the story that Hamas paid every demonstrator 50 dollars. Would you risk your life for 50 dollars? Would anybody?

Or: The soldiers had no choice but to kill them, because they were storming the border fence. Actually, no one did so – the huge concentration of Israeli army brigades would have easily prevented it without shooting.

Almost forgotten was a small news item from the days before: Hamas had discreetly offered a Hudna for ten years. A Hudna is a sacred armistice, never to be broken. The Crusaders, our remote predecessors, had many Hudnas with their Arab enemies during their 200-year stay here.

Israeli leaders immediately rejected the offer.

SO WHY were the soldiers ordered to kill? It is the same logic that has animated countless occupation regimes throughout history: make the “natives” so afraid that they will give up. Alas, the results have almost always been the very opposite: the oppressed have become more hardened, more resolute. This is happening now.

Bloody Monday may well be seen in future as the day when the Palestinians regained their national pride, their will to stand up and fight for their independence.

And this is the real point behind the patronising colonialist reduction of a mass movement to nothing but manipulation by an armed group. As Ramzi Baroud pointed out in Palestine Chronicle on 23 May in “Israel’s Premature Celebration: Gazans Have Crossed the Fear Barrier“:

Abbas fears that Hamas is using the blood of the Gaza victims to bolster its popularity. Ironically, it is a shared concern with Israeli leaders, the likes of Israeli army spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. The latter said that Hamas has won the PR war at the Gaza border by a ‘knockout.’

This propaganda is as false as it is utterly racist; yet, it has persisted for far too long. It proposes that Palestinians and Arabs lack human agency. They are incapable of mobilizing and organizing their collective efforts to demand their long-denied rights. They are only pawns, puppets in the hands of factions, to be sacrificed at the altar of public relations.

It did not dawn on Conricus to note that, perhaps, his army lost the ‘PR war’ because its brutes shot thousands of unarmed civilians who did nothing, aside from gathering at the border demanding an end to their perpetual siege; or that, just maybe, the PR war was lost because Israel’s top leaders announced proudly that Gazans are fair game, since, according to Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, ‘there are no innocents in Gaza’.

The degree of desperation and misery being visited upon the people of Gaza was summarised by Lisa Goldman in the New York Forward on 17 May, in a piece well-titled ‘The racism of blaming Palestinians for their own deaths’:

For the record …the situation in Gaza is as follows: a population of 2 million is living in an open-air prison with almost no electricity or drinkable water, with 60 percent unemployment, about 80 percent in dire poverty, with no freedom of movement, no hope, no future. Depression levels among children are over 50 percent.

…the army is fully aware that the situation in Gaza is desperate. Palestinians from Gaza have been slipping into Israel for years, with full knowledge of the Israeli military and intelligence services. The fence and wall are more porous than Israel would have people believe. And yet, none of these infiltrators, who come through the fence at a rate of several per month, have attempted to commit a violent act on Israelis. They are just desperate individuals looking for work, or, if they are caught, at least a warm bed and three meals a day in an Israeli jail.

We can leave the last word with Ian Lustick in The Nation on 18 May, pointing out in “Israel’s Massacre of Palestinian Civilians Should Spark Horror—and Action” that:

However, no state that uses the kind of mass incarceration, heavy and constant surveillance, collective punishment, and bloody violence against those under its control that Israel does against Palestinian residents can any longer front itself as democratic. Nor can it be reasonably argued that allowing refugees from Gaza to settle in the underpopulated areas surrounding the Gaza Strip would be a greater danger to Israel and its Jewish inhabitants than letting the Gaza time bomb tick until it explodes.

Israel (with the complicity of the Palestinian Authority) has reduced the amount of electricity allowed into Gaza so that it is available for not more than four hours. For two million people that means real misery, but it also means that sewage treatment plants cannot operate properly, contributing to the fact that 97 percent of the drinking water in Gaza is contaminated.

Experts warn of cholera and other epidemics that are liable to be unleashed in Gaza and spread beyond the wall surrounding it. Meanwhile, Ashkelon’s desalination plant, a facility that provides Israel with 20 percent of the its drinking water, has had to shut down on a number of occasions because of sewage from Gaza flowing into the area’s waters, while the city’s beaches have been closed because of fecal matter washing up on the shore…It is long past time to end the blockade of Gaza—and to reckon with the one-state reality in which Palestinians and Israelis live.