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How Israel is Using Atrocity Propaganda to Justify Genocide

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
13th October 2023
How Israel is Using Atrocity Propaganda to Justify Genocide
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant dehumanized Palestinians (AP)

In an unanticipated strike named Operation Al-Aqsa Flood that occurred on a recent Saturday morning, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's militant faction, initiated a comprehensive attack on Israel. This involved firing over 3,000 missiles and executing infiltrations via air, sea, and land. Subsequently, Israel launched devastating attacks targeting civilians in Gaza, impacting vital infrastructure, including hospitals.

In recent days, Israel has unfalteringly engaged in a potent verbal battle, disseminating messages aimed at both isolating Palestinians and providing a justification for its planned genocide in Gaza. Israel's communicative strategy is a quintessential display of atrocity propaganda, which this article discusses.

What is Atrocity Propaganda?

Atrocity propaganda encompasses the distribution, often of hyperbolized or entirely fabricated details, regarding the heinous acts perpetrated by an adversary with the objective to ignite a robust, adverse emotional reaction within the public. Historically, this mechanism has functioned as a pivotal instrument to demonize opponents, rally public alignment, and justify military endeavors.

For example, amidst the destructive and devastating tides of World War I, atrocity propaganda emerged as a formidable instrument, seamlessly blending horrors and heroism to stir patriotic fervor and moral justification. The systematic strategy of atrocity propaganda spanned across multiple media formats, amplifying the heinous acts committed by the enemy to substantiate the moral grounds for war and sacrifice.

Atrocity Propaganda During WWI

In the harrowing fields and shadowed villages of Belgium in 1914, seeds of atrocity were sown, later surfacing in grim episodes like the execution of Edith Cavell and, in 1915, the sinking of the Lusitania—events that galvanized a slew of propaganda initiatives. The graphic portrayals of violence and cruelty, including victims being mutilated, executed, and tortured, were not only cataloged by notable figures such as Professor R A Reiss but also served to stoke the fires of animosity and retaliation among nations.

These vivid narrations of violent acts—of bayoneting, immolation, and inhumane brutalization of civilians by occupying Austro-Hungarian forces—mirrored the shattering descriptions in French and British reports, such as "Le livre rouge des atrocités allemandes" and the Bryce Report, thereby entrenching images of ‘martyred towns’ and instigating the enduring propaganda throughout the Great War.

Atrocity propaganda penetrated deeply into societal consciousness through various media, from books and newspapers to ephemeral formats like postcards and cups. Governments, leveraging the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, presented 'evidence' of enemy forces, particularly German troops, flouting international norms. 

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Depiction of German War Aims (roadstothegreatwar)

The Nazi Regime’s Reliance on Atrocity Propaganda

Nazi Germany precisely engineered propaganda to facilitate its horrifying ideological and geographical aspirations. The administration disseminated extensive anti-Semitic stories, illustrating Jews as adversaries of the Aryan race and legitimizing the Holocaust. Additionally, they deployed atrocity propaganda against the Allies, portraying them as vicious invaders set on annihilating German culture and nationhood, consequently unifying the German populace and validating their own atrocities.

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An antisemitic propagandist illustration (New York Times)

Infanticide Narratives as a Weapon of Propaganda

Endangering or exterminating infants has incessantly surfaced in atrocity propaganda due to its capacity to provoke a formidable emotional backlash. Previous examples from WWI and the Gulf War underscore how tales of infanticide can mobilize international backing against a portrayed enemy. Deliberately targeting the most defenceless and pure members of society, babies, heightens the perceived evilness of the opponent and fortifies a moral obligation to intervene.

During WWI, narratives of German soldiers massacring Belgian children were leveraged by British propaganda with a goal to demonize the German military, notwithstanding the pronounced exaggeration or falsity of most tales.

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Emilio Kupfer, The Soul of the Hun, Call to Arms, Anzac Day 1916 ( South Wales State Recruiting Committee)

Amidst the Gulf War, an unfounded storyline about Iraqi soldiers evicting infants from incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals, leaving them to perish, was propagated to amass support for the U.S-led offensive against Iraq.

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The story was proved to be a hoax.

Earlier in history, infanticide was damagingly used to vilify the Jewish people in what was known as the “blood libel.” Blood libel, alternatively known as a blood allegation, involves the baseless claim that Jews perform ritual killings of Christian children during Passover to use their blood for making unleavened bread. This myth first appeared in 12th-century medieval Europe and was intermittently resurrected in various parts of eastern and central Europe during both the medieval and contemporary eras, frequently resulting in the persecution of Jews.

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The historic Blood libel against Jews (Getty)

Propaganda about infanticide was heavily relied upon following Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. In a previous article, Misbar explained how a baseless story about the alleged decapitation of 40 Israeli babies was propagated despite its complete fallacy.

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Misbar debunked several other claims alleging that Hamas was kidnapping Israeli babies, and keeping them caged.

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Another form of atrocity propaganda that is unfolding before our eyes is the western media’s appropriation of the Palestinian suffering. For example, The Times reported on Israeli showing photos of children who were allegedly mutilated by Hamas. Nevertheless, they misleadingly used the picture of Palestinian kids who were hurt during Israeli airstrikes.  

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The kids were shot from another angle with a woman wearing a hijab (AP Photo/Ali Mahmoud)

Right-wing American columnist Ben Shapiro also faced scathing criticism after he tried to pass an AI-generated image as proof of Hamas burning Israeli babies.

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Orientalism and Atrocity Propaganda

Orientalism, theorized by Edward Said, pertains to the West’s condescending portrayals of the East, often highlighting brutality, tyranny, and primitivism, thereby sanctioning imperialistic ventures. Atrocity propaganda melds with orientalist narratives by spotlighting the "uncivilized" and "violent" characteristics of eastern adversaries, thereby rationalizing interventions under a "civilizing mission" pretext. 

For instance, during the Philippine-American War, Filipinos were routinely portrayed as savages in American media to legitimate ostensibly altruistic assimilation and domination by the U.S. Similarly, throughout numerous Western interventions in the Middle East, the portrayal of Easterners as tyrannical and savage has been applied to validate military invasions and uphold public backing.

During Israel’s recent war on Gaza, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said: “We are fighting against human animals.” This deliberate dehumanization of the Palestinian “other” justifies the suspension of the Gazan’s basic human rights. 

The reliance on exhuming old stereotypical fallacies such as portraying Arabs as “savage” and establishing a dichotomy between them and the West—in an effort to desensitize the public to the hardships faced by Palestinians.

Atrocity propaganda, through its deeply stirring and emotionally rich narratives, has demonstrated an innate ability to mold public sentiment and carve out collective identities against a commonly devised enemy. The strategic manipulation of information, especially concerning acts of significant violence like rape and infanticide, underscores the extents to which entities will traverse to validate their schemes and garner support for warfare. 

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