The Lying Game: Failing in Gaza

by Mitchell Plitnick

We’ve all seen it in movies and television shows. A man with a gun is pointing at an innocent, making demands of the “good guys.” When our heroes do not deliver, the man shoots the innocent and tells our heroes that it was their fault. Do we buy it? Of course not.

On or around August 6, 1945, US Air Force jets dropped copies of two leaflets on Japanese cities, including Nagasaki, according to the Harry S. Truman Library. Both included a similar message: You saw what we did to Hiroshima. If you don’t want the same thing to happen to you, overthrow your emperor. Failing that, flee your cities.

In fact, the leaflets were dropped on Nagasaki (and Hiroshima) only after the city had been hit with an atomic bomb. Previously, leaflets had been dropped on dozens of Japanese cities warning of devastating bomb attacks (these did not reference atomic bombs), and indeed those cities were devastated. But, of course, with so many cities being targeted, it would not have been possible for Japanese citizens to flee in great numbers even if their government would have permitted such mass flight.

So why drop the leaflets at all? This memo describes the purpose as psychological warfare aimed at Japan. It has been noted elsewhere that it has the ancillary benefit of making these strikes, both the carpet bombings and the atomic attacks, seem much more humane to US citizens and the rest of the world. Does all of this sound familiar?

It should, because we’ve heard much the same story coming from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the moment the latest Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip began. We’ve been told ad nauseum about the great care Israel takes to avoid Palestinian casualties. They drop little bombs on rooftops just before the big bombs. They send text messages and automated phone calls. And yes, they drop leaflets.

So why, with all these extraordinary measures, are the vast majority of the dead and injured in Gaza civilians? Why have more than 100 Gazan children been killed? Why are 35-50,000 Gazans displaced, and why are all of these numbers growing and getting more disproportionate with each passing day?

Israel wants you to think that Hamas is using these civilians, the children as well, as human shields. At this point, there are only three groups of people who could possibly believe that in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary: 1) Those who are simply ignorant; 2) Those who will believe anything Israel says no matter what; and 3) The congenitally stupid. Sadly, it seems these groups comprise a very large part of the population in the West.

Despite that unfortunate reality, there does appear to be a strong sense that Israel is acting, at the very least, disproportionately or irresponsibly. Much, though far from all of the mainstream coverage of the fighting has focused on the devastation being experienced in Gaza. It is reminiscent of the 2008-09 onslaught, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, but in that event, the comparatively (and one must stress that word) negative coverage of Israel’s action took much longer to coalesce.

Really, it is astounding that people can continue to cling to the frankly absurd notion that “Hamas is responsible” for the civilian casualties in Gaza. I oppose almost everything Hamas stands for; they are a regressive, anti-democratic, faith-based organization with antiquated ideas about women, and with repressive ideas of government. The organization clearly did rise to prominence through acts of terrorism, and they continue to commit war crimes.

But their crimes are clearly dwarfed by Israel’s actions. Columnist Dalia Scheindlin described Gaza as “…an area that [Israel] has already imprisoned by occupation from 1967, and then through suffocating border, movement, import and export control since 2007. Its residents have been stateless since 1948.” None of that just happened; Israel did that, and security concerns cannot justify such actions, according to international law. Not to mention basic ethics.

In this case, however, loathe as I am to admit it, it is Hamas that is the one standing and seeing the innocent being held hostage, and who has to watch as Israel kills the innocent for Hamas’ refusal to surrender. One can question, as I certainly have, whether Hamas made the right choice in rejecting a ceasefire which they had good reason to see as little more than terms of a surrender in order to stop Israel before it pushed things even further, as it did this past weekend in the Gazan town of Shujaya. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was Israel holding the gun to the head of the Palestinian civilians. It is not, and has never been, the other way around.

The notion that Israel is trying to avoid civilian casualties is belied by the reality that Israel has made no secret of the fact that it targets the homes of Hamas leaders where their children, and their families live. It is belied by eyewitness accounts of Israeli actions. Even the United States has told Israel it is “not doing enough” to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza. Coming from America, that is a very damning indictment indeed to be directed at Israel in what is generally perceived here in the US as a time of war.

Finally, one has to ask the Israeli government this question: when you tell the Palestinians to run, where, in one of the most overcrowded places in the world with sealed borders, are they supposed to run?

Secretary of State John Kerry forgot he was at Fox News when, during a commercial break, he spoke on the phone to an aide and said, sarcastically about Israel’s efforts, “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.” Fox aired it immediately to put Kerry on the spot, and Kerry of course scrambled to cover his tracks, but his perspective was already out.

There can be little doubt that the US and our good friend in Egypt, General-President al-Sisi would love to see Netanyahu wipe out all of Hamas, but that is not possible. Meanwhile the Obama administration has to be concerned about the potential for the latest Gaza onslaught to cause the West Bank to boil over, and possibly even get intertwined with broader regional conflicts. Every civilian death raises that possibility a little higher.

But there remains a steadfast refusal to confront Israel, especially on a “security matter,” and never mind that Netanyahu willfully set this entire scenario up from the moment he heard about the deaths of the three young Israeli settlers last month. Incredibly, on the same day as his gaffe, Kerry told CNN that “Israel is under siege by” Hamas. Apparently, Hamas is sealing off Israel’s borders, ports and airspace and severely limiting most goods and almost all exports from crossing the borders. This is turning reality on its head. But it is no less than what we have come to expect from public US pronouncements.

Still, it seems like much of the global public, and even much of the mainstream media, is starting to understand that this Israeli government, much more than the ones in the past, is the one holding the gun to the heads of innocents. Perhaps the massive rise in street hooliganism so reminiscent of fascism and right-wing authoritarianism in so much of the world is attributing to this growing reality.

Whatever the cause, it cannot have escaped Israel’s notice that even the United States is having a hard time supporting Netanyahu’s story with a straight face given the blatant discrepancy between the facts as everyone sees them and the Israeli line. As with the US in 1945, the purpose of the leaflets is to sell the story, not to protect civilians. But this isn’t 1945, and people can see a lot more for themselves. In any case, Israel may have used this tactic one time too often.

Photo: Rescue crews search for survivors in Shujaya after the Israeli attack which left 72 dead in the town. Credit: Joe Catron/ Published under a Creative Commons License

Mitchell Plitnick

Mitchell Plitnick is a political analyst and writer. His previous positions include vice president at the Foundation for Middle East Peace, director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace. His writing has appeared in Ha’aretz, the New Republic, the Jordan Times, Middle East Report, the San Francisco Chronicle, +972 Magazine, Outlook, and other outlets. He was a columnist for Tikkun Magazine, Zeek Magazine and Souciant. He has spoken all over the country on Middle East politics, and has regularly offered commentary in a wide range of radio and television outlets including PBS News Hour, the O’Reilly Factor, i24 (Israel), Pacifica Radio, CNBC Asia and many other outlets, as well as at his own blog, Rethinking Foreign Policy, at You can find him on Twitter @MJPlitnick.



  1. Ever since the latest conflict started with the tragic death of three Israeli teenagers and the burning alive of a Palestinian teenager in revenge and all the subsequent bloodshed that the Israeli government has used as an excuse to launch a merciless attack on the hapless and defenceless Palestinians, your many articles on the subject have been truly courages, enlightening and a breath of fresh air. If the Arab-Israeli conflict is ever going to be resolved we need more impartial journalism like this, encouraging empathy for the other side, instead of the repetition of false propaganda by both sides. I hope that many people on both sides will read these excellent articles and will emulate them.

  2. Excellent article. Israel has been using the strong antipathy the international community has developed for Hamas especially after its collusion with Morsi in Egypt in order to get away with bombing Gaza and be lauded for that.
    Israel public mantra is “Israel is bombing Hamas not Gaza” and it is for the ‘good’ of the civilian population who are been “suffering” under Hamas’s ruling.
    We have to remember that when Israel bombed “Hezbollah and not Lebanon” in 2006, Hezbollah came out even stronger. Hamas has been very seriously weaken by loosing Morsi’s Egypt, it had even offered to reunite with the PA. Now it will come out stronger and less ready for compromises with the PA.
    Israel’s expectation in pushing the Gaza civilians against their leaders by sending leaflets ( they did that in 2006 in Lebanon) is not only infantile, but it has the exact opposite effect.
    It seems that like the USA in Japan, they are too megalomaniac to realize their stupidity.

  3. An excellent article. Too bad our stupid Prime Minister Mr. Stephen Harper and his even stupider Foreign Affairs Minister Mr. Baird won’t be reading it. BOTH of them blindly support everything that Mr. Netanyahu does … and in doing so drag Canada’s name through the mud.

  4. We live indeed in an Orwellian world when Kerry says “Israel is under siege”, Netanyahu says he cares about Gaza civilians and the media refers to this slaughter as “war” (as though when you shoot a fish in a barrel that’s “sport”), and not the actions of a 60+ year apartheid against a defenseless, caged population that simply does not want to submit. It is clear that Isarel’s policy is every two years to mercilessly unleash this sort of slaughter on the two million imprisoned Gazans, with full, overt support from its Western leadership, and full, covert support from the cowardly Arab leadership, and full, ignorant support from the rest of the international community through their disgraceful inaction. I guess it makes Israel feel very manly and powerful. At least these operations have respectful, corporate style code-names, like “Operation Cast Lead”, “Operation Spic and Span”, “Operation Stop The Violence”. In reality they should be called “Operation Kill Another 1000+ Caged, Abused And Dispossessed Civilians But Blame it On Them”. We live in disgusting, Orwellian times. Shame on our subservient, bought-out, soulless Congress.

  5. Thank you for the balanced argument. What is the cure to this chronic wound ?
    Mr. Netanyahu recently made it clear the Israel will never ever allow an independent Palestine state beside Israel.He also talks of a purely Jewish state,which means that even the non-Jew Israeli citizens have to leave Israel .Perhaps we have to praise Mr.Netanyahu for his honost statement ,because Israeli policities since inception has been more on the line of making life uncomfortable for non-Jews and encourage more Jews to migrate to Israel .Is this policy and objective practical ?would other parties in the Area tolerate it?
    So far Israel has been successful in pursuing this objective,despite the disagreements of all the other parties–more Arabs and other non-Jews left Israel and more Jews moved in and the Israeli Govt. accommodated the new commers in Arab lands.
    Israelies ,probably ,think that in the long term they will achieve their objective and one day Israel,including the present Palestanian land,would be a purely Jewish land. Thus talking about a peace treaty or a tow state solution is all off the point and the negotiators should talk about Israeli objectives.
    In all these years Israel did not take even one lasting practical step towards a peace treaty or a two state solution .They engage in talks but meanwhile grab more Palestinian lands and establish more new settlements and bring more settlers.they patiently engage all parties in irrelevant (in their point of view) talks and keep them busy and even pretentiously take one step forward but take one or tow steps back soon. while they are slowly driving toward their own objective of taking all Palestinian land,making life uncomfortable for non-Jews so that they will leave,they are taking sure steps towards establishing a purely Jewish country.The evidence show that this is the path Israel is persuing. If that is the case the talks should be concentrated on evacuation of all non-Jews from the so called promised land and buying out all the Palestinians not on tow states & …..
    The tragic happenings in the area does not please any human being of some moral fibre.Any life lost,Hamas,Israeli,Christian or even a pet is a shame for every civilised human being.
    Basically some human beings taking lethal arms standing opposite each other with the intention of killing each other for some foolish territorial claims is pure and primitive savagery and all those who standby and whatch such scene and do nothing to stop that are of the same nature !

Comments are closed.