When Israel waged a defensive military operation against Hamas in Gaza in the summer of 2014, the international community and the Obama administration alike were quick to offer condemnations, with then-State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki calling Israeli attacks on civilian facilities “appalling.” But if you’re still wondering what really went down during Operation Protective Edge, you might want to listen to Ateeq al-Falahi, the secretary general of the United Arab Emirates-based Red Crescent.
Hamas, al-Falahi said in a recent interview, deliberately launched rockets from a UAE-run field hospital in Gaza in the hope of provoking Israel to respond by shelling the facility. “This shows (Hamas’s) wicked intentions and how they scarified us,” Al-Falahi said. “They always claim the enemy targets humanitarian envoys, but the betrayal came from them.”
Betrayal may be too soft a term: as if Hamas’s double war crime wasn’t bad enough—firing from a humanitarian facility, and then murderously using wounded innocents as human shields for propaganda purposes—the terrorist organization controlling Gaza had a final surprise up its sleeve as the conflict drew to a close and al-Falahi and his men prepared to leave. When he and his team were making their way out of Gaza, al-Falahi recounted, Hamas had contacted “extremist militias in Sinai” and ordered them to prepare for jihad. “As we stopped at a grocery store to buy something to eat,” al-Falahi recalled, “they started shooting at us.” The Red Crescent volunteers fled, only to discover that Hamas’s associates in Sinai had planted landmines down the road, hoping to inflict the greatest damage possible.
“What hurts,” al-Falahi restated his theme, “is that the betrayal came from our own people. Muslims fighting Muslims, who were giving humanitarian aid to Muslims.”
You can stop paying attention to the story right here, and argue triumphantly, as so many of us pro-Israel loudmouths so often do, that once again Israel’s “hasbara” talking point turned out to be completely true while its enemies’ accusations were lies. You’re free to chant “I told you so” all you want, and proclaim that al-Falahi’s account should hardly surprise anyone who was paying attention at the time, considering that we had independent footage of Hamas doing much the same thing, even though most news organizations refused to report the truth for fear of losing their precious “access” to terrorists and the terrified civilians they held hostage. You’re also free to argue that the timing of these accusations is suspicious, given the recent diplomatic flare-up between the UAE and Hamas’s sponsor Qatar. But all that is largely beside the point; there are deeper insights to be gleaned here, and they have much to teach us about just how morally bankrupt the global conversation about Israel has become.
When a conflict breaks out, decent people feel sick. Their first impulse is to stop the violence, and protect innocent lives. So it is perfectly understandable that, watching shellings on CNN and debates at the UN and John Kerry and his spokespeople being solemnly “appalled,” even proudly Jewish viewers may conclude that all of this criticism of Israel can’t mean nothing. As the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there must also be fire.
But here’s why it’s highly unlikely that there is ever any fire under the smoke: Israel, for all of its flaws and its faults, is an open and democratic society. Its armed forces obey rules of engagement that are more restrictive than those under which American or European forces operate. Israel also grants the local and the international media largely unfettered access to its cities and to battlefields. Israel, therefore, has virtually no incentive to lie about easily verifiable matters of fact that occur in public while operating under a global microscope. You may have little respect for the current government in Jerusalem, and you may have your qualms about some or all of its policies, but, honestly, no one is that stupid.
Which leaves us with Hamas. Why is the group blatantly falsifying facts? The answer here is simple, too: Because they can get away with it, year after year after year. And they can get away with it because their arguments about Jewish perfidy and bloodlust were never based on facts to begin with.
What the terrorist organization offered the world in Gaza in 2014 was a version of the story contained in its founding charter, which is only the latest chapter in a very old story: The Jews are sucking our blood. Deliver some version of this libelous tale, and no one rushes to examine the evidence. After all, anti-Semitic atrocity stories don’t need evidence to back them up; they’re part of a larger conspiracy theory, in which “the Jews” are responsible for the world’s misfortunes.
Why do Western governments and news organizations endorse this insane medieval garbage? Well, that’s also easy to explain: If the people you are trying to strike deals with believe that a malignant sea-serpent is their main foe in life, who are you to disabuse them of that idea, however idiotic? Western governments and news organizations are happy to at least pay lip service to vile and nonsensical anti-Semitic canards to ease their commercial relationships with unfree societies whose leaders repeatedly blame the Jews for their perpetual failures. The price of not doing so might be high. The price of doing so is guaranteed to be low, especially when you dress up the old anti-Semitism in fancier garb and call it anti-Zionism.
After all, what are the Israelis going to do about the fact that a State Department spokesperson blames Israel for “appalling” attacks on civilians–when there is no shortage of video (and spy satellite) footage showing that the actual war crimes were committed by Hamas, which is an actual terrorist organization? Sever ties with Washington, D.C.? Ban Reuters or the AP for collaborating with a gang of Islamist terrorists who hold two million people hostage to their insanity? Of course not.
But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing we Jews can do. We can—and must—resist this idiocy whenever it pops up, which is depressingly often. It doesn’t matter if you think Bibi Netanyahu is a villain or a saint. It doesn’t even matter if you define yourself as a Zionist. As a Jew, whenever demonic lies are told about other Jews, lies that are blatantly false and poisonous and malicious, you have a personal responsibility to fight these lies. Because, ultimately, these lies are not just about Israel—they’re about you.
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Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.