The Biden administration must take measures to address the ongoing violence in the region. (Said Khatib/AFP)
On 11 May, just a day after Israel began pounding the Gaza Strip, the Israeli government spokesperson, Ofir Gendelman, posted a 28-second video on Twitter.
It showed the rapid firing of rockets from what looks like an apartment building. “Another video showing how Hamas is firing rockets at Israel from populated areas in the Gaza Strip,” Gendelman wrote. He then accused Hamas of “targeting civilians while using them as human shields”. The words “Gaza now” were watermarked on the video in English and Arabic.
Gendelman’s tweet and video was shared hundreds of times on Twitter, WhatsApp and Telegram as Israel intensified its bombing of Gaza.
But the video wasn’t from the Gaza Strip. It wasn’t even from this year.
The same video had been posted on YouTube in December 2019 by a user who indicated that it was filmed in northeastern Syria. The video was also posted on YouTube in 2018 by at least two different users, both indicating it shows rockets being fired towards the Daraa region in southwestern Syria.
Gendelman, who serves as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson, had posted a more than two-year-old video apparently from Syria, claiming it was from Gaza to justify Israel’s bombing campaign.
It was only after activists called out the fraudulent tweet that Twitter labelled it as featuring “manipulated media”. Gendelman deleted the tweet shortly thereafter.
In another tweet on the same day, Gendelman posted a video showing three adult men being instructed to lie down on the floor, with their bodies being arranged by a crowd nearby. Gendelman said the video showed Palestinians staging bodies for a photo opportunity. “Hamas, as per usual, is trying to mislead the media and public by staging fabricated plays, making young men who are alive appear to be corpses,” he wrote.
According to journalist Tamara Nassar, the video was originally posted on video-sharing platform TikTok on 26 March by Moslem Abo Rabea from Nazareth in Israel. The accompanying text said the footage showed people practicing for a bomb drill.
The watermark on the video posted by Gendelman indicates that he had used Abo Rabea’s TikTok video even though it predated the current attacks on Gaza and had no connection to Hamas or Gaza. The tweet is still on Gendelman’s Twitter feed.
Gendelman is not the only Israeli official to participate in misinformation campaigns to justify the country’s violence against Palestinians.
On 14 May, the Israeli military announced “IDF [Israeli Defence Force] air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.” The announcement was made on Twitter in direct messages to journalists, and in on-the-record confirmations army spokesman, Jonathan Conricus.
Several international news organisations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Agence France-Presse, immediately reported that a Gaza invasion was underway.
Within hours, those reports were all corrected. No invasion had taken place. Rather, ground troops had opened fire at targets in Gaza from inside Israel while fighters and drones were continuing to attack from the air. Conricus took responsibility for the error.
But Israeli news outlets reported that this was no mistake but a deliberate deception aimed at luring and exposing Hamas fighters to devastatingly lethal Israeli attacks.
So, in a planned ploy, the Israeli military had spread misinformation to the international news media to rack up a higher body count in Gaza. Journalists were being turned into tools of the Israeli military.
All through the week, Israel has continued its lethal misinformation campaign.
On 15 May, Israel bombed the Al-Jalaa Tower, claiming that Hamas was operating from the building. Al-Jalaa housed several international media organisations, including Associated Press (AP) and Al Jazeera.
AP, which had been in the building for 15 years and said it had not seen any signs that Hamas used the building, called on the Israeli government to provide evidence of a Hamas presence. Israel has not done so.
AP’s president and chief executive, Gary Pruitt, condemned Israel’s targeting of the building, saying that the IDF has “long known” the tower was used by the media and were aware journalists were present.
Pruitt said a dozen AP journalists and freelancers were able to evacuate in time, narrowly avoiding death.
Israel’s disinformation campaigns and its war on truth are proving to be deadly not just for Palestinians, but for journalists too.