It is known that truth is the first casualty in wars. The current war on Gaza is no different. Below is a list of 10 myths perpetuated by Israel and repeated ad nauseum by many in the media.
Myth # 1 Israel had no alternative
Ever since starting the air campaign the Israelis have been stating that they had no choice but to carry out this invasion. Acting Israeli prime minister repeated this myth saying that Israel had no alternative but to begin the ground war on the Gaza strip.
The truth is that Israel had a clear alternative. The Islamic Hamas movement and the various Palestinian factions in Gaza offered to extend the truce in December if the Israelis agreed to lift the massive blockade and siege on Gaza. Israel also had an even easier alternative, they could have agreed to talk to Hamas and worked out a true and lasting ceasefire, but they choose to refuse to legitimize the rulers of Gaza backed by the so called global war on terror that Israel's main ally, the Bush Administration has been implementing.
Myth # 2 Hamas rockets were targeting Israeli civilians without provocation
Ever Israeli spokesman repeats the myth that Hamas has been attacking Israeli communities with missiles coming out of Gaza without any provocation. International leaders, media anchors repeated ask how could any country tolerate its citizens being attacked without provocation such as what is happening to the citizens of south Israel.
The truth is that Palestinians and Israelis have been at war since 1948 when nearly 500 Palestinian villages were erased, its residents became refugees (the refugees constitute more than 50% of the population of Gaza). The UN has resolved that the refugees should be allowed to return and the Arab countries have offered a peace agreement that includes an agreed upon resolution of the refugee problem. Furthermore Israel occupied Gaza in 1967 and has not (according to international standards) ended its occupation of Gaza. As stated above, Hamas has offered short and long term truce with Israel but the latter has rejected these offers.
Myth # 3 Israel is acting in self defense
This myth has been repeated enough times that the naïve rotating head of the European Union initially stated that Israel's ground invasion is a defensive act (he later recanted). Emerging from a security council meeting that failed to stop the Israeli ground attack, the United States' deputy chief at the UN stated that the UN charter allows member countries to defend themselves and that "Israel's right to defend itself is not negotiable."
The truth is that the Israeli offensive against a population still legally under its occupation is anything but defensive. Countries do have a right to defend themselves but they don't have the right to occupy and continue to occupy. The same charter that the deputy US official was quoting also states in its preamble:
We the peoples of the United Nations determine to:
• save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
• to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.
Myth # 4 That Israel is only targeting Hamas fighters not Palestinians
Foreign minister Tzipi Livini regularly repeated the term that the Israeli army is targeting only what she called Hamas terrorists and that her country has no fight with the Palestinian people.
The truth is that by shelling the densely populated Gaza strip (1.5 million living in a 350 square km area) the Israelis hit both Hamas combatants and civilians. One of the best proofs of this is in the fact that about one third of the casualties in the first week alone were children- hardly members of Hamas. International law is very clear about the responsibility of warring parties to limit deaths of civilians. The Israelis totally destroying a four story building in which a Hamas leader and his wives and children living with F16 planes is a clear example of a lack of effort to distinguish between civilians and fighters.
Myth # 5 Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2006
Part of the well weaved Israeli narrative is that Palestinians are not really interested in land for peace because they have continued to attack Israel after the Israelis ended the occupation of the strip in 2006. Again the truth is different. The UN Security Council resolution 242 which called the occupation of Gaza 'inadmissible' called on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories, to acknowledge the sovereignty and territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace with secure and recognized boundaries and it also affirmed for 'achieving a just settlement on the [Palestinian] refugee problem.' By all standards and as agreed by neutral international observers the occupation of Gaza that was established in 1967 continues with all the responsibility that befalls on the Israeli occupying authorities.
Myth # 6 Hamas is the military arm of Iran
As part of justifying the local attack, Israel and its apologists paint a much larger regional picture with Hamas and Hizbullah as the military arm of Iran and the Iranian Islamic revolution.
The truth is that whereas as a Shiite movement Hizbuallah might have natural relations with Shiite Iran, Hamas is a Sunni Islamic movement and in general Sunnis look down at Shiites and reject them theologically. True Hamas leaders have visited Iran, but it is a long shot to say that they are the military arm of Iran.
Myth # 7 Hamas uses the Palestinian population as human shields
The difficulties that Israel has had in locating and destroying Hamas leaders has led to this myth. The Israeli PR machine uses quotes made by Hamas leaders that the Palestinian population is not afraid of death as proof that they are using Palestinians as human shields.
The truth is that the international law that forbids the use of human shields is referring to militants who use captured enemy civilians as hostages to prevent an attack. There is no evidence that Hamas is forcing their own population against their will to be where they are. In fact the irony is that Palestinian civilians have no where to go within the Gaza Strip even if they wanted to leave.
Myth # 8 There is no humanitarian crisis
Speaking in Paris, the Israeli foreign minister insisted that the attacks on Gaza are not causing a humanitarian crisis. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said there was no need for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds as more lorries containing aid were entering Gaza than before the conflict began last Saturday.
The truth as quoted by according to the latest bulletin from the Gaza office of the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs:
"The military incursion compounds the humanitarian crisis following more than a week of shelling and an 18-month long blockade of the territory. There is an increased threat to civilians due to combat in densely populated urban areas. "Hospitals continue to be overstretched because of the large number of casualties that have accumulated since the beginning of Israeli attacks, and ambulances and medical personnel face difficulties in accessing casualties. Electricity and telecommunications are down over much of the Gaza Strip. Food distributions have been suspended and all crossing points remain closed."
A flash appeal issued by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency this month said that the bombing was "destroying what remains of Gaza's crumbling infrastructure and public service capacity," and "threatens dramatically to worsen an already dire food security situation for the entire population.
Myth # 9 Israel wants to weaken Hamas
Another Israeli myth is that the campaign aims at weakening Hamas. Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, told Israel Radio the goal is to weaken the movement.
While the Israelis will certainly weaken the movement military at the present time, it has already raised their public stature in Palestine and the Arab world. Hamas whose public standing was deteriorating because of its difficulty to govern has now become popular as they are seen as heroes who are standing up to the Israeli military machine. As a movement Hamas can't be destroyed even if many of its leaders are killed. Furthermore, Hamas's hard-line political position has caused a major set back to moderate Arab leaders especially those in Arab countries who have a peace treaty with Israel.
Myth # 10 Hamas is not only a danger on Israel but also on the Arab world
As part of the effort to dehumanize their enemy, the Israelis justify their attacks against Palestinians in Gaza by saying that somehow they are encouraged to do so by Palestinians and Arabs who disagree politically with Hamas.
The truth is that while Palestinians and Arabs have had differences with Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Arab leaders have been consistent in their repeated and constant denunciation of the Israeli actions. In fact the Palestinian president has released all Hamas prisoners and an effort for national unity has taken place.
Follow Daoud Kuttab on Twitter: www.twitter.com/daoudkuttab