A professor who is a friend sent me an invitation he recently received to participate in a conference in Israel later this month. He was so shocked by the agenda that he sent me the e-mail. It’s being organized by the Tel Aviv University think tank, the Institute for National Security Studies. There is no such thing as an Israeli think tank that is non-partisan or independent. Virtually all have a strong agenda and are funded by foundations, individuals or entities aiming to promote their own agendas. INSS is no different. In its case, its intellectual patron is the Israeli military-intelligence apparatus. It was conceived as an academic affiliate of the military and its founders and most of its personnel have a turnkey relationship between the army and academia.
The conference is called The Cognitive Campaign: Gaza as Case Study. This is entirely a misnomer. The title is a bunch of academic jargon concealing an intent to degrade the memories and sacrifices of the Palestinian victims. The conference originated in an article from last March, which two of INSS’s key figures published on its website: Preparations for the Nakba March: Hamas’s Cognitive Campaign.
I’ve done some research to try to uncover the origin of the term “cognitive” as used in this context. Usually, figures like Gabi Siboni (an IDF colonel serving in the army reserves) and Kobi Michael (director of the Palestinian desk at the ministry for strategic affairs, whose primary agenda is to disrupt the BDS movement through covert action), who are publishing such claptrap feel the need to dress up their theories in some suitable academic veneer. This makes what would otherwise be an entirely tendentious bit of propaganda appear to be a serious intellectual exercise.
In this case, use of the term ‘cognitive’ is meant to denote that Hamas, which contrary to the entire narrative espoused here did not originate the Great March, was engaged in a propaganda ploy in organizing the event. Cognition seems to imply a furtive plot meant to nudge world opinion in favor of the Palestinian narrative. And of course, implying that Hamas was engaged in a cognitive subterfuge was meant to detract from the fact that there is real misery in Gaza; and that such misery was caused not by Hamas, as everyone from Bibi Netanyahu to David Friedman claims, but by Israel’s siege.
The most bitterly ironic aspect of the precursor article is its claim that the IDF was being drawn into a trap, and that by using brutal force against the protesters it would become its own worst enemy. The co-authors recommend doing precisely the opposite of what became the IDF’s actual strategy in addressing the protests:
Israel cannot permit damage to its security infrastructure or attempts by the demonstrators to cross the barrier. If this occurs, IDF will use force. Past experience has shown that it will use riot dispersal means, though in extreme cases sniper fire might be employed aimed at hitting the lower half of the body of demonstrators endangering IDF troops.
Apparently, the actual IDF commanders on the ground hadn’t “read the memo.” Not only was lethal ammunition used designed to inflict maximum damage on unarmed civilians, the sniper-killers shot protesters in the head and back, not in the lower parts of their bodies. And even if they did shoot them in the legs, such wounds led to hundreds of amputations and permanent maiming because the IDF refused to permit thousands of wounded to travel from Gaza to the West Bank or Israel for more specialized care.
The Israeli siege has depleted all forms of medical equipment and supplies, not to mention cut off the supply of electricity to power machines necessary for surgery and intensive care. So Gaza hospitals aren’t capable of giving even the most basic forms of care. That’s why rather than being able to save a limb as they could under normal conditions, they often have to amputate as a first, rather than last resort. Apparently, the authors of this report didn’t bargain for this when they urged the IDF “only” to shoot at demonstrators lower limbs.
There are a number of fatal errors in this study which undergird its structure: first as I mentioned earlier, Hamas is not the author of the Great March. In fact, in the NY TImes, one of the actual organizers, who is a leader of a Gazan civil society group, clearly indicates that the entire initiative for the campaign derived from such NGOs. Hamas played no role either formally or informally.
The second fatal error is the authors’ calling the fence at which the protesters gathered, a “border:”
…It confronts Israel with a challenge that involves a security-physical threat in the form of an attempt to cross the Israeli border.
Using such a term offers a defense for the use of force. Nations naturally protect their borders. When borders are assaulted nations may defend them, with lethal means if necessary. But the truth is that Israel has no borders. It has never agreed to a formal peace treaty with any neighbor and hence has not been able to define any borders. This is especially true regarding Gaza and the West Bank. Since Israel does not recognize a Palestinian state and does not even talk to Hamas it cannot possibly claim there is a border. What there is is a fence that Israel has unilaterally erected at the location it chooses to define a security zone. That is not a border in any sense recognized by any international body.
A further lie offered by the authors is that the Great March was intended to distract from the failure of Hamas to provide for the population of Gaza:
“The move is likewise presumably designed to divert the frustration of Gaza’s citizens with Hamas.
…the Hamas leadership has failed in its management of the Gaza Strip, and has failed in its responsibility toward its citizens, preventing them from receiving the aid they need so badly to alleviate their humanitarian predicament.
In fact, the campaign derived from the poverty and misery suffered by Gazans, all of which stemmed from Israel’s blockade. Gazans do not blame Hamas for their suffering. They know there is no choice. The only option Israel offers is surrender and no Palestinian will accept such an outcome. They blame Israel, and rightly so. Their one overriding goal is to break the siege. What better way to do this than by dreaming that not only can the siege be broken, but that their freedom would permit them to return to the homes they and their families were expelled from in 1948?
There is nothing cynical in this, as Israeli propaganda claims. These aspirations are no less legitimate than the words of the Jewish prayer-book which every day, and for a thousand years have exhorted worshippers to the dream of returning to Zion. If a Jewish dream is worthy, why is a Palestinian dream a cynical ploy? Anyone who uses such rhetoric to dismiss Palestinian aspirations is engaged in the worst form of hypocrisy.
Another common element of the hasbara effort against the Great March is the notion that Israel is not at fault for the Palestinian dead, but that rather Hamas is. Though Israel refuses to recognize Hamas as a representative of the Palestinian people, it does blame Hamas for everything that happens in Gaza, even when it has no such responsibility, as in this case:
Israel calls on the Hamas leadership and the international community to avoid endangering the lives of the Palestinian population unnecessarily, warns the Hamas leadership of the price it may have to pay for its direct responsibility for clashes that could develop, and warns Gaza’s citizens of the unnecessary risk to human life in the service of Hamas’s interests.
There is no possible way a political movement can force citizens to confront an armed force and defy it in the face of almost certain death or maiming. Only individuals who are devoted to their freedom in the face of all odds would take such risks. Risks, by the way, that Jews have taken throughout their history in similar circumstances, including ones I’ve regularly noted here. Blaming Hamas for these deaths and conjuring up human beings as robots hypnotized by their Hamas Svengalis is insulting to all Palestinians.
The report recommends that Israel employ tactics to disrupt the Great March which have been used by numerous repressive regimes (Iran, Bahrain, China, etc.) to suppress legitimate civic protests:
This could be done by means of leaflets, social networks, and the disruption of radio and television broadcasts that aim to mobilize the population for the planned protest march.
Once again here Israel is advocating approaches no western democracy would embrace. Rather, Israel is ripping a page from the playbook of the most repressive regimes of the Middle East and elsewhere.
The ways in which the study authors propose to frustrate the organizers and decrease motivation of the residents to protest are truly pathetic:
Part of the Israeli effort should be reflected in immediate action to alleviate the hardship in the Gaza Strip: increasing the supply of water and electricity and significantly increasing the supply of medicines to hospitals…
Israel should prefer the welfare of Gaza’s residents…
Not only did Israel not make any such efforts because its approach is entirely punitive rather than pragmatic, this proposal is little more than a palliative. This is the problem with all such Israeli approaches: they are meant as short-term band-aids rather than long-term solutions. Israel would rather mow the lawn or dab water on a wound than it would find a permanent solution to its predicament.
Given the bloodbath that has ensued over the past few months, this passage from the March report is both pathetic and darkly ironic in the worst possible way:
Should the march go ahead as planned, it should be disrupted without the use of arms, and with adequate forces and riot control means to prevent Gazan citizens from reaching the border fence and damaging it. In the event of a mass procession, the clear aim is to prevent damage to the border fence, more than obstructing the march itself.
Media Complicity in IDF Hasbara Efforts Blaming the Victims
One of the most shocking and disturbing aspects of the upcoming June 25th conference is the participation of mainstream journalists in the proceedings. It is unfathomable that those who practice journalism would permit themselves to be used to add a veneer of respectability to this overt propaganda exercise. I expect this to a certain extent from Israeli journalists. And like Pavlov’s dog, many of them salivate when the IDF throws them red meat. One of the worst of these offenders is Roni Daniel, a TV correspondent known for his sycophantic devotion to the army line in his reporting.
Less obvious, is Shlomi Eldar, who writes for Al Monitor and has a somewhat liberal reputation. But anyone who’s read his reporting will note his distinct animus toward Hamas. In Israeli journalism, the fact that a reporter writes about a subject is often meant to convey the notion that he knows the subject or is an expert in it. In Eldar’s case, this is clearly false. He doesn’t know or understand Hamas. Instead, what he knows how to do is to speak with hostility and animus about it and its interests (and I say this as someone who does not support Hamas or its Islamist philosophy). In the rest of the world, this would be known as propaganda. In Israel it’s known as expertise. I have e-mailed Al Monitor to ask if they knew he was participating in the event in the name of the publication and whether it approved of this. They have not responded.
But the most disturbing element of the conference agenda is the participation of Joseph Federman, the AP Israel bureau chief, in a panel entitled: The Media and the Cognitive Campaign in Gaza. Without a moment’s hesitation, you know the entire scenario of this presentation: how the media is used to convey the Hamas narrative; the pitfalls that truly fair journalists must avoid in order not to fall into Hamas’ traps, etc. Why would any serious western journalist permit himself to be exploited in such a fashion? And why would his bosses permit him to join in this charade? I’ve tweeted to Federman to ask for an explanation of his participation; and I’ve e-mailed AP executives to ask if they knew about, and approved of his participation. Neither has responded.
To further cement this event as an exercise in support of the Israeli military-intelligence apparatus, well over 80% of the speakers are active duty IDF officers or reserve personnel. Among those is the IDF major-general formerly commanding COGAT, which is responsible for laying siege to Gaza, Gen. Yoav Mordechai.
Dudu Leibovitz says
Maybe Federman holds views similar to yours and he is looking for a venue to present them.
Some people prefer dialog to preaching.
Richard Silverstein says
Yeah, and I.F. Stone and Sy Hersh preferred “dialogue” with the bureaucrats and generals they skewered to “preaching,” which I call good journalism.