By Suraya Dadoo
Johannesburg - Despite international journalists and news agencies debunking allegations that Palestinian resistance group Hamas beheaded babies in Israel, these claims continue to surface around the world, including in this newspaper last week.
In its headline article, Israeli doctor, Samuel Arrouas, said: “There were women and kids that were beheaded, pregnant women whose stomachs were cut open and the foetuses taken out and killed.” The editorial leadership of Independent Newspapers did not challenge the doctor’s claim.
The key source of the claim that Hamas beheaded Israeli babies is David Ben Zion, a Deputy Commander of Unit 71 of the Israeli army. He also happens to be an extremist settler leader who incited riots against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank earlier this year.
In an October 10 interview with reporter Nicole Zedek of the Israeli state-sponsored i24 network, Ben Zion stated, “We walked door to door, we killed a lot of terrorists. They are very bad. They cut heads of children, they cut heads of women. But we are stronger than them.”
Earlier that day, i24’s Zedek declared during a live report from Kfar Aza, “About 40 babies were taken out on gurneys… Cribs overturned, strollers left behind, doors left wide open.’” Zedek’s report has been viewed tens of millions of times on Twitter and promoted by Israel’s Foreign Ministry – which underwrites her network.
Hours later, she qualified her statement, stating, “Soldiers told me they believe 40 babies/children were killed. The exact death toll is still unknown as the military continues to go house to house and find more Israeli casualties.”
Yet the unverified tale quickly made its way to the highest levels of leadership, as if by design. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman stated unequivocally that babies and toddlers were found with their “heads decapitated,” while President Joe Biden himself vaguely gestured towards “stomach-churning reports of babies being killed.”
This is a familiar playbook. A claim is circulated without evidence; Western journalists spread it like wildfire; diplomats and politicians parrot it; a narrative is built; the general public believes it, and the damage is done. The cost is Palestinian lives.
The decapitation trope works hand in hand with the Israeli regime’s PR strategy, which has sought to equate Hamas with the abhorrent ISIS and dehumanise Palestinians. The aim is to show Palestinian resistance as savage beasts that must be eradicated. This is how Israel justifies its massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.
The cruel irony is that there is no shortage of verified footage of actual Palestinians babies who Israel has killed in the last few days.
At the time of writing, 6 734 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza; almost 3 000 were children. Israel has killed an average of one Palestinian child every 15 minutes since October 7.
More Palestinian children were killed in just the first 10 days of Israel’s attacks on Gaza than Ukrainian children in the 18 months since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It isn’t just about reproducing the beheaded babies claim. There’s a lot wrong with the piece that is reflective of many media outlets’ treatment of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
In print, the lead piece was titled “War: A Tale of Two Doctors.” Online, it was titled “The Israeli–Palestinian conflict: A tale of two doctors working on the ground.”
Covering a “war” without introducing its roots to readers is inaccurate and irresponsible. Ignoring the 17-year Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip or pretending that the Israeli regime has no control over its borders and resources (as evidenced by the Israeli capability to block water, food, and electricity) is deceptive. Omitting decades of Israeli colonial violence is duplicitous. Nowhere in the article is the word “occupation” mentioned. Not once. For decades, the “Israel-Palestine conflict” has been the accepted framing of the Israeli occupation of Palestine in mainstream media. It’s deeply problematic. This isn’t a conflict between two equal sides. Israel is an occupying nation.
Using the word “conflict” suggests that both sides have the means to be equally violent toward each other. They don’t. Israel is one of the most militarised occupying nations in the world.
“Fighting” between Israelis and Palestinians is presented as meaningless violence from “both sides” of an equally matched contest.
Both sides? Only one side consistently violates UN resolutions and defies the international community. Only one side is an occupying power. Only one side has been accused by human rights groups and South Africa’s liberation struggle icons of committing the crime of apartheid.
The carnage in Gaza over the last two weeks is not about Hamas, and the violence didn’t begin on October 7 when Hamas fighters infiltrated Israel and engaged in guerrilla warfare.
Neither is this an Israel-Hamas war. Since October 7, Israeli occupation forces have killed almost 100 Palestinians in the West Bank - where there is no significant Hamas presence. Hamas was established in 1987, but Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians began in 1948. This is a war on all Palestinians. Unfortunately, when it comes to Palestine, obfuscation and fabrication are permissible. The commitment to truth disappears, as does due diligence. But reporters are amplifying Israeli propaganda. If they can get it right for Russia and Ukraine, why not Palestine?
Suraya Dadoo is a freelance writer.