By Tasawur Rizvi
In war, according to a military maxim attributed to the father of Greek tragedy Aeschylus, the first casualty is always truth.
In the past few days, with the Israeli apartheid regime scaling up its military aggression on the besieged Gaza Strip, misinformation and lies have been circulating at a dizzying pace.
From mainstream media outlets to social media influencers to top-tier politicians, everyone has joined this no-holds-barred misinformation campaign aimed at demonizing the Palestinian resistance and making Zionist aggressors look like victims.
Among those who have been peddling lies is US President Joe Biden, who has been called out multiple times in the past week for making statements based on outright lies, misrepresentations and obfuscations.
He brazenly lied about young Israelis being "massacred", "raped" and "assaulted", that Hamas fighters "purposefully target civilians and kill them", and that the Palestinian resistance "beheaded" Israeli children.
All these claims, manufactured as part of the bigger information war, were unfounded.
"40 beheaded babies" hoax
On October 10, the Israeli regime-sponsored i24 network broadcasted a live report from Kfar Aza, where reporter Nicole Zedek stated that "about 40 babies were taken out on gurneys… cribs overturned, strollers left behind, doors left wide open."
Several hours later, she elaborated her statement, claiming that soldiers told her they believed "40 babies or children were killed" by the Palestinian resistance fighters.
"The exact death toll is still unknown as the military continues to go house to house and find more Israeli casualties," she reported.
Zedek also broadcasted an interview with an Israeli soldier who stated: "We walked door to door, we killed a lot of terrorists. They are very bad. They cut heads of children," calling Palestinians "heartless animals."
Her report was aggressively promoted by the Israeli regime's foreign ministry and viewed tens of millions of times on the X platform (formerly Twitter). Other social media platforms of the regime also amplified it.
The unfounded claim quickly reached the highest levels of leadership. Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman appeared on a mainstream Western media channel and stated that babies and toddlers were found with their "heads decapitated."
US President Joe Biden spoke of "stomach-churning reports of babies being killed," as well as dozens of other high-ranking US and European officials, and worst of all, hundreds of media outlets around the world.
Independent observers expressed doubts about the story on the very first day, since there was no evidence to substantiate the claims, and the journalist Nicole Zedek herself did not appear visibly shocked while delivering the report. She even smiled.
Turkish news agency Anadolu was the first to report that the Israeli military would not confirm the claim, yet willingly keeping it ambiguous, telling other media outlets that they could not publish the evidence because of "disrespect for the dead."
Sky News refused to cover the claim, stating on the X platform: "We have not seen the evidence of that... we have asked the IDF 3 times to confirm it... they have not yet".
By refusing to confirm the claim, several politicians and media channels began to distance themselves from the initial statements, including President Biden.
The day after the first reports came in, the news website Grayzone identified the person who first made false claims to Israel's i24 network as David Ben Zion, a deputy commander of Unit 71 of the Israeli regime army.
Ben Zion also happened to be an extremist settler leader who incited violent riots against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank earlier this year, calling for Palestinians to be "wiped out" with "no room for mercy."
Zionist rabble-rousers on social media continued to spread the hoax with false evidence in order to confuse the world, using old photos, photos of Palestinian children victims or even photos generated by Artificial Intelligence.
Even mainstream Western media outlets, such as The Times, put out banner headlines that "Israel shows mutilated babies" while using the image of Palestinian children wounded in Israeli airstrikes being treated at Gaza Strip's Shifa Hospital.
The Israeli propaganda machinery also circulated "Hamas killed 40 babies" advertisements through YouTube videos, targeting the children and their parents.
While the world discussed Hamas bombing of occupied territories and the credibility of its claims, the Israeli regime used the hoax to bomb Gaza and intensify the cruel blockade.
In the indiscriminate Israeli bombardment this week, close to 500 Palestinian children have been killed, some along with parents.
"Music festival massacre" hoax
Israeli regime officials and their vast propaganda machinery also floated other baseless claims about the "massacre of 260 civilians" at a music festival near the Re'im kibbutz, during the first day of Operation Al-Aqsa Storm by the Hamas resistance group.
As in the previous case, there was not a shred of evidence of a planned massacre and such a large number of victims, but the Israeli claims were uncritically taken as plain facts in the mainstream Western media.
Hamas categorically denied claims that its fighters targeted civilians: "Give us one picture that Hamas killed civilians, that Hamas killed children, that Hamas killed women. We don’t kill civilians," said Ghazi Hamad, a member of the Hamas Political Bureau.
Widely available information and footage show that Hamas fighters descended with paragliders in the vicinity of the music event, blocked access to roads and took prisoners, to exchange them for thousands of Palestinians currently languishing in Israeli regime prisons.
The statements issued by Hamas officials were supported by footage released by both sides, which did not show a single shot fired at civilians. In fact, those taken prisoner were treated with respect as videos showed.
In the footage released by Hamas, its fighters could be seen treating women and children with respect, calming them down as they were terrified by the anti-Palestinian dehumanizing propaganda of their regime.
These videos were conveniently ignored in the West, and instead, the fake Israeli tapes were mass-distributed with manipulative "shocking content" warnings.
The video showed the Hamas fighters landing in paragliders, a group of people fleeing in panic, and a broken window of a car that did not stop after a warning.
Individual prisoner cases testify that the Israeli regime is manipulating the event, for example, lies were spread that the German-Israeli citizen Shani Louk was brutally raped, killed and humiliated in a pick-up truck.
All those lies fell apart when it was discovered that the girl was alive, injured and transferred to one of the hospitals in Gaza.
Tasawur Rizvi is an Indian journalist and activist.
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