Haifa, Israel – There is only one thing worse than the image of a child killed by military conflict, and that is the image of a child killed by military conflict having deliberately been placed in the line of fire.
War is, by definition, a very nasty business, and invariably it is the innocents on all sides who bear a significant cost in lives lost, people maimed and communities traumatized.
But solid evidence now reveals how Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza have been deliberately placing their civilian population in mortal danger, choreographing a number of seemingly gory scenes, as well as releasing images from other conflicts, such as Iraq and Syria, and passing them off as dead Gazan civilians killed by Israeli missiles.
In an attempt to persuade the world that Israel is committing war crimes and to distract attention away from the illegal and immoral use of their own population as human shields, Hamas has resorted to staging a number of fake deaths and scenes of severely injured people right in front of international TV crews.
The BBC recently broadcast a news report showing a man being carried off by four others, seemingly the victim of an Israeli missile strike, only for him to reappear in the same clip a few seconds later wandering around completely unharmed. The same organization’s Jon Donnison yesterday re-tweeted a picture of the dead body of a young girl on a stretcher in Gaza with the headline "Heartbreaking," only for it to transpire that the girl had sadly been killed three weeks earlier in Syria.
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Such is the sometimes chaotic nature of the situation on the ground in Gaza that mistakes can be made, but according to Paul Hirschson, spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hamas has crossed a red line even in the Arab world by promoting the use of images of dead people – children in particular – against the tradition of their religion and the expected respect for the dead.
Hirschson told FoxNews.com that, “There’s no question that there are civilians being killed and injured on both sides of this conflict, but respect for the dead within the Muslim world is a core principal and what Hamas is doing is in contradiction to the customs and traditions of the local community.
"As in Judaism, Islam believes in taking the body and burying it at the first opportunity," he said. "Even Al Jazeera is sensitive to this and has blanked out faces as it is an invasion of privacy. This is a cynical abuse of respect and privacy and is not something that is reconcilable with the norms of the community. There are certain moral and ethical codes that we all behave by. In Egypt and Jordan this stuff doesn’t get published. Hamas are going to suffer for it amongst their own.”
Does the apparent manipulation of pictures, the "photoshopping" of images to suggest scenarios that later prove to be false, suggest a desperation then on the part of the Islamists to persuade the outside world of their opinion, regardless of the truth being told or not told?
"Hamas is using these pictures in order to deliberately incite Arab public opinion because their leadership is disappointed at the relative lack of public pressure throughout the Arab world on Arab governments to support Hamas,” Hirschson argued. “That could be for a number of reasons, but it could very well be because in Syria, in Egypt, or in Bahrain, for example, they have problems of their own. The other factor is that, yes, we have seen a rise in Islamists in the Arab world, but not everyone there is excited at that prospect. It is significant that there has barely been anything from Gaza’s brothers in the Palestinian Authority. The (West Bank) leadership is nauseated with Hamas.”
Some argue that Hamas’ manipulation of images is effectively undermining their own case and risking losing public sympathy as viewers and readers cannot be sure if the suffering being displayed is genuine. Those instances of real tragedy and trauma become lost in a fog of spin and manipulation.
“War has very ugly consequences,” Hirschson continued. “The one thing I don’t want to do is to suggest it is all staged, that there are no injuries, and this is all a bluff. People are being killed on both sides, and sadly sometimes uninvolved people are being killed and hurt. I’m not all that concerned about those who are involved (in terrorism), but the manipulation of images, the faking of images, and the presenting of images from other conflicts as fact on the ground in Gaza, is a cynical ploy on the part of Hamas.”
On Monday, a number of foreign journalists were injured when a media center in Gaza was hit by an Israeli missile. Hirschson suggests that Islamic Jihad had deliberately positioned their command and control center in the building.
“Whether or not those international crews knew that Islamic Jihad were there is unclear. But by effectively using the media as human shields, nothing less than a war crime is being committed,” he concluded.
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist who blogs at www.paulalster.com and can be followed on Twitter @paulalster