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Israel Hamas War: Misinformation is killing as many as the bombs in Gaza

Unmasking the Menace of Misinformation in Israel Hamas conflict: How Fake News Shapes Global Narratives in Times of Conflict

By Sanjay Kapoor
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Israel Hamas War
Remains of the Sderot police station, following recapture by IDF | Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons 

With every passing war, conflict, or even elections, the power of misinformation or fake news to shape narratives is growing exponentially. Truth has become dispensable and a casualty to pragmatism rather than what is factually correct. This wanton disregard for facts at an industrial level is reshaping not just the present, but also the past and future in an inconceivable manner. Nothing is safe in this rising tide of misinformation as it challenges what was considered as self-evident or a priori truths. 

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What is worse is that those in power, who seemingly had the responsibility to protect the heritage founded on truth and moral values, are jettisoning it in favour of fake news or what’s ideologically or politically convenient. Otherwise, how do you explain US President Joe Biden claiming that he had seen “facts” that confirmed that 40 Israeli children were decapitated by Hamas terrorists when they entered Israeli territory on October 7? US President Biden did not care to withdraw his seal of authenticity on what was proved as fake news, as he was cognizant of the deeper import of fake news in proving how cruel and vicious the Hamas militants were. He knew that if he denied the charge of Israeli children being decapitated, then it would hurt the narrative that gave meaning to his decision to order two of his aircraft carriers—replete with fighter jets—to park themselves in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The resort to fake news was also considered imperative so that the US and the Western powers could convey to the sceptics that they occupy the moral high ground and they were on the side of the right and truth. An apology from either the US President or the government of Israel has not come to support those who are valiantly trying to bust fake news.

It's not that the brutality exhibited by Hamas militants was less, but the manner in which fake news has been used by the US and Israel to give legitimacy to the merciless bombing in Gaza that has seen 8000 deaths suggests that there is a wider plan to use disinformation as a force multiplier in a war situation. Take, for instance, the bombing of the Baptist hospital in Gaza, in which allegedly 500 patients died. Initially, it was believed that an Israeli bomb had attacked the hospital and led to so many deaths. Soon enough, it was realised that the bombing of the hospital is rated as a war crime and it could erode all the credibility that Israel has earned after the October 7 Hamas attack. After this realisation, experts were wheeled out who managed to show how the bombing of the hospital could be due to a failed missile strike by Hamas. In claims and counterclaims by western media—New York Times and BBC gave an apology—the crime inherent in the attack was forgotten.

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This is enough to dispel any doubt people may have about the power of fake news backed by the powerful western media. Not only does it help in spreading information about what may not have happened, but it also facilitates covering up a colossal crime or shoring up sagging morale. There was a little-noticed report after October 7 that had no attribution highlighted by very credible news outlets and publications like The Guardian that claimed a few days after the Hamas assault that 1500 militants had been killed by the Israeli forces. This was a big number, and for annihilating the militants so soon after the Hamas attack, it should have been a reason for the Israeli defence forces to rejoice, but seemingly it was a dud as there were no follow-ups on this story.

The truth is that the business of misinformation is getting meaner and more dangerous, but when it is used as a weapon of war, then it also kills people, not only those who are in the battlefield, but also those who are far, far away. Carefully crafted lies packaged as truth endorsed by the heads of state or by credible channels that are believed by the gullible who are left demoralised. When the likes of Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak, and Emmanuelle Macron are wheeled out to defend fake news, then one must realise what is expected from it. Things are changing though. Viewers are deeply suspicious of many news sources and have just been consuming them unthinkingly. This is the reason why those desperate to control the narrative do not want any credible news outlet to hold a contrary opinion on what’s happening on the ground.

The case in point is the Doha-based TV news channel, Al Jazeera, which has been reporting on the grave Gaza genocide and highlighting how hundreds of thousands could die if there is no ceasefire immediately. In these times when Israelis trenchantly refuse to accept any suggestion for a ceasefire and try to normalise their bombing operations on an open-air jail, which is Gaza, reporting by Al Jazeera is deeply resented. It was due to this reason that many media reports indicate that the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinkin, sought the intervention of the kingdom’s Emir to pressure Al Jazeera to “dial down” on its coverage of Gaza. It’s a different matter altogether that the Doha-based channel did not relent even when one of its correspondent’s family was bombed out in a targeted strike.

This is not the only time that TV channels, websites, and newspapers have been controlled by the media during the time of war. Last year, Russian news outlets were banned from social media platforms so that the narrative on the Ukraine war remains unchallenged. There is so much anxiety on both sides of the conflict to provide historical validation and justness for their war efforts. Expectedly a superpower or a global hegemon has not just better firepower but also exercises control over all forms of the media that helps them earn legitimacy for their actions and also occupy high moral ground. Understandably, there were no takers for Russia’s desperate attempts to show that they were not at fault but driven to attack Ukraine due to NATO’s enlargement.

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What happens now?

Despite the attempts of the Western powers and Israel to control the media narrative and show that Tel Aviv had a strong reason for attacking the landlocked Gaza, the killings of 7000 odd Palestinians, including 3000 children and 1800 women, have outraged the world community. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres surprised Israel when he reminded the Netanyahu government that the attack did not take place in a vacuum. The Israeli government was critical of the UN Chief and subsequently refused to give visas to UN diplomats to visit the conflict-ridden areas in Palestine. Did it help? Instead of gaining sympathy through a friendly media, Israeli PM Netanyahu’s attitude was seen as grounded in unreasonableness. The more Israel killed Palestinians, the more they seemed to be losing sympathy on social media and outside. Campuses in the US and many world capitals saw demonstrations against the Israeli bombing of Gaza and demanded an immediate ceasefire.

Can a government really go against the dominant view in the media, including social media? Unlikely if one goes by how the world opinion has shifted, forcing the US government to make ambivalent noises on whether the Israeli defence forces should go ahead with a ground offensive or not. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other US allies have warned Israel from going ahead with the ground offensive. Turkey has threatened to declare Israel as a terrorist state. In a large rally in Istanbul, President Recep Erdogan blamed the Christian West and reminded them that the world was being forced into another crusade between the cross and crescent. Erdogan knows how to work the media, and surely his threat to reignite the imagery of crusade would not be ignored—the business of misinformation notwithstanding.


Sanjay Kapoor is a Senior Journalist based out of Delhi. He is a foreign policy specialist focused on India, its neighbourhood and West Asia. He is the Founder and Editor of Hardnews Magazine. He is a Member of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) and, until recently, served as the General Secretary of EGI.

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