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The Lessons of Hanin Zuabi’s Big Lie

Yesterday’s press conference by Hanin Zuabi, an Israeli Arab Knesset member who was on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara when Israeli commandos boarded it on Monday, should be studied by every journalist or human-rights activist who ever believed a Palestinian atrocity tale. Here is Haaretz’s report of it:

According to Zuabi, when the flotilla was 130 miles from shore, 14 naval ships approached and opened fire without warning. Only journalists, nurses and a doctor were on deck; none of them carried weapons. All the other passengers were either in their rooms or fled there as soon as the shooting began. …

Over and over, she insisted that the passengers engaged in no violence, that the soldiers had come with intent to kill and intimidate, that it was all planned in advance.

When reporters confronted her with the video footage released by the army and the soldiers’ testimony, and with the fact that several soldiers were wounded, Zuabi first evaded the questions, then finally insisted, “This is what I saw.”

This is a classic example of the Big Lie: even faced with incontrovertible evidence of her story’s falsity — the video footage of those peace-loving “journalists” and “nurses” attacking the soldiers, the seven hospitalized commandos — Zuabi stuck to it. And without this evidence, most of the world would surely have believed her. As David Horowitz noted in analyzing the army’s scandalous decision to withhold the footage for 12 hours, the claim that civilians overpowered highly trained commandos is not instantly plausible.

The first lesson is that the army must film every encounter with Palestinians or their supporters and make the footage readily available. It should have started doing so long ago; perhaps the success of the Marmara footage — which Haaretz said was the second-most-watched clip on YouTube yesterday, beating the third-place clip, Al-Jazeera’s version of the incident, by 150,000 hits — will finally persuade it.

The second lesson, as Noah correctly argued, is that Israel must start playing PR offense, not just defense: it can’t win if it spends all its time refuting Zuabi-style Big Lies, especially since proof won’t always be available. In June 2008, for instance, Hamas accused Israel of bombing a house in Gaza and killing seven civilians; it later emerged that the house blew up because Hamas operatives were making a bomb for use against Israel, which exploded prematurely. But since Israel wasn’t involved, there could have been no exculpatory Israeli footage even if a “film-everything” policy existed.

Noah outlined a case against Turkey, but top priority must be the case against the Palestinians. That requires a PR offensive covering everything from Palestinian hate education to Hamas’s abuse of its own people to Israel’s own legal claim to the territories.

Israelis often assume that what’s obvious to them is also obvious to the rest of the world, and therefore doesn’t need saying. That is partly why the army felt no need to immediately release the Marmara footage: Israelis already knew “their boys” weren’t wanton murderers. But most people don’t know what Israelis know. And they never will unless Israel tells them.



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