The State of Israel's propaganda machine soared to new heights this morning as Google News featured a Google Plus post strait from the State of Israel in its news aggregate feed about the the war in Gaza.
The post was rapped in a hash tag that gives us a glimpse into what is motivating Israel's aggressive military campaign in Gaza – #terrortunnels. Each war gives us a new language of spin, as each side in a conflict try to win the battle for “hearts and minds,” through the use of propaganda. #terrortunnels is fast becoming this war's meme. And it was this meme that greeted me this morning in my Google news feed, presented as news.
“Israel 10 hours ago - Google+ Who builds Hamas' terror tunnels? The children of Gaza. Hamas uses child laborers to build their terror tunnels because, “much as in Victorian coal mines, they are prized for their nimble bodies”. According to Hamas officials, at least 160 children have been killed in the tunnels. #humanshields #hamasterrorists #israelunderfire #terrortunnels
The post had 89 “Google+1” likes and 22 shares. Frankly, I didn't know that many people were on Google Plus. Joke aside, how Israeli state propaganda “aggregated” its way to the top of my news feed is a mystery. If Google News' feed could be easily gamed, it would be every day. What it shows is an Israeli state increasingly fighting a propaganda war in the west in tandem with its ground and air war in Gaza.
The quoted portion of the statement is unattributed, but further research shows that this reporting of child labor being used in the construction of the tunnels seems to leads back to a Summer of 2012 article from the Institute of Palestine Studies(IPS) by Nicolas Pelham titled Gaza's Tunnel Phenomenon: The Unintended Dynamics of Israel's Siege detailing the expansion in tunnel building in Gaza in the wake of Israel's 2008 war with Gaza, Operation Cast Lead. That Israeli operation focused on destroying tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza strip that were bringing goods and weapons into a city under siege.
In 2004 that same boarder area was razed to create a wide buffer zone between the two countries by leveling thousands of Palestinian homes near the Egyptian boarder. Before that time only small simple tunnels crossed the boarder. But tunnel building in Gaza has become big business since then.
Both the 2004 and the 2008 action lead to construction of longer, more sophisticated tunnels by Gazans, mainly ordered by the Hamas government.
"The ground that Israel leveled in 2004 to create a barren corridor separating Gaza from Egypt is today abuzz with activity on and under the surface," writes Pelham.
After reading the official Israeli state propaganda in my Google news feed, I decided to see where the meme #terrortunnels originated. The hash tag campaign #terrortunnels seems to have had a humble started late last fall to refer to Hamas tunnels under Gaza. Then it was used to describe Syrian ISIS rebel tunnels in Syria. At the beginning of the current Israeli assault on Gaza Operation, the hash tag began being used regularly, and nearly exclusively by the Israeli government.
There is an inherent problem with equating the Palestinian tunnels with the word “terror.” The Palestinians of Gaza hold no air force, no air defense, and so like the citizens of London during the Battle of Britain, the Palestinian's have done what logic would dictate. They dug in and dug in deep. To the citizens of Gaza the idea of a tunnel is likely associated with the word “shelter” rather than the word “terror,” as missiles and artillery rain on a civilian population pushed into a shrinking pocket within a city under siege with no exits.
Conflicts of this scale the world over are typically accompanied by a wave of civilian refuges fleeing danger with only the clothes on their backs. We see them on the news, in UN camps waiting in lines for water and food. But there is no exit from the open air prison known as Gaza, as the Israelis have maintained a near total siege for the past 7 years – there is nowhere to go in Gaza but down.
And so the children of Gaza dig. They claw rudimentary tunnels below the city and sometimes across its borders. There is little doubt in my mind of the assertion that Palestinian children have been enlisted in the effort to create the underground fortifications below Gaza. The majority of the Palestinians in the Gaza strip are minors, and what responsible parent would not want their child to have a place in an underground bomb proof refuge when the shelling begins.
Are the conditions for these children bad? Yes. Are the conditions for these children as bad as Victorian era coal miners? Likely so. But Israel's officially voiced concern for the working conditions of the children of Gaza, scratching tunnels below a war torn surface, feels hollow this morning.
Under the same hashtag of #terrortunnels Israel has shared an info graphic on Twitter purporting to show the cost of Hamas tunnels compared to the cost of building civilian infrastructure. “1 Hamas tunnel = 86 homes, 7 Mosques, 6 schools, 19 medical clinics,” the info graphic reads.
What irony for Israel to worry about the civilian infrastructure of Gaza. A playground was bombed 2 days ago, schools and Mosques have been bombed, the hospitals and medical clinics of Gaza have been targeted, and official UN shelters have been bombed. The fact is there is no safe place in Gaza – not on the surface at least. Israel has targeted the civilian power infrastructure, the foreign press, and even Gaza's water and sewage system.
Under such conditions it seems trite that Israel would worry at all about the working conditions of Gaza's children working in “Victorian era” conditions.
The problem with demonizing the construction of such tunnel facilities as a terrorist enterprise is that it implies that Palestinians have no right to self-protection, let alone self-defense. Under the pervasive grinding of Israel's state propaganda machine, any Palestinian taking shelter from Israeli bombardment under the surface of Gaza is a terrorist in a #terrortunnel. And the bombing (whether you see it as a targeted bombing of Gaza's civilian infrastructure or an indiscriminate bombing of Gaza in general) must continue until every tunnel must be rooted out.
Yes, this time Israel seems to be hunkering down to fight in Gaza until the last shovel is destroyed.
And all the while the Israeli propaganda machine wraps in its own assertions of self-defense. Assertions not even its strongest supporters are buying about this war, as show by US Secretary of State John Kerry's on camera, open mic gaff on ABC news on July 20 showed. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation. It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” said a discouraged Kerry referring to the Israeli military campaign, unaware that the world would hear his comment.
The news media has made it clear by echoing the Israeli government that Israel feels and existential threat over the issues of tunnels beneath Gaza. They fear these tunnels threaten Israel and Israeli people – and to some small extent they do. Arms and goods reportedly flow through those tunnels providing Hamas with some small crack in the ongoing siege of Gaza.
However, the true existential crisis over the Gaza tunnels is that they give Hamas and perhaps some other Gazan's a refuge from Israeli bombing. Like the London subway system being used as underground bunkers in World War II, they give a sanctuary for Gaza's democratically elected government to operate from – a sanctuary that Israel does not seem willing to accept.