By Samah Sabawi
The morning news of the Itamar murders broke out, I got a call from my father, a man from Gaza whose entire life was derailed by Israel’s occupation of his land. He was fuming: "nothing could justify these murders" he yelled "even if we were to bring up the occupation, the harassment, the brutality of Israel’s army and settlers – the minute we entertain an act so criminal as to kill a baby in cold blood, we become no better than those whose acts we despise." I posted his comment on my Facebook wall.
A day later, some of my Jewish friends sent me messages inquiring if it was true that Palestinians in Gaza celebrate the killing of Jews. One of them asked “Is there a custom to give out sweets after such events?” The messages came with several links. I expected to see the usual pro-Israel hasbara sites but to my surprise one link was to the Australian Herald Sun which lead me to an article titled ‘White House Condemn Killing’.
The article had no mention of any Gaza celebrations, but was accompanied by a large AFP credited photo of a man standing in a street in Gaza offering a small platter of sweets to two somber looking Hamas Policemen. The only reference or clue to celebration came in the photo caption: ‘A Palestinian man distributes sweets in the streets of the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on March 12, 2011 to celebrate an attack which killed five Israeli settlers at the Itamar settlement near the West Bank city of Nablus.’ I did some more research and found that the same article also appeared on Perth Now, News.com.au and The Daily Telegraph.
From here I began an extensive search on the internet. There were references to Gaza’s celebrations in a variety of international media websites including Fox News and Washington Post, but all the references pointed to one original source – three photos by AFP cameraman posted on Getty images, so I followed the trail.
The three original photos starred the same man with the same small sweet platter. In the first shot, he offers the platter to the two policemen; in the second he offers it to a man in a car at a traffic light who looks a bit confused but is accepting the offer of sweets; and in the third photo, the same man offers the small platter of sweets to an old lady sitting on a pavement. The backdrop of the photos revealed nothing more than an average busy day in a street in Gaza with the normal amount of traffic, a few cars, vans etc. There was nothing in the photos to convey a sense of joy or celebration: there were no crowds, no smiling faces, no banners, no flags and no scarfs… in fact, no people appeared in the photos except for the man with the platter and his subjects. This was highly unusual for a Gaza celebration.
But even if we were to assume that this lone man with the sweet platter was genuinely celebrating, how on earth does something like that make international media? One Palestinian man in a population of 1.5 million offering a tray of deserts? Did the same newspapers that published these photos also publish photos of busloads of Israeli tourists standing on a hill top celebrating while watching phosphourous rain fall on Palestinians during Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in 2009? The double standard here is astonishing.
It mattered little that no Palestinian faction claimed responsibility and even Hamas issued a statement saying that Palestinians do not target children. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview on Israel Radio: “Scenes like these – the murder of infants and children and a woman slaughtered – cause any person endowed with humanity to hurt and to cry.” The frenzy of demonisation continues even though until this article was written there was no real proof that any Palestinians were involved in the murder.
The photos of so called ‘Gaza celebrations’ are becoming an internet sensation because they offer desperately needed proof that Palestinians are evil in nature. One headline from a hasbara site read “How do you start a party in Palestine? You kill a Jewish family.”
The campaign to demonise is indeed in full swing and seems to have no moral boundaries. Barely had the blood of the murdered children dried up the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs in Israel hastened to release the graphic images of the murdered children to be used as fodder in the war to demonise the Palestinian people. The minister – who authorised the release – stated in an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz “on the internet the images are really catching on and circulating”. After all, what could be worse than people who murder children and then celebrate?
Did we not learn anything from the tragic lessons of Jewish history about the vicious demonisation of an entire people? My response to my Jewish friends about Itamar was a simple one; “Your people and mine deserve better than this”.
– Samah Sabawi is a Public Advocate for Australians for Palestine. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.