During the most brutal days of apartheid in South Africa, the racist regime produced reams of propaganda, including glossy magazines that “featured images of wonderful wild animals, sunsets and happy Black people on the beach.”
As South African author Ron Nixon documents in two books, Operation Blackwash and Selling Apartheid, such propaganda was often generated under the guidance of the regime’s intelligence agencies, with the aim of counteracting growing international criticism and pressure.
One scheme, part of a campaign backed by the racist government in the late 1980s, was cynically dubbed “Operation Heartbreak.” It involved a Black US pastor bringing a group of American children to deliver dolls to members of Congress.
“Each doll represented a child who would be harmed by the sanctions Congress had imposed on South Africa,” Nixon writes. “Organizers of the event also said the dolls represented children harmed by the tactics of the African National Congress and its all-out war against the apartheid government.”
These propaganda messages failed to stop the growing momentum for boycott, divestment and sanctions on South Africa – pressure that eventually helped bring down the white supremacist regime and usher in a non-racial democracy.
But similar tactics are now being revived by the apartheid government of Israel, as part of its all-out assault against the BDS movement.
These claims aim to distract from the devastating economic impact and human rights abuses directly caused by Israel’s occupation and illegal colonization of the West Bank.
The manipulative South African propaganda came to mind when I saw a Facebook post by COGAT, the Israeli military authority that rules the lives of millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“A few minutes ago, a group of 23 children from Gaza crossed through Erez Crossing to have a day of fun in Israel,” the Tuesday post stated.
COGAT said the children “went for a walk through the #naturereserve Gan HaShlosha (Sahne) in the north of the country,” and wished them “a day full of fun and adventure.”
The occupation authority posted photos of the children, including the one at the top of this article, with their faces blurred, on Facebook and Twitter.
“Cool,” commented Gaza writer Refaat Alareer sarcastically, “Now we Palestinians feel OK about the thousands of kids Israel has murdered and the seven decades of occupation, oppression and humiliation.”
It should be noted that this is the same COGAT that routinely blocks patients from Gaza, including children, from leaving the besieged territory for lifesaving treatment.
In the first 10 months of 2015, COGAT denied 1,035 Palestinians in Gaza exit permits to receive necessary treatment in the occupied West Bank, present-day Israel or Jordan. That represents almost twice as many denials as were issued the entire previous year.
And yet when it is helpful to Israeli propaganda, COGAT allows a few children out of Gaza for a single day.
Destroying children’s lives
Israel has tried to pull off a propaganda stunt with Gaza children for a while – an effort to use orphans from Gaza in a similar manner was foiled in 2014 when Hamas put a stop to it.
Palestinian media, citing Israeli media, reported that this time the trip was given the go-ahead by Hamas after the intervention of Qatar.
The defenders of such cynical gimmicks will undoubtedly claim that critics like myself, or Alareer, are against Palestinian children having fun; of course we are not.
I am against Israel imposing conditions that historian Ilan Pappe has termed “incremental genocide” against 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, about half of whom are aged 18 or under.
I am against Israel massacring 551 children as part of its most recent war in Gaza and then claiming this as “self-defense.”
According to a recent survey by the UN monitoring group OCHA, 44,000 Gaza children whose homes were destroyed in the 2014 Israeli attack are still displaced.
“Around 225,000 children in Gaza require psychosocial support and child protection services,” the report adds.
Will Israel allow them all to visit a nature reserve?
I am against Israel’s systematic abuses of Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, including routine killings with no accountability and the fact that Israel is the only country in the world to annually prosecute hundreds of children (Palestinians only) in military courts.
I am against all this and I am also against Israel then using a very tiny number of children from Gaza in a photo-op to falsely portray itself as benevolent and caring.
Ironically, the propaganda – or hasbara – appears to have backfired, at least with many of the Israelis who reacted with outrage to COGAT’s post.
“Shame on you,” wrote Leat Bodenheimer in a typical comment, “There are lots of Jewish children who would have liked this and instead you went and took a murderous enemy in the hope that they will love you.”
Such pervasive attitudes toward Palestinians underscore that the children of Gaza are not victims of a natural disaster who just need a nice day out to forget their woes.
They are victims of Israel, its brutal wars, racism, occupation, settler-colonialism and siege. They need an end to Israel’s oppression and they need justice for what Israel has done and is doing to them.
Israel’s cynical exploitation of these children should cut no more ice with anyone who cares about Palestinian rights than the crude South African propaganda did with those committed to ending apartheid.
Shortly after this article was published, COGAT appears to have deleted the Facebook post. Perhaps even they figured out that this propaganda would not fly.