Israel-Palestine war: Three lies Biden has told since the start of fighting

Oct 12, 2023

US President Joe Biden has pushed several false claims when speaking about the latest round of fighting in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Earlier this week, he delivered a 10-minute speech where he laid the blame for the violence squarely on Palestinian fighters, absolving Israel of any responsibility.

His speech came three days after Palestinian fighters launched a multi-pronged assault on southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people and taking at least 100 Israelis captive.

According to Mohammed Deif, the leader of Hamas’s military wing, the operation was launched in response to an increase in settler attacks in the occupied West Bank and repeated incursions at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Gaza has been under a debilitating Israeli blockade since 2007, leaving about 80 percent of the Palestinians in the Strip reliant on international aid.

Since Saturday, Israel has responded with air strikes that have pummelled the Gaza Strip, killing more than 1,400 people – of which at least 400 are children – and displacing at least 200,000.

The US president was flanked on Tuesday by Vice-President Kamala Haris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his address where he invoked tropes, bluster, and disinformation around the events that took place Saturday.

Whereas Biden repeatedly noted the US would stand with Israel, he neither acknowledged nor sympathised with the plight and horrors meted out to Palestinians in recent days, or since the creation of Israel in 1948.

The speech underlined Washington’s iron-clad commitment to Israel, no matter the cost.

Here are three moments that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

1. ‘I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed, pictures of terrorists beheading children’

Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, Biden made the claim that he saw pictures of decapitated children following Saturday’s attack on Israel.

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“I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed, pictures of terrorists beheading children,” the 80-year-old said, describing the Hamas-led attack as the “deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust”.

Unverified claims about the beheading of Israeli children have gone viral on social media in the days following the attack.

The claims were circulated widely after Nicole Zedek, a reporter with the Israeli news channel i24, claimed that she had spoken to Israeli soldiers who had witnessed decapitated babies.

In a response to questions by The Washington Post, a White House spokesperson walked back Biden’s claim and said the president had not seen pictures of beheaded children.

“The president based his comments about the alleged atrocities on the claims from Netanyahu’s spokesman and media reports from Israel, according to the White House,” The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

2. ‘Young people [were] massacred while attending a musical festival to celebrate peace. Women raped, assaulted, paraded as trophies’

On Saturday, Palestinian fighters broke through the heavily militarised barrier fence separating Gaza and Israel and entered several villages, towns, and the rave or music festival. A bloodbath ensued in which hundreds of Israelis were killed.

Two-hundred and sixty people have been reported dead following the attack, which began at 6.30am on Saturday morning.

Speaking on Tuesday, Biden said Israeli women were “raped, assaulted, paraded as trophies”.

As of Thursday, there is no evidence to suggest that women were raped or paraded.

Several women are known to have been killed in the attack or taken back to Gaza as prisoners of war, but claims of rape have yet to be substantiated by Israeli authorities or independent human rights groups.

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So far, at least one publication, The Los Angeles Times, has retracted the claim, issuing a ‘for the record’ which reads: “such reports have not been substantiated”.

3. ‘Terrorists purposefully target civilians, kill them. We uphold the laws of war. It matters. There’s a difference’

In his remarks on Tuesday, Biden attempted to defend Israel’s bombing campaign of Gaza, claiming that Israel doesn’t target civilians and journalists.

This claim has already been contested by the United Nations in this latest bout of violence after residential buildings and UN-run schools being used as shelters for displaced people have been bombed.

On Monday, the UN’s Independent Commission of Inquiry said there was already “clear evidence that war crimes may have been committed” by both sides.

Shortly after the attack, Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said in a broadcast: “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.”

A blockade is not necessarily a war crime, but the intentional starvation of a civilian population as a war tactic is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Tuesday that “Some of the actions [by Israel] — and the United Nations has already said it — cutting water, cutting electricity, cutting food to a mass of civilian people, is against international law. So yes, there are some actions that are not in accordance with international law.”

Israel already stands accused of committing war crimes in all four of its major operations in Gaza since 2008, the first of which saw the use of white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas, which caused civilian injuries and death.

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In 2018, Amnesty International said Israel had committed war crimes when more than 200 Palestinians were killed as they protested during the Great March of Return demonstrations.

And last year, Israeli soldiers killed Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akhleh.

Her employer, the Al Jazeera Media Network, has submitted a formal request to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute those responsible for killing the veteran journalist.

Israel has refused to sign the Rome Convention and join the ICC.

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