A man wails after Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Gaza

A man wails after Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Gaza on October 9, 2023.

(Photo: Belal Khaled/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

'The Fog of War Lies Thick': Critics Warn Israel-Gaza Crisis Is Repeating Bloody Mistakes of the Past

"It's so hard to sort out pebbles of fact from mountains of propaganda," wrote Canadian filmmaker Avi Lewis.

As officials and medical personnel in Gaza said Wednesday that the blockaded enclave faces a "humanitarian catastrophe," progressive journalists warned that policymakers are placing millions of lives at risk by rapidly making hugely consequential decisions while facts about what's taking place on the ground are not always immediately clear.

Canadian filmmaker and activist Avi Lewis used the military term "fog of war"—the difficulty of determining the on-the-ground realities and the correct decisions to make in military operations—to describe the current situation in Israel and Gaza following an unprecedented surprise attack by Hamas on Saturday, which killed more than 1,200 people, and Israel's deadly retaliation against the impoverished enclave that's home to more than two million civilians, about half of whom are children.

"It's so hard to sort out pebbles of fact from mountains of propaganda," Lewis wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, adding that he has been "appalled" by the suffering of civilians in Israel and Gaza and by the decisions that have followed by policymakers thousands of miles away from the conflict.

As Gaza faced intensifying strain on its healthcare system due to a lack of fuel for its sole power plant and the death toll reached at least 950, Lewis was among those condemning countries including the United States, France, and the United Kingdom for "reverting to simple-minded, one-sided Israel-right-or-wrong-ism."

His comments came less than a day after U.S. President Joe Biden said the Pentagon is "surging additional military assistance" to Israel, "including ammunition and interceptors to replenish Iron Dome," repeating that "we're with Israel" without urging a cessation of the airstrikes that have decimated civilian neighborhoods and healthcare facilities in Gaza.

"The dead and the rubble piling up in Gaza are the bitter fruit of this cynical, simple-minded worldview," said Lewis.

As Yumna Patel, Palestine news director for Mondoweiss, noted on Tuesday—citing The Times of Israel—policymakers including Biden are pledging support for Israel's assault on Gaza as media reports focus heavily on the human impact Hamas's attack had, but far less on the suffering unleashed by the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) retaliation.

"By taking only foreign press into these sites and feeding them information, Israel is again taking control of the narrative on the international stage," said Patel. "And by not allowing local, Hebrew-speaking media into certain areas, Israel is shielding itself from the criticisms and growing frustrations of a population that could easily eventually turn on the government for failing to protect them."

"It's a win-win situation for Israel," she added. "It gets to put out to the world the images that it wants (dead Israelis), while limiting what it doesn't want the world to see or hear (real-life Gazans as human beings), and preventing its own people from the truth of its colossal failure."

Germany-based Palestinian journalist Hebh Jamal added that "this misinformation, and fog of war is playing EXACTLY into Israel's favor."

Warnings of the difficulties of determining the reality on the ground in Gaza and Israel came as numerous right-wing leaders in Israel and the U.S. compared the Hamas attack to September 11, 2001, with both the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and a spokesperson for the IDF saying in recent days, "This is our 9/11."

At The Intercept on Monday, Jon Schwarz wrote that the analogy is apt, but perhaps not for reasons Israeli or U.S. officials would acknowledge.

Both Israel and the U.S. "generated their own enemies," Schwarz wrote, with the U.S. encouraging "fundamentalist Islamic opposition to "the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s," and Israel doing "the same thing in miniature in the occupied territories, encouraging the growth of Hamas to damage the secular Fatah." And like the George W. Bush administration, Israel apparently "ignored" warnings about an impending attack, as Haaretzreported Monday.

"Finally, the revenge that Israel will now exact will be hideous, as was that taken by the U.S.," Schwarz wrote. "There is nothing on earth like the fury of the powerful when they believe they have been defied by their inferiors."

At Open Democracy—which published commentary in the wake of the 9/11 attacks urging the U.S. not to rush into war—international security correspondent Paul Rogers also drew comparisons between the current moment and the time period following the World Trade Center attacks, warning that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's current outlook mirrors that of the Bush administration in 2001: "He sees no alternative but to launch a counter-attack," even against civilian families who had nothing to do with Hamas's brutal assault.

"The chances of a peaceful outcome may be remote, but the alternative will be years more of conflict," wrote Rogers. "Those few Western politicians calling for an immediate cease-fire may be shouted down, but they are right."

U.S. lawmakers including U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) were branded "disgraceful" by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre after issuing statements that both condemned Hamas' attack and criticized Israel's occupation. The lawmakers also called for a cease-fire and peace talks.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)—the sole member of Congress to vote against the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force—was widely denounced for her vote after 9/11, and over the weekend also called for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

"Time eventually proved her wise, and that lonely stand built her legacy," wrote Intercept journalist Ryan Grim of Lee's dissent in 2001.

Over the objections of lawmakers like Lee this week, he added, "what Netanyahu is doing, and what Biden is encouraging, may spiral into one of the greatest mass civilian atrocities in a half-century."

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