Fool Me Twice
The tried-and-tested tropes of the post-9/11 and Iraq War eras have been deployed for Israel's war in Gaza. The returns are diminishing.
“Fool me once, shame on...shame on you. Fool me—you can't get fooled again.”
- American proverb
For many over the past month and a half, it has felt like an especially cruel form of deja vu. Those who lived through the hysteria that came after 9/11, the stream of falsehoods that surrounded the story that weapons of mass destruction could be found under Saddam Hussein’s feet, and the long occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq that were to follow, are now seeing what they saw happen again in Gaza. However this time it is with Israel in the lead, with America playing a supporting role that this theatrical production could not exist without. Its associated horrors have been compressed into an unfathomably short amount of time, becoming impossibly dense and seemingly fit to explode, burning with heat.
Since October 7th, the State of Israel, through its government, media outlets, and friendly pundits, have attempted to communicate to the Western world a mixture of narrative both modern and archaic, insisting that they are fighting a war similar to that which America fought against al-Qaeda after the attacks of September 11th, but just as well that this is just like the war that America fought against the Third Reich. The Gaza Strip being less than half the size of Berlin itself, and having been under strict blockade for almost two decades, was not focused on.
Instead, backers of Israel like Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League expanded Israel’s condition to being “under siege for 75 years”, despite the fact that numerous Arab states have made peace with Israel since its creation and Netanyahu had shortly before the war began, touted the supposedly new Middle East that was to come in this era of acquiescence to Israeli presence. Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, went and compared Gaza to German cities like Dresden and Hamburg where “600,000 civilian Germans” were killed by Allied bombing, arguing that just as this was “worth it” to defend the Nazis, so to must civilian Palestinians being massacred in droves be accepted as an unfortunate but necessary cost.
The invocation of the Nazis had been done before to justify America’s invasions of places like Iraq, such as when a former CIA director was welcomed onto CBS in 2002 to tell Americans that Saddam posed as great a threat to the world as Hitler, but here, the invocation is far more expansive. Both Israel and the United States have dabbled in rhetoric about freeing the people they are invading, but Israeli figures, both in politics and the media, have been far stronger in emphasizing that Gazans, by virtue of having elected Hamas in 2006 (which is so long ago now that most Gazans alive today did not participate in this election), are collectively responsible and for Hamas’ attacks against Israel on October 7th that killed almost 300 soldiers and over 800 civilians, and therefore are acceptable collateral damage at best or righteously killed en masse at worst.
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In particular, many who were around for the post-9/11 era will remember the descriptions of the many different varieties of weapons laboratories that the Saddamist republic had in its possession, ranging from mobile biological agent manufacturing facilities placed on trucks, to the allegations from defectors that chemical weapons were being produced beneath hospitals. Many will also remember the descriptions of the cave networks that supposedly existed in Tora Bora in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden was hiding out in headquarters built into the inside of a mountain that allegedly had hydroelectric plants and even offices for the al-Qaeda leadership. All of these assertions, breathlessly reported in the Western media, turned out to be false.
But the playbook crafted in the early 2000s was still seared onto the pages of history. Even if it has failed in the long-term, sowing distrust in institutions and cynicism toward foreign intervention, the short-term success of it, getting a population rearing and ready for war, remains known and remembered. There is no greater example of this remembrance than the current, deadly charade ongoing on the grounds of al-Shifa’ Hospital in Gaza City, as IDF troops fruitlessly search, or try and stage, convincing, undeniable evidence to try and confirm to the world that Israel’s gigantic assertions were true: that Gaza’s largest medical complex is in fact Hamas’ main militant headquarters.
It is worth asking ourselves as we see the horrifying footage of premature infants left without incubators and smoke from IDF munitions filling hospital grounds: how did we get here? How did the State of Israel attempt to lay the rhetorical groundwork to justify such an open and unabashed assault on a hospital after only a month earlier having stringently denied they would ever target a hospital like al-Ahli, which after being hit by an Israeli strike saw nearly 500 Palestinians killed in the blast and resulting fire.
While Israel has spent years in the case of al-Shifa’ preparing the case for an eventual, then-far off assault, the culmination of all those years of work has been accelerated and spearheaded by the descension of the spokespeople of the Israeli government and its armed forces in the aftermath of the attacks of October 7th, who are all trying to desperately find and hit the metaphorical button that will turn American audiences into firm and loyal backers of Israel against Gaza, just as the Americans were able to do in their own country for the War on Terror in that long, long ago.
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