The Propaganda of War
“ ‘Go back to your country’: brave little girl confronts invading Putin’s Army,” was the description that accompanied it.
Although some people clearly bought it – it has several thousand “likes” – it didn’t get very far before many Twitter users pointed out that the landscape, the weather (February in Eastern Europe is very cold) look nothing like Ukraine.
And they recognized the Palestinian girl in the video: It shows Ahed Tamimi at least 9 years ago, as she confronts an Israeli soldier in Arabic.
In 2017 and 2018, the teenaged Tamimi spent eight months in an Israeli prison, sentenced for a different confrontation with Israeli soldiers who had invaded Nabi Saleh, her home village in the occupied West Bank.
Her “crime” was slapping an occupation soldier soon after Israeli forces shot her 15-year-old cousin in the head, causing horrifying injuries.
Ahed Tamimi was celebrated for bravery all over the world, though not by the Western governments and media which are glorifying resistance by Ukrainian civilians to the Russian invasion, including celebrating them for preparing Molotov cocktails.
All these scenes on the TV of women making Molotov cocktails in Ukraine are heartwarming.— Craig Murray - (@CraigMurrayOrg) February 27, 2022
I very much look forward in future to equally sympathetic media coverage of Palestinian bombmakers who show equal or arguably greater courage in fighting terrible military oppression.
“On the day Vladimir Putin ordered his soldiers into Ukraine, Arina had planned a dance class after work and then a party. Three days later, the English teacher was making Molotov cocktails in a park” #dnipro #ukraine https://t.co/UFTqmpEJHG— Sarah Rainsford (@sarahrainsford) February 27, 2022
In #Dnipro crowds of women spent Saturday making Molotov cocktails. Teachers, lawyers, housewives, all crouched on the grass, filling bottles. They told me they try not to think about what they’re doing. They didn’t choose this. But they have to be ready to defend their city pic.twitter.com/TSEKmEs2XG— Sarah Rainsford (@sarahrainsford) February 26, 2022
By contrast there has been no outrage at how last week Israeli occupation forces killed a 13-year-old Palestinian boy allegedly for throwing a Molotov cocktail at foreign forces occupying his country.
Britain’s Sky News even explained to its viewers how to make a Molotov cocktail:
Ukrainian civilians are seen in Dnipro, central Ukraine, preparing Molotov cocktails in case of a Russian invasion.— Sky News (@SkyNews) February 26, 2022
Sky's @sparkomat witnesses queues of people who are signing up to the country's army.https://t.co/X3flQUBL0r
Sky 501, Virgin 602, Freeview 233 and YouTube pic.twitter.com/RUnD03kzza
That knowledge might come in handy, since the British and Danish governments are urging their own citizens to travel to Ukraine and take up arms against the Russian army.
Yes, that’s the same British government that has made it a criminal offense to wear a T-shirt with the name of Hamas on it.
Hamas is designated by Israel and its Western backers as a “terrorist” group because it wages armed resistance against Israeli military occupation.
Completely dystopian to hear western leaders and pundits talking about "support for the resistance" when all they've done, like forever, is to brand any form of resistance to their own multiple wars of aggression as "terrorism".— زياد (@TheZalameh) February 27, 2022
The hypocrisy is truly breathtaking. https://t.co/ZO0zLa4qSi— Maureen Murphy (@maureenclarem) February 25, 2022
What is likely to happen is that neo-Nazis and far-right thugs from across Europe will flock to Ukraine to join units like the US-trained Israeli-armed neo-Nazi Azov battalion, an official unit of Ukraine’s national guard.
The blowback is predictable: Battle-hardened neo-Nazis with views similar to Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik will then return to their countries to pursue a race war against all those they perceive as not true Europeans.
On Sunday, Ukraine’s national guard posted a video which it said showed an Azov fighter smearing his bullets in pig fat, supposedly so that any Muslim soldiers sent by Russia from Chechnya would be sent straight to hell.
The official National Guard of Ukraine says members of its Western-backed and Israeli-armed neo-Nazi Azov battalion are smearing their bullets with pig fat, so that any Muslim soldiers that come from Russia go straight to hell. https://t.co/3GTzrVYxtc— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) February 27, 2022
I’ve been following @edolinsky, head of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, for years as he has relentlessly documented the present-day glorification of Ukrainian nationalists and fascists who collaborated with Hitler. He tweeted this just two weeks ago. Follow him and learn. https://t.co/rejmQV0FZh— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) February 25, 2022
The video of Ahed Tamimi is not the only image from Palestine that has been co-opted into the propaganda war around the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Notice the use of “in” and “on” here. https://t.co/RxRZhtg6LI— Dalia Hatuqa (@DaliaHatuqa) February 25, 2022
Last week, an image of massive explosions hitting buildings in a city at night presented as being from Ukraine was widely shared on social media.
The Associated Press warned that the photo was in fact taken in the Gaza Strip during Israel’s bombardment of the territory last May.
The French news agency AFP also warned about images of Israeli attacks on Gaza being passed off as coming from Ukraine:
Estas imágenes circulan en redes sociales vinculadas al conflicto entre Rusia— AFP Factual (@AfpFactual) February 25, 2022
Pero son antiguas y de otro lugar.
En realidad, las fotos muestran bombardeos en Gaza captados por la #AFP en 2018 y 2021.
There has been a flood of fake or falsely labeled images, not just from Gaza, but also from Beirut and Libya or which are simply years old.
The Ukrainian defense ministry even shared a video clip that it claimed showed one of its jets shooting down a Russian warplane. In reality, it was a clip from a video game.
The defense ministry of Ukraine is sharing videogame footage as though it were an actual dogfight is where we are at, if you were wondering. https://t.co/V7YfoeyshN— Judah Ari Gross (@JudahAriGross) February 25, 2022
Sharing fake or mislabeled photos and videos is a common tactic in time of war in the social media age.
Israel does it habitually as part of its efforts to justify its attacks on Palestinians.
In the present situation, the urge to share such photos may be driven by the relative lack of real such images from Ukraine.
To this point, there has been mercifully little bombing inside cities or dense civilian areas of the kind Israel regularly inflicts on Palestinians.
That may change quickly, especially as the European Union and other countries supply Ukraine with weapons rather than mobilizing all their political and diplomatic resources to support a ceasefire and negotiations.
The EU regularly lectures Palestinians that violence isn’t a solution but apparently doesn’t take its own advice.
More sirens in Kyiv this morning. But what’s strange is they don’t seem to mean much aside from a generally dangerous situation. They often aren’t followed by bombing. And when we hear blasts you will often not hear the sirens. pic.twitter.com/OXrvrDD40e— Alex Marquardt (@MarquardtA) February 28, 2022
One reason that some people believed that the video of Ahed Tamimi was from Ukraine is her striking blonde hair.
She looks just like what at least one Ukrainian official and many Western commentators think a sympathetic victim of war should look like.
Ukrainian prosecutor Davit Sakvarelidze told the BBC that “It’s really emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed.”
[Thread] The most racist Ukraine coverage on TV News.— Alan MacLeod (@AlanRMacLeod) February 27, 2022
1. The BBC - “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed” - Ukraine’s Deputy Chief Prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze pic.twitter.com/m0LB0m00Wg
Many similar comments came from Western journalists and pundits, who pointed out that Ukrainians are easier to sympathize with because they look like “Europeans.”
Speaking from Kiev, for instance, CBS News correspondent Chris D’Agata said:
“But this isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”
A compilation of Western journalists and commentators saying the quiet part out loud. pic.twitter.com/CCK8wu6wxu— redfish (@redfishstream) February 27, 2022
This person summarizes western hypocrisy. pic.twitter.com/zhTqJY5UnK— Hadi Nasrallah (@HadiNasrallah) February 27, 2022
The sheer racism of such commentary has generated outrage among those who for years have suffered or watched as Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Yemenis, Libyans, Malians and Palestinians have had their lives and countries devastated by wars waged by or with the support of the same Western powers who hypocritically purport to be upholding international law in Ukraine.
Blondeness or whiteness has also been the condition for receiving maximum sympathy and assistance as a refugee escaping Ukraine, as many people from African and Asian states working or studying in that country have discovered:
UPDATE | After being told to "go back" for 3 days now, it appears Ukrainian officials have relented & placed South Asian refugees, incl Sikhs, in a processing line to cross into Poland. They are last in line, but this is an improvement they say, hoping to cross in a few hours. https://t.co/drfgUTX9ti pic.twitter.com/bexM2IaNOi— Baaz (@BaazNewsOrg) February 27, 2022
Ukrainians fleeing war are receiving a hearty welcome in Poland, Hungary and other neighboring counties. The different treatment is stark compared to that of Middle Eastern and African migrants and refugees, particularly Syrians who came in 2015. https://t.co/EeNOA7bUmL— The Associated Press (@AP) February 28, 2022
One group of Nigerian students having been repeatedly refused entry into Poland have concluded they have no choice but to travel again across Ukraine and attempt to exit the country via the border with Hungary.— Presidency Nigeria (@NGRPresident) February 27, 2022
The whiteness of Ukrainians may make it easier for Western governments to sell to their publics escalation and intervention instead of urgent negotiations to defuse a potentially catastrophic crisis between nuclear superpowers.
But that is not the whole story.
“If Ukraine wasn’t white it would still generate the same reaction from Western imperialism and corporate media,” observed Hammam Farah, a Palestinian-Canadian community leader.
“It’s not about their whiteness, but about Ukraine’s geopolitical significance to American capitalism and the expansion of its empire.”
If Ukraine wasn’t white it would still generate the same reaction from Western imperialism and corporate media. It’s not about their whiteness, but about Ukraine’s geopolitical significance to American capitalism and the expansion of its empire.— Hammam Farah (@HumHum83) February 27, 2022
There are no “double standards” at play here - but one single standard, namely whatever benefits and aligns with the US imperialist system.— Louis Allday (@Louis_Allday) February 26, 2022
That observation is correct: When US elites wanted to mobilize support for the occupation of Afghanistan, the media were full of sympathetic stories about how intervention was necessary in order to save “Afghan women and girls.”
Now that the US has withdrawn from Afghanistan, and President Joe Biden is ensuring that the country’s population starves, they are all but forgotten.
The present war in Ukraine did not start last week with the Russian invasion – though Moscow’s widely condemned action escalates it to potentially catastrophic levels.
Its roots go back further to US destabilization of the country and sponsorship of the 2014 coup by far-right and neo-Nazi elements.
Some pretty compelling evidence the neo-Nazi infestation in Ukraine is being substantially downplayed. They may not win a lot of elections but they are well-armed (by the international community) and they kill a lot of innocent people. And are not shy about their intentions. https://t.co/Czpn8RzDOO— Colin Kalmbacher (@colinkalmbacher) February 27, 2022
Since 2014, there has been a civil war in the east of the country – the Donbas region where Russia last week recognized two breakaway republics.
More than 5,000 people have been killed in the Donbas conflict, among them at least 2,700 civilians.
“In many instances of shelling since 2014, the perpetrator has not been identified, but where they have, Ukrainian separatist forces have been responsible for at least 667 civilian casualties and Ukraine for 783,” according to the monitoring group Action on Armed Violence.
No one in Ukraine needs more war.
That, however, is what they will almost certainly get as the US, NATO and EU answer the Russian invasion with escalation.
On Sunday, the EU announced it would take the unprecedented step of directly financing more than $500 million of arms purchases for Ukraine.
The US is sending in hundreds of millions worth of weapons as well.
The total may eventually exceed the $1 billion worth of arms the Obama administration sent into Syria, with many weapons ending up in the hands of groups tied to al-Qaida.
The staging ground for deliveries will be Poland.
Journalist Mark Ames likened that to the role Pakistan played in the 1980s, when the US used that country as the conduit for weapons and “mujahideen” into Afghanistan to fight the Soviet army.
Poland and Romania get to play Pakistan in the 80s, look how well that turned out.https://t.co/L8SjdyjRJ5— Mark Ames (@MarkAmesExiled) February 25, 2022
The architect of that policy, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, explained later that the goal was “to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible.”
It didn’t matter to the US how much the Afghan people would bleed, or what the cost would be in blowback – the 9/11 attacks and the wars that followed.
US chauvinism & warmongering is so ingrained that @AdamSchiff can openly declare, in Jan 2020, that US uses Ukraine to “fight Russia over there,” and our elites applaud. Fast forward two years later when Russia fights back, and the same circle is outraged. pic.twitter.com/6B4QVFSZvV— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) February 26, 2022
The media propaganda is once again pushing many Americans and Europeans to support escalation and intervention, undoubtedly with the same goal.
James Bruno, a State Department veteran who helped implement Brzezinski’s policy, writes this week in Washington Monthly, “It’s time to make Mother Russia bleed for her crimes. We’ve done it before. We can do it again.”
“Afghanistan, again, offers insights and lessons,” he adds, without a word of what all this cost for the people of that country.
Ukraine is now likely to suffer the same fate as a battleground for superpowers, and when all is said and done, the ruined country and its people will be forgotten as well.
Ali Abunimah is editor and founder of the Electronic Intifada.