Why do peace organizations rely on ‘alternative facts’?

Last week, I was invited to speak on Al Jazeera about the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran. What I found in my research for the show shocked me.

I learned from Haaretz that Umm al-Hiran’s residents were transferred there by the IDF in 1956. Yet, according to prominent Israeli human rights organisation Adalah, over 60 years later, Israel doesn’t recognise this village, and is looking to relocate the Bedouin, demolish the buildings and build a “Jewish town” in its place.

Sounds awful, right?

What I read truly disturbed me. Could my country really be so heartless? Could it be that these people were being mercilessly wrenched from their homes, while most of the population remained indifferent? Caught off-guard, for a moment I was worried sick that I had agreed to defend the indefensible.

But as I found more information, a radically different picture emerged. It turns out that the narrative being spread by Adalah and repeated by Haaretz is misleading, to put it kindly. While the Bedouin were indeed moved to Umm al-Hiran in 1956, the land was leased to them. It was never theirs to keep. Furthermore, Israel built the tribe permanent homes in nearby Hura, and offered the residents of Umm al-Hiran the option to move there for free, as well as receiving compensation for the inconvenience. So far, two-thirds of the population have already accepted this solution and moved to Hura.

It gets better. The supposedly “Jewish” town being built in Umm al-Hiran’s place will in fact be open to people of all ethnicities, skin tones and faiths. The current population of Umm al-Hiran will be able to live there, if they so wish. Naturally, none of this features in Adalah’s version of the story.

I have been called a Hasbarist, a propagandist, and a liar for defending Israel. In reality, whenever discussing Israel I strive to ascertain the truth, rather than reflexively justify everything. I have no intention of whitewashing Israel’s faults. I take claims against Israel seriously, and don’t automatically dismiss them. Rooted in the belief that the best advocate is an honest advocate, it is important to recognise flaws. And so, when confronted by a severe accusation regarding Israel’s conduct vis-à-vis its Bedouin population, I took the allegation at face value.

Imagine my frustration when I realised that I had been duped. The claim that the Bedouin are being evicted from “their” land is simply untruthful. And no “Jewish” city is being built instead of Umm al-Hiran. It is utterly exasperating to take someone seriously, only to discover that they are trying to hoodwink you.

Over the last year, I’ve invested many hours listening to “anti-occupation” organisations. Last summer, I joined numerous trips organised by prominent left-wing Israeli groups, including Machsom Watch, Breaking the Silence and Ir Amim. Time after time, I heard these organisations share distressing stories and facts in an attempt to convince credulous European and American vacationers of the righteousness of their cause. And time after time, I have discovered these stories to be a sham.

A prime example features in Breaking the Silence’s tour of the Southern Hebron hills region. In Susiya, tourists are taken to a well opening in the ground, roughly a meter square. As I stood there, the guide explained that the IDF had pushed an entire vehicle into the well. “Here, if you look, there’s a Subaru car deep inside,” he claimed. “They pushed it inside in order to poison the well.” A detached white car door lies on the ground adjacent to the hole.

It sounds dreadful. Initially, I was shocked. There’s just one problem: As anyone who’s been there can attest, no car is actually visible. That’s because there isn’t one in there at all. The aforementioned door is nothing but a devious, strategically positioned prop. And after taking a moment to think about it, I realised the sheer impossibility of ramming a whole car through a one meter square opening. But how many people simply accept the story unquestioningly?

Another time, Breaking the Silence uploaded a story to its Hebrew Facebook page, claiming that a Palestinian family was instructed to leave home eight times in one year so that the army could perform drills nearby. At the time, I was part of My Truth, an organisation that had refuted a number of Breaking the Silence’s lies. Although I had already developed a deep mistrust of the organisation by this point, this claim was too strong to ignore. I was concerned by the possibility that the IDF could acts so callously.

Anxious to verify the details, I relayed concern to my boss that we should tread carefully in case the army had indeed marked out this family’s land as a firing zone. I advised that it would be prudent to examine the case further. And so we did. We obtained aerial photographs of the area from 1999 and from 2016. In so doing, My Truth uncovered what really happened there: Whereas the 2016 photograph clearly showed homes, the image from 1999 showed uninhabited land. When the area was declared a closed military zone that year, no Palestinian village existed there. The family then deliberately chose to live in a military firing range, in defiance of both the law and common sense. Put simply, Breaking the Silence’s claim that the army was cynically embarking on a training exercise and using this as a cover to evict a family was a barefaced lie.

Al Jazeera was the last straw. Time and time again, over the past year I have encountered shocking stories by left-wing “peace” organisations. Repeatedly I have found that while some stories bear consideration, many are clearly manipulated or even fictitious. Beyond the fact that these deceitful stories are insulting to our intelligence, they fuel distrust and hatred of Israel.

When I was invited to speak on Al Jazeera, I was worried that I would have to justify the unjustifiable. But the more I learned, the more disgusted I became. With Israel being attacked relentlessly in the halls of the UN and in the global media, the least “pro-peace” organisations could do is limit their criticisms of the State to truthful ones.

Lies, smears, and crocodile tears by Adalah and Breaking the Silence make peace harder to achieve. Rather than fostering dialogue, they only create more divisions. It’s time for them to renounce their alternative facts.

About the Author
Emanuel Miller is Marketing and Content manager for HonestReporting, an organization dedicated to defending Israel against prejudice in the media.