Israel has launched a major escalation of its war on the people of Gaza. As the bodies of Palestinian civilians pile up, Joe Biden has been sowing doubt about the casualty figures, enabling more killing.

US president Joe Biden speaks to the press aboard Air Force One as he returns from his visit to Israel on October 18, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

Israel has launched a major escalation of its war on Gaza, after knocking out communication networks in the territory and making it much harder for its people to tell the outside world what is happening. Despite the lockdown, we know that Gaza suffered one of the heaviest bombardments to date last night. We also know that the Israeli military has announced the deployment of ground forces and released footage of tanks that it says have moved into Gaza.

One thing is already clear: the administration of Joe Biden has assumed full responsibility for every atrocity that is inflicted on Gaza’s population. In the last few days, the Biden administration launched a full-scale propaganda offensive to dispute the casualty figures coming out of Gaza. By doing so, they gave their blessing to even greater violence against Palestinian civilians.

Casting Doubt

Biden himself claimed to have “no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using”  and “no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth.” The White House spokesman John Kirby doubled down on Biden’s comments, telling reporters that Gaza’s health ministry was “just a front for Hamas.”

The Biden administration launched a full-scale propaganda offensive to dispute the casualty figures coming out of Gaza.

Neither Biden nor Kirby offered any justification for their professed skepticism. The Huffington Post showed that the State Department has relied upon the Gaza health ministry as a trustworthy source for its internal briefings. One State Department cable suggested that the true number of deaths and injuries is likely to be “much higher” than the figures from the ministry.

The Washington Post explained that the United Nations and other international bodies have long considered the ministry to be the “best available” authority on casualties in Gaza, with a track record of reliability. The ministry itself quickly published a list of 6,747 people who had been killed since October 7, with the name, age, gender, and ID number for each person killed, excluding 281 people whose bodies had yet to be identified.

But none of this mattered, because the damage was already done. The most powerful man in the world had used his position to cast doubt on the scale of human suffering that his Israeli allies have inflicted on the people of Gaza. Biden achieved this objective with a flippant, off-the-cuff remark of the kind he has specialized in over the past few weeks.

Muddying the Waters

Biden’s response to the bombing of Al-Ahli Arab Hospital on October 17 came out of the same playbook. The bombing could and should have been a turning point, forcing Israel’s Western allies to roll back on their uncritical support for Benjamin Netanyahu’s war. But the US president did everything he could to muddy the waters.

Even as he appeared to back up the Israeli version of events about Al-Ahli, Biden directly contradicted it.

Speaking at a press conference alongside Netanyahu, Biden claimed to have been shown evidence that Israel was not responsible for the bombing: “Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you.” He used the same childish mode of expression when speaking to reporters later the same day: “I’m not suggesting that Hamas deliberately did it. It’s that old thing: gotta learn how to shoot straight.”

The fact that Biden was talking about the violent deaths of several hundred people with all the solemnity you might bestow upon an ice hockey play-off match shouldn’t distract us from a key point. The Israeli version of events blamed Islamic Jihad for the hospital explosion, not Hamas. Even as he appeared to back up that version, Biden directly contradicted it. One had to wonder if the US president referred to “the other team” while sitting beside Netanyahu because he couldn’t remember which group the Israelis held responsible for the bombing.

Meticulous reporting by Britain’s Channel 4 News dismantled the Israeli narrative about Al-Ahli. The New York Times has also demonstrated that a key piece of evidence cited by Israeli and US officials simply does not back up the story they want to put across. But the Israeli disinformation campaign and the support it received from Biden achieved its goal by stopping the build-up of political pressure for a ceasefire. Thousands of Palestinians are now dead as a direct result.

No Red Lines

John Kirby had a simple message for reporters at the White House press briefing yesterday: “We’re not drawing red lines for Israel.” Kirby and his boss know perfectly well what that means for the people of Gaza, coming hot on the heels of their effort to discredit Palestinian casualty figures.

Netanyahu’s government is not even pretending to distinguish between combatants and civilians in Gaza. It has declared its intentions to the world in plain sight, and the Biden administration has thrown its full weight behind everything that the Israeli military does in the coming days and weeks. Anyone who does not want to share in that complicity must add their voice to the call for an immediate ceasefire.

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