'IDF will win where it matters -- protecting our civilians'

In WSJ op-ed, IDF spokesman says world ‘fell for Hamas lies’ in Gaza

Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis blasts international media’s acceptance of terror group’s ‘theatrics,’ says he’d rather lose ‘international propaganda war’ than ‘lie like Hamas’ and win

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A picture taken from Kibbutz Nahal Oz across the border with the Gaza Strip shows Israeli soldiers in position as Palestinians gather along the security fence, on May 14, 2018. (AFP/Jack Guez)
A picture taken from Kibbutz Nahal Oz across the border with the Gaza Strip shows Israeli soldiers in position as Palestinians gather along the security fence, on May 14, 2018. (AFP/Jack Guez)

The Israeli army’s spokesperson penned a scathing article for the Wall Street Journal on Monday, condemning Hamas for “[lying] to the world” about the recent Gaza border riots and criticizing international media outlets for accepting the falsehoods.

The “modus operandi [of Hamas officials] is simple: Lie. Their lies support the stated goal of Hamas: the delegitimization and destruction of Israel,” wrote IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis.

The deaths of over 60 Palestinians during last week’s violent protests were met with international outrage and calls for an independent investigation of events. The UN’s Human Rights Council on Friday ordered a probe, and a resolution prepared by Kuwait for the UN Security Council urges the deployment of an international force to protect Gazans. Hamas has subsequently admitted that 50 of the dead were members of the terror group. Three others were Islamic Jihad members.

Manelis described the protests as Hamas-orchestrated “theatrics” targeting the international audience.

“The [Israel Defense Forces] had precise intelligence that the violent riots were masking a plan of mass infiltration into Israel in order to carry out a massacre against Israeli civilians. Hamas called it a ‘peaceful protest,’ and much of the world simply fell for it,” Manelis wrote.

In his opinion piece, the spokesperson responded to criticism he’s faced, both in Israel and abroad, over his handling of the the Gaza border clashes, with many seeing Hamas as the victor of the public relations war.

IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Some of Israel’s greatest friends might have preferred that we had looked better in the media this past week, but between vanity and truth, the IDF always chooses truth,” Manelis said. “As the IDF spokesman, if I cannot source and cite material, I will not allow it to be published. I will not release any statement if the facts are in doubt.

“If in order to win the international propaganda war I need to lie like Hamas, then I prefer to tell the truth and lose. The IDF will win where it matters — protecting our civilians in the face of terror,” he wrote.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have conducted weekly, sometimes daily, mass demonstrations along the security fence, known collectively as the “March of Return.” Though the marches were started by a coalition of various groups in Gaza who called for them to be non-violent, the plans were quickly coopted by the Hamas terror group, which has ruled the coastal enclave since taking it over in 2007 in a violent coup.

“The idea that this was a peaceful protest is the biggest lie of all, because the basic tenets required for a protest in a democracy like the US or Israel do not exist in Gaza,” Manelis said, noting that Gazans have no freedom of speech or freedom of the press under the Islamist terror group’s rule.

“There can be no such thing as a peaceful protest in Gaza, only gatherings organized, sanctioned and funded by Hamas. Calling this a protest isn’t fake news, just fake,” he said.

Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces near the Gaza-Israel border in Rafah, Gaza Strip on May 14, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The IDF spokesperson accused news outlets of helping Hamas advance its cause “by publishing its lies rather than the facts.”

Manelis noted that Hamas provided transportation to the march and paid cash-strapped Gazans to participate in it, including a bonus if they were injured.

During these riots, most demonstrators keep away from the security fence, staying in tents a few hundred meters back, but thousands each week approached the border, launched rocks and firebombs at Israeli soldiers on the other side with slingshots or flew kites laden with containers of burning fuel into Israel in order to set fire to farmland and fields.

A Palestinian protester holds bolt cutters amid black smoke from burning tires near the fence during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Several dozen to several hundred, depending on the week, tried to damage and break through the security fence. A few succeeded, but were quickly turned back by Israeli troops. Some weeks have also seen direct armed clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians armed with guns or explosives.

In response, the Israeli military has used tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds, which the army says were fired in accordance with its rules of engagement and always with the approval of a commander. In the past eight weeks, thousands of Palestinians have been wounded by live ammunition and over 100 have been killed, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

The majority of those killed were later identified as members of Hamas or other terrorist groups in the Strip.

In the opinion piece, Manelis quoted senior Hamas officials who he said made clear the true intentions of the protests.

“On May 13, Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, said in an interview with Al Jazeera: ‘When we talk about ‘peaceful resistance,’ we are deceiving the public,'” Manelis wrote.

“A senior Hamas leader, Salah Bardawil, said in a May 16 interview with a Palestinian TV station: ‘In the last round of confrontations, if 62 people were martyred, 50 of them were Hamas,'” the general wrote.

Hamas’s Salah Bardawil (right) acknowledges 50 Hamas fatalities among the 62 killed on Israel-Gaza border, May 16, 2018 (Screenshot)

“On April 6, the Hamas political leader, Yahya Sinwar, stated: ‘We will take down the border [with Israel] and we will tear their hearts from their bodies.’ On Facebook Hamas posted maps for their operatives showing the quickest routes from the border with Israel to Israelis’ homes, schools, and day-care centers near the border. Does that sound like a peaceful protest to you?” Manelis asked.

Appearing to preempt the question of why he believes those particular remarks by Hamas officials, but assumes most of the other things they say are falsehoods, Manelis stated: “You can trust Hamas only when they admit to their lies.”

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