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The Grotesque PR That Justifies Israeli Slaughter of Palestinian Children

How do the people claiming this is what "self-defense" looks like sleep at night?

John Kirby, holds a daily briefing, Friday, January 26, 2024 -- public domain image

By Robert C. Koehler, Common Dreams

For its victims, war is . . . yes, hell. For the rest of us—the onlooking and supportive patriots—war is an abstraction embedded in ignorance, a.k.a., public relations, served up for public consumption.

At least that’s the way it’s supposed to be. The reality of war should never directly confront the official PR of those waging it. If it does, God help the war industry!

But that’s what’s happening now, as public support for U.S. complicity in Israel’s devastation of Gaza diminishes, indeed, starts turning to outrage. Official spokesmen for the Biden administration, such as John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator for the National Security Council, are forced to start mixing apologetic language in with their unwavering support for the bombing and murder of civilians . . . excuse me, Israel’s right to defend itself.

“Civilian deaths are happening, and happening at a rate that obviously we’re not comfortable with,” Kirby said in a New Yorker interview. “But,” he quickly added, “it doesn’t mean that they are intentionally trying to wipe the people of Gaza off the map the same way that Hamas wants to wipe the Israeli people off the map.”

Wow, Israel’s actions and official declarations of intent to obliterate Palestine are making the U.S. government uncomfortable. (But Hamas is still the bad guy.) Oh, if only fragments of actual truth about the war could penetrate such an interview. For instance:

“And it was mostly — I mean, the majority of the patients that I treated were children, anywhere from the age of 2 to 17. I mean, I saw horrific eye and facial injuries that I’ve never seen before, eyes shattered in two 6-year-old children with shrapnel that I had to take out, eyes with shrapnel stuck inside, facial injuries. I saw orthopedic injuries where — you know, limbs just cut off and dangling. I saw abdominal injuries that were just horrific. And it was just mass chaos. There were children on the floor, unattended to, with head trauma, people suturing patients without anesthesia on the ground. It was just mass chaos and really horrific, horrific scenes.”

The speaker is Dr. Yasser Khan, a Canadian ophthalmologist recently back from a humanitarian mission at the European Hospital in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, near Rafah. He was interviewed by Democracy Now! I wish John Kirby could have been there.

The hospital, he said, was “about 300, 400 percent over capacity. There was patients and bodies lying all over the hospital floor, inside and outside. They had orthopedic devices coming from their legs or their arms. They were getting infected, they were in pain, because they were on the floor, so the conditions weren’t very sterile. And if they survived amputation the first time, the infection would get them . . .”

His words go on and on. OK, you (I mean Kirby) might say, this is war. People get hurt. But Israel has to “defend itself.”

This is self-defense?

“They have killed over 300 or 400 healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, paramedics. Ambulances have been bombed. This has all been a systematic sort of — you know, by destroying the healthcare system, you’re contributing to the genocide.”

Khan also notes: “They’ve attacked the sewage system, the water system, so the sewage mixes with the drinking water. And you get diarrheal diseases, bacterial diseases. You know, cholera, typhoid is not far away. Hepatitis A is epidemic there now. They’re living in cramped spaces.”

And it gets even more insane: “What’s going on is now there’s 10,000 to 15,000 bodies that are decomposing. So, it’s raining season right now in Gaza. So all the rainwater mixes with the decomposing bodies, and that bacteria mixes with the drinking water supply, and you get further disease.”

Israel has the right to defend itself. But come on, guys, be a little bit more careful. Kill fewer children. Try not to poison the water. You might say this is public relations with a limp. Meanwhile, the International Court of Justice has ordered Israel to “refrain” from taking action that could be considered genocidal and, good God, “take measures to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestinian civilians in the enclave,” as Reuters reports.

But it’s war itself — regardless of “intent” — that is causing this hell. The act of war, the weapons of war, the political-economic structure of the globe that is based on endless war and domination, seems never to face serious condemnation, at least not in any official sense. But if we feed war, we feed hell.

Perhaps there’s one bit of recent news about a challenge to the global war industry, and its public relations perpetrators, that isn’t simply a scream from the political margins or cries from the victims. It’s the Transatlantic Civil Servants’ Statement on Gaza, a statement, released on Feb. 2, signed by more than 800 civil servants from the United States, the European Union, and about a dozen European countries, declaring: “It Is Our Duty To Speak Out When Our Governments’ Policies Are Wrong.”

The statement declares the Gaza pummeling “one of the worst human catastrophes of this century.” And it calls on its countries to halt all military support to Israel and use their leverage “to secure a lasting ceasefire and full humanitarian access in Gaza and a safe release of all hostages” and “develop a strategy for lasting peace.”

A strategy for lasting peace? That’s another way of calling for an end to war. It’s about time.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Koehler has been the recipient of multiple awards for writing and journalism from organizations including the National Newspaper Association, Suburban Newspapers of America, and the Chicago Headline Club. He's a regular contributor to such high-profile websites as Common Dreams and the Huffington Post. Eschewing political labels, Koehler considers himself a "peace journalist. He has been an editor at Tribune Media Services and a reporter, columnist and copy desk chief at Lerner Newspapers, a chain of neighborhood and suburban newspapers in the Chicago area. Koehler launched his column in 1999. Born in Detroit and raised in suburban Dearborn, Koehler has lived in Chicago since 1976. He earned a master's degree in creative writing from Columbia College and has taught writing at both the college and high school levels. Koehler is a widower and single parent. He explores both conditions at great depth in his writing. His book, "Courage Grows Strong at the Wound" (2016). Contact him or visit his website at

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