Israel is creating a smokescreen to divert attention from its atrocities

We should not let Avigdor Lieberman's unconscionable remarks about Gazans deflect attention from Israel's aggession

Israel has sought to circulate lies that Yasser Murtaja, the 30-year-old Palestinian photojournalist killed by its forces, was flying a drone.  Mahmud Hams / AFP
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You can tell a great deal about the character of Israel from the fact that its defence minister is Avigdor Lieberman, the man who followed his soldiers' mass murder spree in Gaza with shameless insults targeted at Palestinians. A former nightclub bouncer in his youth in Moldova, Mr Lieberman has always worn his anti-Arab bigotry proudly on his sleeve. In 2014, he called for the expulsion of Arab politicians from Israel (the grotesque irony of an emigré from the former Soviet Union demanding the eradication of the children of that soil was, needless to say, lost on him and his acolytes). A year later, he declared that those he perceives to be Israel's enemies "deserve to have their heads chopped off with an axe". The fact that his house is on an illegal Israeli settlement makes him perhaps the only defence minister in the world who doesn't live within his nation's legitimate borders.

This thuggish extremist is not an outlier. When it comes to Palestinians and Arabs, he is the face and voice of Israel. Over the past two weeks, thousands of Gazans have been struck by Israeli sniper fire and at least 31 young men – including Yasser Murtaja, a 30-year-old photojournalist wearing a vest clearly identifying him as a member of the press – have been assassinated. Against this unfolding human tragedy, so gratuitously inflicted by Israel, Mr Lieberman's claim that "there are no innocent people in the Gaza strip" is breathtaking, even by his standards. There is evidently no depth to which Israel will not sink. Gaza, the most densely populated strip of land on the planet, is effectively an open air prison. Yet Israel would have us believe that Gaza's defenceless inhabitants, who are blockaded by land, sea and air and have never experienced a continuous 24 hours of electricity, constitute some sort of existential threat to one of the most heavily armed militaries on earth.

Israel has always justified its brutality by painting the Palestinians as inherently sinister. But its propaganda and lies are coming unstuck in the age of social media. Mr Lieberman's claim that Murtaja, the journalist shot dead by Israeli forces, was operating a drone was exposed as a lie, thanks to hundreds of photos and videos posted online by activists. His comments, combined with the bombing of a Hamas "military target" by Israeli jets, are meant to divert attention away from the atrocities being committed against peaceful protesters on the Gaza border. We must recognise the appalling nature of these words and actions for what they are: a smokescreen. The world's focus and solidarity must be directed at the courageous men, women and children who are demonstrating for their rights and dignity against an unconscionable and unrelenting aggressor with blood on its hands.