The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: How PR is Mightier than the Sword
Thursday 6 December 2012
Every Thursday through Twitter the Israeli Defence Forces publish a tweet detailing their involvement, on that particular day, in goods transfers to the Gaza Strip. Today's ran as follows: "@IDFSpokesperson: Yesterday we facilitated the transfer 324 trucks with 8,985 tons of goods and gas into Gaza, including 270 tons of fruit."
It's a bizarre feature of a conflict that has become almost as much about PR as pitched warfare.
Fruzsina Eördögh wrote in Slate last month: “The attacks on Gaza have become a war of words, pictures, and video as much as an actual war of missiles, “martyrs,” and dead children.” Hamas leapt upon the widespread coverage of civilian deaths in Gaza, with the Al Qassem Brigades harnessing the power of social media via Twitter to rally supporters; offering pictures of dead civilians littering the streets; insulting the IDF and uploading posters and slogans to heat up the online conversation.
Following the ceasefire, Hamas encouraged widespread celebration, slating the negotiations as a ‘victory’ they had won; a feat of pr spin having lost their top military commander Ahmad al-Jabari, as well as suffering substantial damage to their infrastructure including the destruction of the Gaza Interior Ministry. While that claim is of course debateable, the surge in popularity Hamas enjoyed following the clashes, is not. Demonization of Zionists – and Israelis and Jews by extention – is rife in Hamas’ rhetoric and just another part of the spin.
PR spin however may also found across the border. Quoted in Vanity Fair, Gonen Ginat of Israel Hayom, spoke of “Netanyahu’s conviction that, at their core, many problems, both his and Israel’s, are really matters of hasbara: Hebrew for public relations.”
Israel has been accused of employing spin by those who see disparity between the repeated mantras of the need to defend with observations that the state possesses the fourth finest army and defence capabilities in the world – and is widely acknowledged to secretly possess nuclear weapons. Added to the destructive military campaigns of the IDF, which are often dubbed with deceptively benign names such as ‘Operation Summer Rain’ in 2006 where tanks blitzed through the streets and warplanes bombed infrastructure, causing failure of the sewage system. Power plants were also bombed, cutting power to hospitals overrun with more than 200 civilian casualties and more than a thousand injured.
Noam Chomsky in his ‘Chronicles of Dissent’ suggests, however controversially, that the Israeli state consciously manipulates the historical persecution of the Jews to promote its own interests.
While that may or may not be a fair assumption to make – after all, Israel is all too often at the brunt of hate speech and existential threats from groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime – some have argued that Netanyahu’s bellicose rhetoric and the Israeli culture of fear which it propagates does nothing to combat its relations with those governments it lies in conflict with.
In an article in the Guardian, Jewish writer Seth Freedman says that the Israeli obsession with its own security is causing national paranoia of a fear that makes integration with their neighbours more or less impossible. “By continuing to provoke and bully [the Palestinians], they create what they fear. Another generation branded Amalekites: another reason for Israelis to circle the wagons, batten down the hatches and convince themselves that it is simply their lot to be eternally hated and reviled.
He adds: “It’s also understandable that the government encourages and promotes such fairy tales in order to garner support for their never-ending policies of irredentism and subjugation.”
While this is no suggestion that both Palestinians and Israelis are not able to see beyond the spin of their respective leaders, it is something to be considered as yet another forestalling to the actual conflict at hand. Only when the governments in this region relinquish their obsession with public opinion will they ever put a stop to this never-ending destructive cycle, and continue with what they must do – return to dialogue, and negotiation.