The fighting in Gaza is an information battle as much as it is about violence. Both the invading Israeli Defense Forces and its foes Hamas – the militant political party that governs the coastal strip – rely on an ability to “spin” the tragic outcomes of war to reassure their own citizens, undermine their opponents and attempt to convince the rest of the world their cause is worth supporting.
An Israeli soldier aims his weapon at a Palestinian during clashes in the village of Hawara near the West Bank city of Nablus on Friday.
The nature of this latest conflict, however, has drawn scrutiny from across the globe as news outlets and governments alike report wide-scale deaths and abuses by fighters on both sides. A growing coalition of international powers has become critical of what it perceives as Israel’s heavy-handedness in its violent response. Yet Israel and some of its allies don’t feel the need to justify its pursuit of Hamas any further than pointing to its classification as a terrorist organization.
On the ground, both Israelis and Palestinians believe the other side wishes to annihilate their very way of life, and likely don’t have the time or motivation to question the veracity of the reports they hear.
Or perhaps that kind of accuracy doesn’t matter. As George Orwell said, “All propaganda is lies, even when one is telling the truth.”
Israel has invested massive amounts of time and effort into polishing its external image, hiring well-groomed and articulate representatives to speak on behalf of their government. Israeli Defense Forces Lt. Col. Peter Lerner appears frequently on outlets such as CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera, explaining his country’s concerns with a refined English accent.
Hamas, however, has fewer resources and fewer spokespeople to use to appeal to Western audiences. Its delegate to Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, for example, speaks with a strong Arabic accent and is not as fluent in English as his Israeli counterparts.
The same perception is true on social media. The @IDFSpokesperson Twitter account routinely updates its followers on military campaigns in and around Israel, using snappy graphics and subtle messaging to drive home its point.
Hamas, however, is unable to maintain an English-language Twitter account without it being blocked for content violations. Its main source of social media messaging exists through an Arabic-only presence. @QassamFeed, a Twitter account for Qassam Brigades, the organization’s military wing, soared in popularity this summer, eliciting citations from high-profile news outlets. Twitter shut down the account in mid-July citing privacy and security concerns, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The social media company did not elaborate on its decision, but it could be related to policies barring illegal activity and Hamas’ official status as a terrorist organization.
Beyond their respective public faces, neither Israel nor Palestine is exactly a shining example of an open and fair media system. Palestine ranks 138th of180 countries for press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders, the nonprofit that advocates internationally for journalists’ and news organizations’ rights. The media spectrum there is listed as a “very difficult situation,” wedging it between Libya and Chad on the press rights rankings.
But Israel, a staunch ally of the U.S. and considered by most to be a Westernized country, ranks not much higher on the list at 96th. (The U.S., by contrast, is 46th, and the U.K. is 33rd. Finland is at the very top of the list). In the Jewish state, RWB reports, “freedom of information is often sacrificed to purported security requirements.”