Israel is disappointed to be losing the narrative battle to the Palestinians

Activists condemn the attack against the freedom flotilla, June 2010 (Peter Muhly - AFP)

Adnan Abu Amer

Middle East Monitor  /  November 23, 2022

Despite Israel’s lethal military capabilities, it is still bitterly disappointed to be losing the narrative battle to the Palestinians, who are making significant inroads in terms of international public opinion. Several incidents illustrate where Israel has failed on the diplomatic and media fronts.

One of those was the Israeli commando assault on the Freedom Flotilla led by the Mavi Marmara heading for Gaza in 2010 to break the blockade. The incident was a double failure for Israel, which admitted that it did not expect to find dozens of activists on board the ship. Although it wasn’t allowed to reach Gaza, the flotilla achieved its goal by identifying with the Palestinians and delegitimizing Israel by revealing its hijacking of the flotilla in international waters. Absurd and illegal Israeli behaviour has been exposed with images of soldiers of the occupation state shooting innocent Palestinian civilians.

This suggests that Israel is falling short in publicizing its narrative when social media can project alternative and more accurate images around the world in seconds. Tel Aviv is thus laid open to strong political and media blows. Although Israel has a massive military budget, it tends to underestimate the work that it has to do in terms of public relations. The message isn’t getting through. This has a directly effect on the outcome of the battle, given that warfare today is not confined to armed confrontation, but also depends on narratives and images.

Anti-Israel messages on social media are now an integral part of any military confrontation. We need look no further than the aftermath of the killing of Palestinian American Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to see how that worked against Israel and its skewed narrative.

Pessimists in Israel point out that cameras can be more effective than bombs and bullets. They admit that the damage they suffer because of this ongoing delegitimization campaign is serious and immeasurable. Perhaps the most infamous example in this regard was the killing of 12-year-old Palestinian child Muhammad al-Durrah in September 2000, at the beginning of Al-Aqsa Intifada. He was shot and killed, live on air, in full view of the whole world. Israel’s attempt to blame the Palestinians for this fooled nobody.

This Israeli narrative failure may push the incoming far-right Israeli government to use an iron fist against the boycott movements targeting the occupation state. It may also limit access to social media, not least because of its effective use by the Lions’ Den group in the occupied West Bank to attack soldiers and illegal settlers while also attracting support on the Palestinian street.

It is true that Israeli attacks against Palestinians are lethal, but on the media and propaganda level it does not appear to have an organized strategy to establish a sense of legitimacy or keep pace with its military offensives. Israelis officials don’t stand in front of the cameras to provide answers to the Israeli public.

Thus, the army engaged in offensives in Gaza, Jenin and Nablus around the clock lacks the means for information-sharing such as high-quality videos that could be disseminated at the right time. In terms of propaganda value, these operations are worthless, and fail even to engage the Israeli public in the dissemination process, with a resultant negative effect on international opinion.

As a result, many military operations against the Palestinians lack the means to provide real-time information to Israeli citizens. It is a fact that the world sees more brutal images from the occupied Palestinian territories, reflecting the weakness of the Israeli propaganda machine.

Many Israeli institutions are engaged in pumping out propaganda, as are pro-Israel lobbyists around the world, but they are mostly uncoordinated and do not use advanced technology across different media. This is a strange omission or oversight by Israel, resulting in images coming out of Gaza, for example, being a huge embarrassment to Israel and its fake “self-defence” narrative. After suffering under a blockade since 2007, though, only now is Gaza seeing local and international calls for it to be lifted. This should not be surprising, given that a whole Palestinian family was burned to death recently because civil defence and fire-fighting equipment is among the items banned by Israel under its murderous blockade.

International discussions about Gaza focus on humanitarian issues, including the high level of poverty and the number of those killed and wounded in Israeli offensives. The fact that Israel’s occupation is responsible for the situation in Gaza is made known; people can no longer claim ignorance, with the result that Israel is losing the narrative battle.

Images include a Palestinian woman carrying a flag of Palestine in front of the apartheid wall in the occupied West Bank who is then shot and falls to the ground; or a young boy getting shot in the head by heavily armed soldiers; or dozens of tanks preparing to confront young Palestinian boys about to burn car tyres. Israeli propaganda experts know that these are, in effect, media bombs benefiting the Palestinians more than the rockets and other projectiles fired across the nominal border towards Israeli targets. The images symbolize the Palestinians’ lack of power, and illustrate starkly that this is an asymmetric conflict; it’s David v Goliath, but Israel is most definitely not David. With the rules of engagement changed to allow soldiers more leeway when shooting at Palestinians, Israel is actually shooting its own narrative in the foot. The change is not only cruel and deadly but also idiotic.

Adnan Abu Amer is the head of the Political Science Department at the University of the Ummah in Gaza