(MintPress) – Before the sirens blared on Nov. 14 warning Israelis that a rocket attack was imminent in the next few minutes, the nation sent a series of airstrikes targeting Palestinian activists such as Ahmed al-Ja’abari, head of the political group Hamas’ military operations. Unlike previous bouts of violence in the region between Israel and Palestine, […]
(MintPress) – Before the sirens blared on Nov. 14 warning Israelis that a rocket attack was imminent in the next few minutes, the nation sent a series of airstrikes targeting Palestinian activists such as Ahmed al-Ja’abari, head of the political group Hamas’ military operations. Unlike previous bouts of violence in the region between Israel and Palestine, the Nov. 14-21 conflict between the two largely involved the use of social media, not just by journalists and civilians, but by the military forces themselves.
After Israel’s military, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), assassinated al-Ja’abari, the IDF’s social media team tweeted, posted on Facebook and uploaded videos on YouTube, bragging that they had just “eliminated a threat” to Israel. The IDF then proceeded to clarify the goal was not to remove a few leaders from power, but to deter Islamic militants from firing any more rockets into Israeli territory.
Use of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook had been used previously to spread information about breaking news and events, but this conflict was the first time social media was heavily used by military forces to tweet updates to the general public and engage in cyber war.
Though there had been limited use of social media prior to this most recent flare up, the extent that social media’s impact would have on an uprising wasn’t known until the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. As reporters and civilians sent out updates and photos, almost in real time, the world was exposed to the complexities of the revolution that previously would have been overlooked for both deliberate and accidental reasons.
Reflecting on the difference in media coverage between the 2008 and 2012 intifada, NBC News correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin said it was a “completely different dynamic” reporting from Gaza now than it was four years ago. In 2008 the IDF restricted foreign journalists, which left only a handful of news organizations left to cover the war.
Mohyeldin told the Huffington Post that due to the lack of journalists and news organizations on the ground in Gaza in 2008, “there was a dearth of information and pictures,” because “[journalists] couldn’t be everywhere at the same time.”
The extent of social media’s influence in this latest Gaza strip conflict is not yet known, but it likely played a role when it came to the historic Nov. 29 U.N. vote in which 138 countries voted in favor of upgrading Palestine to a non-member observer state. France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland all supported Palestine, while only seven countries supported the U.S. and Israel in voting against upgrading Palestine’s status. The upgraded status for Palestine means that the U.N. recognizes Palestinians as rightful owners to their land, or in other words: Israel is now legally viewed as an occupying force in Palestinian territory.
Unable to dispute the level of human rights violations Israel commits against those in Gaza, most of the world stood up for a group of tortured men, women and children, changing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as we know it.
Social media battleground
Led by 26-year-old Belgian-Israeli Lt. Sacha Dratwa, the IDF Twitter account, @IDFSpokesperson, sent out messages and pictures on Twitter and Facebook. As Joseph L. Flatley so eloquently stated in an article for The Verge: “Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel’s latest attack on Palestinian militants in Gaza, was announced not by a news conference, but on Twitter. The IDF tweeted that it had ‘begun a widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the #Gaza Strip, chief among them #Hamas & Islamic Jihad targets.’ Nice touch, making sure that Gaza and Hamas were well-poised to trend like that, with hashtags and all.”
Included in the IDF’s tweets were messages that were designed to create sympathy from people around the globe for Israel. But the plea by the IDF to have its Twitter followers retweet hateful messages — in which they justified the murders of Gaza’s civilians and peace activists — indicated to the world that the IDF did not view Palestinians as humans, but solely enemies of Israel.
Hamas does not have an official Twitter account, so its military wing, Al Qassam Brigades (AQB), posted messages and responded to the IDF’s tweets using the account @AlqassamBrigade. Unlike the IDF Twitter page, which mainly posted propaganda-style posters and bragged about the death of Hamas leaders, the AQB largely tweeted gruesome photos of children who were killed as a result of the IDF’s “precise” attacks on extremists.
Noam Chomsky recently wrote about the latest round of violence in Gaza and addressed who he believed the real instigators or terrorists were in the conflict: Israel. He wrote, “An old man in Gaza held a placard that reads: ‘You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.’”
MintPress sent requests to both Twitter and Facebook for information on how many Tweets and posts were sent regarding the most recent conflict and whether or not any country was censoring the information, but neither responded to our requests.
Hamas rises to power
Hamas is a political organization that was voted into power in 2006 by the Palestinian people. Both the U.S. and Israel pledged they would work with whomever the people voted into power, but once Hamas won the democratic election, the two nations backtracked on their word. The U.S. officially recognizes Hamas as a terrorist organization because the party refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. But in the eyes of Russia, China and other Arab nations, Hamas is a valid political organization.
Hamas replaced the more liberal, western-approved Fatah party in Palestine in 2006, and it was shortly after the party’s victory that Israel introduced import and export limits on Gazans and closed three of the four checkpoints into Israel. In 2006, Israel’s then-interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert justified Israel’s actions against Palestinians in the following statement: “Israel will not conduct any negotiation with a Palestinian government if it includes any (members of) an armed terror organisation that calls for Israel’s destruction.”
Similarly former U.S. President George W. Bush announced that in support of Israel, the U.S. would not work with Hamas unless the group renounced its call to destroy Israel. Vanity Fair reported in 2006 that Bush and then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice agreed to a plan involving Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that had Washington’s allies in the Middle East funneling arms and money to Fatah fighters who would lead a rising against, and remove, Hamas authorities in Gaza.
The controversial coup, however, was not accepted by all members of the Bush administration. David Wurmser, a former Middle East adviser to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, resigned in July 2007, weeks after clashes between Hamas and Fatah began in Gaza, and told Vanity Fair, “It looks to me that what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen.”
American support goes to …
Despite 167 Palestinians dying — compared to six Israelis — in the most recent conflict and Israel causing the onset of the aggression by assassinating al-Ja’abari, Americans continue to blame Palestinians and Hamas for the unrest in the region. A bipartisan poll commissioned by the Israel Project (TIP) shows that by a 57 percent to 8 percent margin, Americans side with Israel over Palestinians and blame “Hamas leaders who control Gaza” for the humanitarian crisis in the region.
Stanley Greenberg, Ph.D. of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, told the Voice Magazine, “Americans accept Israel’s justification for acting in Gaza because they accept Israel’s stated obligation to defend the safety of its citizens and the understanding that no country would allow rockets to fall on its citizens without taking action.”
Professor Samer Alatout, an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, agrees with Greenberg. He told MintPress that the U.S. continues to support Israel because Zionist and other pro-Israeli lobbying organizations are so powerful in Washington, D.C. Alatout added that in the early 1990s, polls in the U.S. indicated Americans were supportive of Palestinians, but since then support has decreased as U.S. foreign policy became a victim of the U.S.-Israeli propaganda machine.
Alatout explained that many Americans are unfamiliar with the factual details of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because “in the U.S., we separate foreign policy from national politics. … We don’t care unless it affects us. [Americans] don’t immerse themselves in understanding what’s happening around the world and don’t engage in stories of foreign policy unless it affects security issues.”
The IDF preyed on Americans’ lack of knowledge by posting Tweets such as this one from Nov. 15:
@IDFSpokesperson: Good morning to our friends in #America. While you were sleeping, 3 Israelis were killed when a rocket hit their house.
As well as images doused in propaganda rhetoric such as this image the IDF tweeted on Nov. 16, assumably asking its followers in the U.S., England, France and Australia how they would react if rockets were striking their country.
Although sending out propaganda via social networking sites such as Twitter is in violation of the Terms of Service, the IDF spread misinformation for political gain. To quote Flatley, “When @IDFspokesperson recommends ‘that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,’ that certainly sounds like a threat — a cool, understated threat, but a threat nonetheless.”
Arguably one of the most controversial tweets sent by the IDF, which lacked coverage by the mainstream media, was one from Nov. 20 in which the IDF wrote “Hamas’ goal is to kill Israeli civilians. Everybody needs to know. RT so they will. #IsraelUnderFire.” Accompanying the text was a poster comparing efforts made by the IDF to minimize harm to civilians in Gaza compared to Hamas’ effort to minimize harm to Israeli civilians. The IDF claimed they made phone calls, dropped leaflets and more, allowing Gazans to flee before bombs were dropped.
When asked specifically about this tweet, Alatout told MintPress it was a prime example of the IDF’s use of propaganda and cold blooded rhetoric. “There is no way that [Gazans] can leave Gaza. It’s all closed, especially when there is a security operation like this — the Israelis close all the crossing points. … If everybody leaves what are they bombing? Buildings? It doesn’t make sense.”
It’s details like the closure of the crossings that were largely absent from mainstream coverage of the conflict and why Alatout and others such as Noam Chomsky dislike using the terms “conflict” or “war” when describing the tumultuous relationship between Israel and Palestine.
“Gaza is the most densely populated spaces in the world. Gazans have no contact with the outside world. They can’t leave, can’t trade, can’t work. They are imprisoned and then bombed,” Alatout explained.
Dr. Saleh Abdel Jawad, director of the Center for Research and Documentation of Palestinian Society, recently testified at the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP). He argued that Palestinians are treated worse than black people were in South Africa during apartheid, especially after the wall around Gaza’s city limits was built. Jawad said that while blacks in South Africa were unable to go to white beaches, they still had access to a beach. Palestinians on the other hand don’t have access to an Israeli beach and Israelis occupy everything — including their time by placing military curfews.
Jawad likened the Israelis’ treatment of Palestinians to how early settlers treated Native Americans in the U.S. The only difference, he argued, is that genocide is not as easy to pull off in the 20th century. Instead, Jawad argues that the maltreatment of the Palestinians should be referred to as “sociocide” since Israelis are attempting to eradicate an entire society, as even the identify of the landscape has been destroyed.
“The occupation of Gaza by Israelis is violent. Military sanctions against Gaza prevent people from moving, living a normal life, trade or anything — people are living in abject poverty, hunger, starvation,” Alatout added.
World support goes to …
Americans interpretation of who the victim and aggressor are in the Gaza conflict may not have changed with the latest attacks, but that’s not the case with most other countries around the globe. A report from Poynter found that the IDF’s updates on social media networks were affecting public opinion, but negatively.
Cited by Poynter, Haaretz writer Anshel Pfeffer claimed, “A quick Google search reveals the unwelcome news that in fact, Israel is not winning on Facebook or Twitter. The supporters of the Palestinians are fighting back, there are many of them and we are not convincing them.”
While many governments in Europe support Israel, Alatout told MintPress that popular support is “hands down for the Palestinians,” which he believes is because of Europeans’ higher awareness of history and being less subjected to propaganda than U.S. residents.
The use of social media in this latest round of conflicts may have cracked the IDF’s innocent image and begun tearing away at Hamas’ bullish reputation, but at the end of the day, both sides are responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians.
Although Palestinians have the U.N.-granted right to resist occupation, Alatout told MintPress, resistance and terrorism are two very different acts and that the killing of civilians is not justified under any condition. Hamas’ bombs may be just toys compared to the rockets Israel launched into Gaza, but nonetheless, the bombs hitting southern Israel and Tel-Aviv are no more justified than those bombs that land in Gaza.