Who will win the online propaganda war?

  • paula_slier
It’s hard to imagine a conflict today without a social media element. Last Friday’s rioting along the Israel-Gaza border lasted only a few hours and left 18 Palestinians dead and many hundreds wounded – but a much more lengthy battle continues to rage online. Israelis and Palestinians are sparring over what caused the bloodshed in the first place, and each side is uploading videos to support its version of events.
by PAULA SLIER | Apr 04, 2018

It was the worst day of violence since the full-blown war between Israel and Hamas in July 2014. The United Nations and the European Union are calling for international investigations, but Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman says “under no circumstances” will he concede, and instead, says Israeli soldiers “deserve a commendation”.

The question is whether there is new fighting on the horizon and what will transpire this Friday, as thousands of Gazans are likely to return to the heavily fortified border.

Palestinian factions have called for protests every day until May 15 – their day of “Nakba” (catastrophe) following Israel’s declaration of independence. A tent city has been set up near the border. While most of the protesters are peaceful, calling for the “right of return” for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and their descendants who were displaced from their homes, or fled, during the creation of the state of Israel, there are smaller groups of mostly young Palestinians who are violent.

They roll burning tyres and throw stones and Molotov cocktails at the Israel Defence Forces, which insists that its actions last Friday were “against violent protests and terrorist activities, which included live fire towards its soldiers [and] attempts to infiltrate Israel”.

The Israeli army has repeatedly rejected accusations by human rights groups that it used excessive force against protesters who did not pose an imminent threat. It maintains that at least 10 of those killed were members of Hamas or other militant groups.

It also disputes the high number of injured, saying claims by the Gaza health ministry are exaggerated. What’s more, it says the protest was a “camouflage” for Hamas infiltrators, who were trying to launch an attack across the border.

For its side, Hamas has claimed five of the dead as members of its military wing, but says it was merely taking part “in popular events side by side with [its] people”.

None of these claims are new – the facts may differ from each spike in violence, but the over-arching dilemmas and arguments presented by both sides are always the same. In the battlefield of propaganda, both are looking to score points.

World opinion is starting to line up behind Hamas, which has successfully managed to merge acts of violence and terror under the banner of peaceful protesting.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s accusations that he was “a terrorist” and an “occupier” by telling him: “The most moral army in the world will not be lectured to on morality from someone who, for years, has been bombing civilians indiscriminately.”

But most of the world is not listening. They see peaceful demonstrators being fired on – as was highlighted by a video that went viral showing a 19-year-old Gazan shot in the back while running away from the border. This is the online war Israel needs to fight.

The Americans were quick to support Jerusalem’s actions. The US administration blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a statement calling for an independent and transparent investigation, and US envoy Jason Greenblatt blamed Hamas for the violence. But this could turn out to be a double-edged sword as the growing frustration on the Palestinian street is fuelled in part by Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plan to open his embassy there – on no less a significant date than May 15.

Netanyahu knows the Americans support him and, with early elections possibly on the horizon, he prefers not to upset the status quo and his right wing support base.

Hamas is aware of this, which is why it doesn’t anticipate any different response from the Israeli army in the coming weeks. And so, while it mourns the death of its people, it continues to maximise on the propaganda value of them being killed.

Future protests are coming. Last Friday was the first in a six-week series of planned sit-ins and demonstrations. If the casualty figures continue to climb, it seems almost guaranteed that Israel will find itself isolated on the international stage, regardless of how violent some of the protesters are. This is what Hamas wants. It doesn’t want another war with Israel but would love to isolate the country diplomatically.

One can support the Israeli army’s inherent right to defend the country’s borders, but it doesn’t make the anger and sense of hopelessness inside Gaza go away. The fact that most of the tens of thousands who turn out to protest there are unarmed, while knowing full well the Israeli soldiers are armed, is indicative of how deep their anger runs.

And for as long as that frustration is there, there will be no quiet on Israel’s southern front.

Paula Slier is the Middle East Bureau Chief of RT, the founder and CEO of Newshound Media and the inaugural winner of the Europcar Woman in Leadership Award of the South African Absa Jewish Achievers.





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