How Palestinians can turn the Gaza PR war in their favor


How Palestinians can turn the Gaza PR war in their favor

Smoke billows following Israeli bombardment in Rafah. Feb. 25, 2024 (File/AFP)
Smoke billows following Israeli bombardment in Rafah. Feb. 25, 2024 (File/AFP)
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Whoever controls the pen, controls the message. And whoever controls the message, controls the war.

Before and even during its Gaza war, Israel has always held an advantage over the distribution of information.

For Israel’s government and military, the most important weapons are not only the arms that kill civilians and destroy homes, businesses and entire villages, but also the messages that are used to spin their violent actions.

Israel censors journalists, restricting what they can publish, and has been doing so for many years. Most Israel-based journalists self-censor to avoid falling foul of the censors. They know the line and most appear to adhere to it.

The Israeli government has a strong communications and public relations team and, when issues arise, it writes and distributes press releases that are often reported as fact around the world.

In contrast, individuals who criticize or question Israel’s actions are often excluded from, for example, being embedded with Israeli soldiers during conflicts.

Israel manages the message far better than its critics. And when criticism does make it into the mainstream news media, individuals are bullied and defamed as “antisemitic.”

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows how important media engagement is in this war and in all circumstances involving Israel’s relations with the Palestinians.

Palestinians need to do ensure that, when videos are posted, they include dates, locations and, where possible, the names of the victims

Ray Hanania

This media management is complemented by a massive pro-Israel public relations campaign in the West, mainly the US, where the mainstream media and elected officials are escorted through carefully managed issues and events.

Every year, Israel, usually through its supporters, hosts, pays for and sends scores of elected American officials, from the US Congress and Senate down to local aldermen in a city like Chicago, to participate in escorted “tours” by pro-Israel guides.

Since the Gaza war began last October, Israel and its supporters have sponsored trips for, among others, dozens of members of the Illinois legislature and Chicago City Council alderpersons, along with their spouses. The tours appeared to impact the city council’s January effort to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire. Many of those who had participated in the tours voted against the ceasefire resolution, which was tied at 23 to 23. Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s vote broke the tie to pass the resolution.

In a darker spinoff of Israel’s media management, at least 88 journalists have been killed during the Gaza war, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, with the overwhelming majority of them being Palestinians shot dead or bombed by the Israeli military.

Mainstream news publications in the US have been filled with reports on the massacre that took place on Oct. 7, which took the lives of about 1,200 Israelis. It was this Hamas militant carnage that gave Israel’s government the justification to launch a sweeping attack on the entire Gaza Strip.

In contrast, information provided by Palestinian sources is often cast as “unconfirmed,” including from the Palestinian Authority and the Health Ministry. Officials from the Palestinian government and Health Ministry are not embedded with Israeli forces and rely on information, including videos, provided by the civilian victims of the conflict. That is one reason Israel has done everything possible to interrupt telephone and internet services for Palestinians.

But the truth does get out. It just needs to be better managed.

Many of the videos of Israeli soldiers killing civilians, including shooting women and children, have come from social media, mainly TikTok. This is likely one of the reasons pro-Israel American legislators have launched a campaign to silence TikTok by censoring or banning it.

Facebook and X seem to acquiesce to pressure to block certain graphic videos that expose Israel’s violence.

What Palestinians need to do is ensure that, when videos are posted, they include dates, locations and, where possible, the names of the victims. Accuracy is critical to effectiveness.

Someone also needs to curate this information to ensure credibility and then engage in a PR campaign to make the information available to media organizations.

During the Vietnam War in the 1970s, the distribution of videos accompanied by verifiable facts and information swung public support away from the war and strengthened the protesters and critics.

But back then, the US propaganda campaign did not even come close to what Israel’s government is doing to manage the messaging, public perception and image in its war on Gaza.

Although the real war is resulting in an unprecedented increase in civilian fatalities and carnage, the PR war of words is one-sided. Until that PR war is more balanced, the civilian carnage in Gaza will continue.

  • Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at X: @RayHanania
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