NEW FRONT IN THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
FOREIGN Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s interview to CNN has drawn mixed reactions. His comment on media war and deep pockets sparked a debate, many jumped to his defence calling his statement as legitimate criticism of Israel.
Foreign Minister’s statement that they [Israelis] are very influential people and that they control the media may not be entirely politically correct.
However, it touched a raw nerve and rings true. CNN anchor calling it an anti-Semitic remark only deepened the controversy.
We live in an era where the line between deliberate disinformation, misinformation and news challenging dominant narratives has been blurred to suit the interest of the powerful.
The information paradigm because of its reach and power has become severely polluted, it is impossible for public to make accurate decisions despite an overload of information.
A false narrative is the subtler and more dangerous form of misinformation, this is largely because when false narratives frame public debate they arouse such intense feelings that common ground, possible solutions and even facts get ignored.
Media is not only the fourth pillar of the state but also a fourth warfront the other three being conventional, economic and diplomatic.
The strategy of the fourth front is to discredit the other, through weapons of fake news and false narratives.
However, it seems despite deep pockets, clout, control and reach Israel has lost out this time. Palestinians have won the battle of hearts and minds. Social media and citizen journalism succeeded in awakening the conscious of the world.
Dead and injured bodies, including those of women and children, images of bomb-shattered buildings, stench of blood, bomb, and concretes could be felt and lived around the world thousands of miles away from ground zero.
This time round Israel could not filter the flow of information, it did in the past, with the help of western media organizations that cover the violence in conformity of the Israeli narrative, which is aimed at showcasing killing civilians as a natural reflex of self-defence against militants.
The world witnessed firsthand the Israeli atrocities and brutal use of excessive force, not against an army but civilians, both in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
The monotonous state propaganda by Israel of right to self-defence has become ludicrous over the years and an overwhelming number of people across the world reject it.
Without having the intent or the means, the helplessness and misery of the Palestinians was showcased to the global conflict audience.
The hypocrisy of the powerful was also exposed. The most ardent/biased supporters of Israel could not say much in its defence.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 75% of Americans still hold favourable views of Israel, but growing numbers are sympathetic towards the Palestinians.
Bernie Sanders in his opinion piece in the New York Times, titled, “The U.S. Must Stop Being an Apologist for the Netanyahu Government”, rightly points out that “no one is arguing that Israel, or any government, does not have the right to self-defence or to protect its people.
So why are these words repeated year after year, war after war, and why is the question almost never asked, what the rights of the Palestinian people are?”
There is no doubt that on the tactical level, Israeli armed forces have superior weapons, but they are fast losing out on international legitimacy this eighth round of aggression by Israel was a frightening repetition of 2000 when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon marched into Al Aqsa mosque.
The act sparked the second Intifada which lasted until 2005. It seems Israel has another Intifada on its hands despite the ceasefire.
The ferocity of Hamas’s reaction, the rise of angry Palestinians after decades of discrimination and humiliation, the protest spreading to the West Bank and so-called mixed cities.
Layla Hallaq, a Palestinian activist based in Haifa, said, “What is remarkable is that within ’48 [modern-day Israel, with reference to the 1948 declaration of the state], Palestinians who have long been ignored or deemed as ‘Israeli Arabs’ are once again restating powerfully that they are Palestinians.”
She told Al Jazeera that the current demonstrations are “unprecedented” and characterized by a popular solidarity movement among Palestinians within Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in the Diaspora.
Protests are not only of solidarity, but one of a shared cause and mutual pain experienced by every Palestinian. All of this has created panic in Israeli public discourse specially in the media.
The Palestinians despite the excessive use of force and heavy death toll appear united and unpredictable, a huge advantage for a resistance. The military operation dubbed “guardians of the walls” by Israel may have ended.
The loss on the Palestinian side is colossal; but it is the Israeli side that has lost both on the ground and in the media. Most commentators do not see the Palestinian resistance dying away anytime soon.
The perception and narrative Prime Minister Benjamin had painstakingly fostered that the occupation of the West Bank and the seizure of Gaza has no consequences for Israeli security is shattered for good.
And as things stand today it is not just a just solution for the Palestinians that hangs in balance, it is also Israel’s security.
Recent decades have seen the indispensable role of media in winning wars. Victory in an era of information age is equally dependent on controlling domestic and international public opinion as it is on defeating the enemy on the battlefield.
The targeting of Al-Jalaa towers, Al-Awqaf building, Al-Jawhara tower and Al-Sharuk tower resulted in Gaza losing its key media infrastructure, largely because altogether, they housed more than a dozen local and international news agencies. However, the Palestinians did not lose their voice.
The verdict is that Israel lost its war on truth. The long and stringent control Israel exercised on the narrative about the conflict is dwindling.
The heroic efforts of the journalist in Palestine and beyond as well as millions of Palestinians taking to the social media with real life stories did the trick.
Israel, of course, restored to fake news in trying to manipulate the international and domestic public opinion by persistently peddling the false narrative built around being a victim rather than an aggressor, Israeli military not targeting civilians and that it is merely defending itself against a terrorist organization or for that matter current escalation is not a direct result of illegal occupation.
Fake news and videos were disseminated by Israel as a strategy to counter the ground realities. This time round it did not work. Deep pockets matter but not so after all.
—The author is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi.