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There is no war of images, only occupation

The right-wing Israel crowd is on a mission to delegitimize every Palestinian activity that goes beyond silent submission to permanent foreign military rule.

Post-modern madness has Israelis very excited, for years now, about the notion that if Israel just “explains” its side of the matter, the world will come to its senses.

There is a deep and pervasive myth that Israel is hopelessly incompetent at communications. Israelis speak of Palestinian propaganda as a well-oiled machine, with tentacles in every news media, lobby groups in the halls of power and pressure groups controlling the minds of students and faculty in universities around the world. Many Israelis seem unaware that operating highly elaborate lobbies, media watchdogs and branding efforts – with generous funding and considerable sophistication – is a long-established Jewish activity. And it hasn’t saved Israel from a deteriorating global image.

Meanwhile, Israelis know that the Palestinian machine is a Svengali spinning lies into narratives that everybody believes. Palestinians’ clever use of film as a weapon exaggerates benign realities of an enlightened occupation by the most moral army into a Hollywood-produced image of hell. Right-wingers so thoroughly believe this that they have developed a nickname for the string of manipulative and manipulated video clips showing Israelis harming Palestinians: “Pallywood.” How to fight the scourge is a national obsession.

In the thick of the terrible escalation this weekend, an item on Israel’s Channel 10 claimed to explore the “stories behind” some of the most damaging videos that have made global rounds. The repulsive footage of Israeli border policemen beating a teenaged Palestinian-American while he is flattened and immobilized (a relative of the murdered youth Muhammed Abu Khdeir) is the very latest; David the “Nahlawi” is another; two weeks before that was  damning footage from Beitunia of soldiers shooting at demonstrators, some of them stone-throwers, resulting in two teenage deaths; before that the M16-whipping of a Danish activist, and the iconic Muhammed al-Dura affair, and so forth. Apparently these incidents are a purely a matter of image, with no connection to each other, only loosely tied to reality at all.

The Channel 10 story was actually about the “National-Zionist news agency” called “Tazpit” (Lookout), established to counter the images drawn from “partial, lying footage of what goes on in Judea and Samaria…” by the “enemies of Zionism,” as if Zionism is a universal value. The organization itself doesn’t say this on its English website, where it rather farcically tries to portray itself as a news agency. That text comes from the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism awarded to Tazpit in 2013, named for Irving Moskowitz, the American stalwart settlement funder. However, the Hebrew version is quite open about the agenda of transforming Israel’s negative image “because our information is not getting out…We at Tazpit will change that!”

A Palestinian B'Tselem volunteer documenting a protest in the south Hebron Hills, June 14, 2008. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)

A Palestinian B’Tselem volunteer documenting a protest in the south Hebron Hills, June 14, 2008. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)

This is one example of the severe problem with the way Israel thinks about the conflict – or doesn’t:

First, the meta-conversation is getting out of hand. The multi-layered system of non-transparent backing for an organization that lives in a world of prizes given for nurturing more image-making is an unforgivable distraction from the events themselves.

Second, the right-wing Israel crowd is on a mission to delegitimize every Palestinian activity other than mute submission to permanent stateless military rule. Violence against civilians of course is not legitimate. But it is quixotic to condemn violence against military targets in a military conflict, short of outlawing war altogether, as my grandmother has suggested of late. Civil resistance is also considered aggression: popular protests are condemned because of stone-throwing spoilers. Civil action such as BDS and the UN diplomacy are written off as attempts to delegitimize Israel rather than genuine protests of its policy.

Now even the most basic response to oppression – the attempt to tell the world, raise awareness, communicate suffering in order to seek help for ending it – that too is evidence of Palestinian incitement and lies.

The truth is that for mainstream Israel, there is no legitimate way for Palestinians to protest its policies.

A third problem is that Israel’s rejection of all Palestinian activity is so automatic that it extends to pretty much everything – even pro-Israel sentiments. So when Mahmoud Abbas gives an unprecedented recognition of the Holocaust, Israel scoffs. When Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack against the three Israeli civilian youth, in Arabic, to an Arab audience, Israel shrugs.

The fourth and final issue should be obvious but apparently it is not. I have certainly written it before, so apologies to readers.

We campaign professionals know the power of images. Public opinion researchers, or at least those worth the job title, know the limit of that power: people are not stupid. The Cold War is over and in the long term, on major ongoing issues, I doubt that masses can be made to believe falsehoods that have no basis in fact.

That doesn’t mean every fact is true, of course. Each side’s media is full of one-sided representation, mistakes or sometimes even purposeful untruths. Nor do facts that serve one side negate all those of the other side. Admitting that Tarek Abu Khdeir was brutally beaten by Israeli authorities does not negate the rocks thrown at police in East Jerusalem or that rockets were fired from Gaza into civilian areas of Israel.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, but one truth is worth a thousand pictures. No one picture will change the fact that Israel is waging a war of occupation on the Palestinian people and it’s a real war, not a war of images.

Related:
The Israeli government’s official ‘lawfare’ contractor
One child’s detention in Hebron embodies the sickness of an entire regime
The questions people don’t ask about ‘staged photojournalism’
WATCH: Bringing Israelis face to face with Gaza closure

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    COMMENTS

    1. Rab

      “The organization itself doesn’t say this on its English website, where it rather farcically tries to portray itself as a news agency.”

      About as farcical as 972mag writing this about itself:

      “However, +972 Magazine does not represent any organization, political party or specific agenda.”

      Propagandist, permit me to introduce you to propagandist.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Noam

      WOW. Dahlia! You’ve been away for too long. Thanks for coming back.

      -Noam (your biggest fan) 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben Zakkai

      This article touches on a phenomenon that I’ve long found amazing: to wit, the pro-Israel camp’s strong tendency to say, “Our cause is just, but our hasbara is terrible, so improving and expanding our hasbara is the key to success.” This is mind-boggling because the whole world knows that Jews are uniquely talented at the verbal and written arts of explanation, analysis, persuasion and inspiration. Just look at how Jews all over the world excel at law, politics, journalism, literature, academia and other fields where success is based on the power of the spoken or written word! There is no shortage of prominent and talented Jewish attorneys, judges, senior elected and appointed government officials, print and television reporters, novelists and screenplay writers, and college professors who feel loyal to Israel and speak on its behalf. How can thinking people continue to belief that Israel’s problem is substandard hasbara? And how can they believe the ridiculous corollary proposition that the Palestinians, whose public relations skills are and always have been frankly terrible, are actually diabolically clever and effective propagandists? When will some of those hasbara disciples wake up and realize that the cold truth is the absolute opposite of the myth in which they’ve long believed: it’s not that Israel’s cause is just but the world nonetheless condemns us because we’re lousy at hasbara (and because they’re anti-Semites); the painful truth is that Israel’s policy of eternal Occupation, land theft and military dictatorship is manifestly unjust, and despite decades of truly amazing hasbara on Israel’s behalf, that truth is becoming more and more apparent to the rest of the world. In other words, putting more lipstick on the pig is not going to solve Israel’s image problem.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Craig Vale

      When viewing the enclosed map below I couldn’t help but remember a post here several months back that expressed outrage with the comparison to the WWII policy of Germany as it related to the word ” Lebensraum ” that was first practiced against Czechoslovakia and then Poland. Almost audible gasps by some of the respondents. ” How dare they make such an obscene comparison” Well, when viewing the enclosed map comparing the land ( holdings ) of 48′ to what is now under the control of Israel, the comparison is quite apt. In fact it is nothing short of stunning in light of the many denials by those on the right. Although Confucius had said a picture is worth a thousand words, if you haven’t seen it then perhaps that explains why no one understands why the Palestinians have a gripe. I know it’s wishful thinking on my part that anyone on the right would be at all influenced by the maps. I place it here as food for thought.

      http://www.ifamericansknew.org/about_us/4maps.html

      Reply to Comment
    5. Craig Vale

      The seminal piece of Propaganda has to be Otto Preminger’s “Exodus” A completely airbrushed version of events who’s behind the scene production elements presaged the advent of Hasbara. They saw that mis-information strategically put out to the public early and often, had great success in winning over folks who were on the fence.The rest as they say is history.

      Reply to Comment