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Hamas is winning… online

The globally designated terror group has mastered the manipulation of the press, convincing the world to ignore both its bloody history and its violent present
An image taken from a video on Hamas's Facebook page on July 20, 2016, shows Palestinian children entering into a tunnel dug by the terror group in the Gaza Strip. (Screen capture from Facebook/File)
An image taken from a video on Hamas's Facebook page on July 20, 2016, shows Palestinian children entering into a tunnel dug by the terror group in the Gaza Strip. (Screen capture from Facebook/File)

In today’s asymmetrical battlefield, terrorist armies embed themselves inside densely populated areas. They use innocent civilians as human shields in the hope that any conventional action taken against them will result in unavoidable civilian casualties, and provide them with a propaganda victory. Hamas has used this operational doctrine with great success in Gaza, and it has presented Israeli political and military leaders with enormous tactical and strategic dilemmas. After all, there are no humane ways to fight a war: combat operations are designed to obliterate and kill. But law-abiding nations that value human life issue their fighting men and women with strict rules of engagement that are designed to minimize collateral damage and to make sure, to the best of their abilities, that the only ones killed are enemy combatants. The IDF has taken this responsibility to unimaginable levels. No other army in the world warns the residents of apartment buildings used as terror headquarters and missile launching pads that they must flee. During the Gaza campaign, Israeli pilots aborted missions because they feared that civilians might be present at the targeted locations.

Yet despite Israel’s strict adherence to international law and the use of limited proportionate force against the terrorist targets, the unrelenting global hate chorus accuses the IDF of war crimes. Hamas has been very clever in selling itself as the victim on social media, and the new battlefield front of multidimensional public opinion.

It is remarkable that Hamas, which is a globally designated terrorist group, has managed to erase its previous homicidal exploits of suicide bombings and the murder of thousands, including American citizens, and convince the woke, the liars, the celebrity posers, and the haters that they are innocent victims who represent the interests of all the Palestinian people. Hamas has managed to obliterate the history of seizing control of the Gaza Strip in a bloody coup and to make the world overlook the fact that the children in Gaza are insidiously used for their collateral damage convenience.

While Israel invested in technological marvels to save lives, like the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system, Hamas has invested in other tools meant to advance its political agenda: the manipulation of the airwaves and the bandwidths. The terrorists studied the major news networks, which are always embroiled in fierce competition with their rivals, and learned that they use a fear-based programming model to gain viewers: destruction and devastation sell, and the motto, “if it bleeds it leads” is a basic tenet of the medium. Hamas has managed to cunningly manipulate the narrative of this conflict by turning it into a war of images — a war of devastation and victimization. It has become irrelevant that they are behind all of the suffering.

Hamas controlled the language used to discuss the conflict. Its supporters inserted terms “disproportionate use of force,” “occupation,” and “apartheid,” into every tweet, post, and appearance on CNN, the BBC, and MSNBC.

Where were Israel’s savvy digital warriors and the start-up nation ground forces in the social media theatre? Jerusalem was silent, always on the defensive, unfocused, and stutteringly slow in their counter-propaganda campaign. Israel — and Western nations — must take a sobering note on how effective Hamas has been in mobilizing those who have pent-up hatred of Israel and who possess varying degrees of antisemitism — to use the fighting in Gaza as a Cause célèbre launching pad for the woke, the progressive, and those yearning for some headlines to unleash a blitzkrieg of anti-Israel social media posts.

Congresswomen, B-list actors, and third-tier comedians have made a point to use the images from Gaza to accuse Israel of racial cleansing, occupation, and war crimes. These so-called Latte Liberals, competing for online “Likes” in the same ferocious way that the networks compete for advertising dollars, have made a point to lambast Israel for the disproportionate casualties, saying, in so many words, that the 13 Israelis killed by Hamas rockets were not quite enough. These ridiculous, yet loud, voices have even gone so far as to say that the war is not “fair” because Hamas does not have an Iron Dome of its own.

Creating a ridiculous narrative would not have been possible without Hamas masterfully manipulating the seemingly unbiased world of journalism. Members of the Fourth Estate have become a witting — or unwitting — accomplice to the Hamas propaganda machine. While reporters in Israel have free reign in the country, and Israeli politicians, pundits, and military officials have all been made available to answer the toughest of questions, Hamas officials never have to answer why missiles are launched from inside people’s homes, or why Hamas has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a subterranean military city underneath Gaza, and did not spend a single dinar on air-raid shelters for its citizens. Journalists have not shown — or been allowed to show — a single image of a Hamas missile team, Hamas gunmen, or one of the hundred sophisticated Hamas tunnels and the terror weapons that they conceal. Hamas has, often at gunpoint, made sure that the only images that reporters and bloggers get to write about and film suit their ghastly agenda. The major news networks such as AP and Al-Jazeera even shared a luxury high-rise with many Hamas commandos, but when Israel leveled the building, the international outcry was deafening.

Hamas has somehow managed to create a bizarre universe where lies are truths, fiction is fact, and the perpetrator is the victim. For the next war — and, sadly, there are always next wars in the Middle East — Israel will have to master the narrative of conflict with the same innovative dominance it brings to the conventional field of battle. Israel — and the West — must not surrender the multimedia platforms to the terrorists. The world, after all, is watching.

About the Author
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner is an Israeli civil rights attorney and the founder of the Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, an Israeli based civil rights organization which legally holds to account terrorist organizations and the regimes that support them. They are also dedicated to combating discrimination against Israel through the boycott and 'lawfare' campaigns.
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