In 2001, I joined six Israeli students at the notorious United Nations World Conference Against Racism, in Durban South Africa. On the first day of the conference, we set up our booth with Israeli flags and materials and were soon met by an aggressive Palestinian rally that brought hundreds of people, including children, holding graphic posters and banners depicting Israel as the evil of the world. They chanted slogans in unison against us and shouted insults at us, as the rest of the conference stood-by watching and while photographers, journalists and cameramen, from every international media, captured the moment. We were totally outnumbered and unprepared for this and had it not been for the South African police that stood nearby and the Israeli security, amongst us, we would not have stayed. Any attempt by our group to respond to these accusations leveled against us was drowned out by the noise.
Realizing the event was orchestrated for the media, we returned the next day to our table, yet this time, armed with a dangerous unconventional weapon: flowers. That morning we had ordered hundreds of buckets of beautiful flowers, which were delivered to our stand. We placed the Israeli flags in their place and within a brief time, the Palestinian rally, with the banners, posters, chanting children, curses and all, made its way toward our table. The media, who had been lurking around our group, sprang to action and started shooting away. We gathered in front of our table, with our arms around eachother and according to plan, started singing at the top of our voices, John Lennon’s legendary song, “All we are saying is give peace a chance,” while two students handed out flowers to the protestors in front of us. The next day on the front page of the South African Star, one of the country’s biggest newspapers, was the headline, “Israelis offer peace, Palestinians respond with aggression.” With a little creativity and out-the-box thinking, we were able to turn a hopeless situation into a public relations victory for Israel.
Following events from last Friday’s Hamas-orchestrated Palestinian demonstration, along the Gaza-Israel border, I could not help feeling that history, once again, was repeating itself. Was it not obvious that Hamas, who has plummeted life in Gaza into despair, was staging a public relations show, by sending thousands of Palestinian protesters, including children, with armed gunman hidden in their midst and in front of international media, under the slogan, “March of Return,”? From Israel’s perspective, it was a catch-22 situation and recipe for disaster. Firstly, having “civilians” pitted against snipers, tanks and an army, will never look good in the media. Secondly, Israel will never accept the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the communicated-intention behind the march, as it ultimately spells Israel’s destruction, and thirdly, with the protest turning violent and some of the Palestinian protesters firing at Israeli soldiers — two of the killed were shooting AK-47’s and lobbing hand-grenades — Israel was forced to respond with force.
Yet still, I feel that this situation could have had a different outcome, at least in front of the media. We finally need to recognize that these events and the hundreds of similar ones preceding this, are created by our enemy, for the purpose of setting Israel up and humiliating us in front of the camera. Hamas, an extremist Jihadi terrorist organization and the current government of Gaza, are the masters of propaganda. They know they cannot defeat us militarily and therefore seek any other means to cause Israel harm. Unfortunately, the media are often their partner in crime and are only too happy to be fed a manipulated-sob-story that will wrench the hearts and minds of readers and viewers worldwide.
So why do we keep making the same mistakes? Is it not time for Israel to recognize where the battlefield is and stop playing into the hands of Hamas? Now I am not suggesting that this is only about the media because I don’t doubt that our enemy truly wants to destroy us and will do whatever they can to make this happen. And I am not undermining our army for whom I completely appreciate for keeping us safe. What I am suggesting is that our army, together with traditional means to defend us, also incorporates a media strategy to avoid such publicity disasters and instead use these crisis as opportunities to make the truth heard in front of the world. After all, if global media have convened on our border and the only visuals representing us are guns and weapons, as justified as they are, then we have failed to introduce our narrative.
The reality, in this case, is that the demonstrators, together with the 1.8 million plus people who live in Gaza, have been used and abused by their own rulers, both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, who instead of laying the foundations for a future Palestinian state and improving the quality of their lives, have driven them into starvation, debt and desperation.
Perhaps the army could consult with the country’s leading marketing executives and media consultants and even work alongside The Foreign Ministry, who could employ effective ways to get the story told in front of the cameras, in real-time.
One idea is to have huge advertising billboards displayed along the Gaza-Israel fence, illustrating what Gazans could have had, if Hamas had chosen to invest the billions of dollars in foreign aid into their society, instead of terror tunnels and rockets. These images would include schools, hospitals, farms, factories, soccer fields, shops, tourism, an airport etc. They could be accompanied by food parcels dropped onto the demonstrators, together with pamphlets reflecting the same images and would simultaneously be leaked to the media. It could also be followed up by a social-media campaign targeting Gazans on Facebook. Just one thought. Perhaps you have more?