Most eruptions of violence involving Israel are characterised at least on the part of diaspora Jews – and by those parts of the Israeli home audience concerned with the views of the outside world – by extreme frustration. “If only,” they tell themselves, “Israel’s spokespeople could get their act together, we would have the world on our side.” By this, they mean getting fluent English speakers out on to the airwaves, explaining Israel’s actions, dispelling misconceptions, sharing Israel’s pain, showing compassion for those accidentally caught up in clashes, and casting light on the true nature of those Israel is fighting against.
But the problem is, this time around, there can be no such complaints. Since October 7 Israel’s military media machine has worked non-stop. It has pushed itself beyond comfortable limits, to try to help the world understand what Israel is dealing with in its confrontation with Hamas. From tours of devastated, still blood-soaked kibbutzim, to the sharing of Hamas assassin body-cam video, graphic images and testimony have been readily released and shared with journalists and governments around the world.
When Israel was accused of causing 500 deaths through an airstrike directly targeted at Gaza’s Al Ahli Hospital, statements were being issued within the hour casting doubt on the accuracy of Hamas reports and confirming a swift IDF investigation. As we learned within a very short space of time, the small blast which caused a crater in the car park resulting in a very limited number of victims was the result of a misfired Palestinian Jihad rocket. But even those news organizations who eventually included the Israeli rebuttal, took their time to do so and framed it as disputed evidence.
More recently, footage showing Hamas rocket launch sites located alongside children’s playgrounds, and materials demonstrating the deliberate use of hospital buildings as cover for military command centres and weapons stores, have been shared. But they have gained little to no traction in the wider media world. The question must be asked: What more can Israel do to get its narrative heard and receive at least the objective coverage its war deserves? The answer is a difficult one – because it’s not clear that even the best PR machine in the world could be doing more.
It is easy to fire accusations of institutional bias – at the BBC or at CNN, or across the various branches of the United Nations. But all are organisations which for the most part go out of their way to make impartiality one of their central, brand-defining virtues. It is equally easy to blame the numbers game – all those Arab/Muslim states and voters swaying coverage in favor of a story of Palestinian victimhood with which a substantial majority can feel comfortable.
We can use explanations like underlying antisemitism, like ignorance, like decades of Israeli reluctance to play the global media game while the Palestinians busily and successfully rewrote both their own and Jewish history. All these are true to an extent. And they should and do make us fearful, because they offer direct equivalents to the periods preceding pretty much every period of pogroms, ethnic cleansing and genocide in Jewish history.
The story Israel has to tell, and has to keep on telling, whether or not the world is ready to listen is not being heard to a large extent because it is simply unimaginable. We know that during the Second World War, reports circulated both within Nazi territory and beyond about massacres, about killing of Jews on an industrial scale, about the cold-blooded murder of old and young. Even those physically closest, the next wave of victims, did their best not to believe them. These stories did not motivate the actions of the nations who chose to fight against the Nazis. Even once the camps had been entered, there was a reluctance to take in the scale of the horror which kept many survivors silent for decades.
Today’s story, of Hamas and its commitment to Israel’s absolute annihilation at any cost is similarly challenging. Since October 7 we have had to process national anguish on a scale we thought was impossible, and to share our pain with the world at the torture and murder of 1,400 innocent civilians, entire families wiped out, young people hunted down through the orchards, bodies desecrated, and 240 people from babies to grandparents taken hostage and “disappeared” into Gaza. Before it happened, we would not have believed it. Now that it has, the scale of appalling horror in its totality is simply overwhelming.
The actions of Hamas are not the actions of human beings. This is not what happens in 21st century conflict. Even terrorists who find themselves in government do not typically throw their citizens deliberately into the line of fire and then cynically dismiss their deaths as collateral damage, celebrating ever-growing casualty numbers. They do not force those whom they claim to represent back into acknowledged danger zones. They do not prevent the construction of solid homes so that the military hierarchy can be protected. They do not turn working hospitals into ground cover for killing machines.
But Hamas have and they do. And the stories of what they do and how they do it are so incredible that even those who work most closely with them, such as UNWRA, seem unable to comprehend their actions. How much more challenging must it be for those casually dipping into the world of Gaza, even those hardened by the tales of Al Quaeda, ISIS, the Taliban and Boko Haram?
Which does not mean we should stay silent. Even without encouragement and support, every one of us needs to repeat the facts that make up the truth, again and again and again. We need to share every shred of physical evidence that supports the story, so that it is as hard as possible to deny that truth. To paraphrase an ancient saying, even if we cannot successfully complete the task, we are not at liberty to neglect it.
But while we fight for the truth to be heard, we need to recognise an ugly reality: However well we, our representatives, and those tasked with these things on behalf of Israel’s armed forces, try to advance Israel’s perspective on events, the world needs to take a huge leap of imagination to understand the true nature of Hamas, and the cynical opportunism of its allies. It is not clear that most parts of it are capable of doing so.