The Battlefield of New Media: The Online War Over Gaza

Al Jazeera has an interesting article up about the online war over Gaza. Both pro-Palestinian and Israeli forces attempted to use new media, both through official and grassroots channels.

On December 27, 2008, Israel launched ‘Operation Cast Lead’ against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Within minutes of the first missile landing in Gaza, global reactions appeared online.

During the first few days of the war, online discussions were restricted to war of words. Both sides engaged in heated debates and blamed each other for the fatal surge in military operations.

As the discussions grew, attempts were then made by supporters of both sides to establish a coordinated response aimed at combatting the other side’s propaganda.

With this awareness in mind, both Israel and the Palestinians resorted to a variety of media platforms to justify their positions and tactics used during the conflict.

Israeli supporters set up the Help Us Win website, and some Palestinian supporters created Gaza Talk.

Hundreds of groups were created on Facebook by Israelis and Palestinians to create an awareness of the facts as they saw them.

I have a hunch that this change supported the Palestinians more than the Israelis. Anecdotally, this conflict seemed to garner a much different tone of coverage from the mainstream media (read: not rabidly anti-Palestinian), and I wonder if the rise of new media voices in the US (especially the many critical and influential Jewish voices in the progressive blogosphere) and abroad had anything to do with it.

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Change in Effect: Obama Gives First Presidential Interview to Al Arabiya

Lest this blogger be accused of publishing only negative stories, I want to put out a link to Obama’s interview with Arabic language news organization Al Arabiya. This was the first interview that Obama gave since become president – there is very little he could have done to signify greater respect towards the Arab world. It’s almost too much to suddenly have a President who does things the right way, but he nonetheless deserves kudos for following through on the use of public diplomacy.

The transcript itself is also a thing of beauty: Obama seems to understand its opposition to the US is based on our policies and our message. If we were to just change how we communicate our message, but that not our policies, as Bush attempted to do with high profile public diplomacy such as the debacles of Karen Hughes and Al Hurra, we won’t get anywhere with the Arab public. Obama said all the right things to demonstrate the seriousness of his commitment to engagement with the Arab world, and the reality that inevitable disagreements shouldn’t give way to conflict. He also stressed the importance of listening to the Arab world, and not just dictating terms, especially on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

Transcript is here.

Also, see a smart take from Mark Lynch. I hope he one day goes on Al Jezerra, but this is a great start.

FWIW: I also think George Mitchell is a great choice.

Hamas’ War 2.0 Counterstrike

From We Are Cyborgs:

Hamas has launched a new website, www.palutube.com, to highlight pro-Palestine videos from the war in Gaza and assorted other pro-Palestinian content including nationalist songs and spirited demonstrations. This is in response to Israel’s already strong Web 2.0 presence covering the war. Palutube is in Arabic by default but a drop down menu on the right side allows you to switch to English. Currently I am having a great deal of trouble loading the site so don’t be surprised if you are have trouble as well. Nonetheless I will try to embed a video from Palutube below. It is worth noting that because Hamas has chosen to host their own website (though not host all of their own videos), they are not bound by any other web portal’s terms of service (like the IDF is bound to YouTube’s TOS and authority). Thus there is some powerful and controversial language on Palutube. Most notably a banner that reads “The Zionist Holocaust in Gaza of the Innocent People [sic]”.

(Editor’s note: For some reason WordPress is not allowing me to embed video from Palutube here despite the fact that it works on the other site)

palutube

We are now talking about a war in which Israel refuses to allow foreign journalists access into Gaza, and both sides are battling for global support and to shape the narrative of the conflict via Web 2.0 strategies. As the Gulf War was the first cable news war, the current Israel-Palestine conflict is the first YouTube war. The obvious question being: is this the future of wartime journalistic propaganda?

It is clear from watching just a few of the videos available on Palutube that there is a different tone here than on the IDF’s YouTube channel. The IDF’s content has focused on justifying their attacks, which have been widely criticized as a disproportionate response to Hamas’ aggression, through videos of Hamas’ rocket attacks and evidence of other Hamas wrongdoing. In contract new Hamas site is a mix of videos that either display the large scale suffering that is going on in Gaza or provide evidence that Palestinian morale in Gaza is not dead through songs and videos of demonstrations.

The latter videos are particularly of interest considering the character of the Israeli attacks. It is quite clear that Israel’s attacks are an act of aggression by the side with the upper hand. Hamas rocket fire into Israel, while indefensible from the perspective of someone who would like to see the conflict resolved through diplomacy, is essentially impotent in comparison to the Israeli response. The Israeli message is that Hamas is thoroughly out gunned and by continuing to fire into Israel Hamas is inviting Israel to respond tenfold simply because they can. In a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece Rashid Khalidi presented a particularly insightful quote from former IDF chief of staff Moshe Yaalon: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.” Temporarily setting aside how disturbing that statement is, with Palutube Hamas appears intent on saying it is also not correct.