Saturday, January 03, 2009

Propaganda: Who needs it?

'Propaganda war: trusting what we see?

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Israel has tried to take the initiative in the propaganda war over Gaza but, in one important instance, its version has been seriously challenged.'

There is no question that one of the weapons in the arsenal of war is propaganda. A good question to ask is who in the current operations in Gaza needs propaganda more, Israel or the Palestinians? Who is more likely to lie to get the support of the world community?

The answer is, whoever lacks the means to fight this battle through conventional means, the actual effective weapons of war, is far more likely to rely on lying about the enemy.

Lets delineate the situation a little further. Going back to 2005, which is when Israel pulled out of the Gaza strip, what have been the salient developments in that territory? First, Israel removed, at great psychological and political cost to itself, many thousands of settlers from within the Gaza territory. Second, Israel continued to employ Gazans in its economy, and supply Gaza with power, water and food. Thirdly, there were elections in Gaza which were won by Hamas, an Islamist party dedicated to the annihilation of Israel, and lost by Fatah who then tried to retake power by military means. They failed dismally. Fourthly, Hamas then started launching unguided missiles are Israeli settlements round about Gaza, dug tunnels into Israel for the purposes of capturing Israelis soldiers, and trying to kill the Israeli border guards by mortar and machine gun attacks. Finally, in response to all these actions both Israel and the world community sanctioned Hamas and cut off Gaza from recieving most kinds of money and aid.

Given that timeline, its easy to see why Israel, the EU and the United States distrust information coming out of Gaza representing Hamas and the population which supports them as victims. More surprising is the fact that now a number of Arab countries, especially Egypt, also blame Hamas for the current situation. That those who know the material facts tend to blame Hamas should surprise no one really. But does that include the BBC?

Jeremy Bowen, who has been the chief correspondent in Israel since 2007, seems on top of the material facts. As stated before Mr Bowen is perfectly capable of summarising the current sitation in detail, and with proper proportion given to all the salient facts. Does that go for the rest of the BBC? If you read this piece by Paul Reynolds about Israeli propaganda, its obvious that the answer is no.

The salient fact about Hamas and the Gazan arabs in general is that propaganda is really their only weapon in this fight. Why provoke a war in which propaganda is your only effective weapon, a reasonable and rational person would ask? Well, no reasonable and rational person would start such a war. Read the history of this part of the world, and something that strikes the observer with great force is how unreasonable, irrational and muddled palestinian arab thinking is. It is a melange of fierce machismo (when in front of cameras or podiums), girlish panic (when in combat), bathetic victimhood (when talking to western journalists) and machiavellian deviousness (when engaging in any kind of politics). You may think I am being racist or overly harsh, but I'm not. For confirmation, read histories of the last hundred and twenty years of this part of the world.

The Jews have always said that the palestinian arabs worst enemy is themselves. More and more relatively disinterested observers are tending to agree with that assessment. And a large part of the cause is the lying. The palestinian arab tendency to lie and lie and lie again, both to external parties and to themselves means they can't grapple effectively with the real situation and what their best interests are. One of the main reasons Israel still exists is this palestinian proclivity, and the terrible effect it has on palestinian competence.

The BBC as an organisation seems blissfully unaware of this simple truth.

Were those missiles being loaded onto the truck in the video, or gas bottles? We have the word of the Israelis, whose drone video analysts constantly view men loading and unloading missiles which are then duly fired into Israel, as all observers agree. And on the other, a palestinian man who says the objects weren't missiles and has a picture of some burned out gas bottles. There is some doubt and we may never know the truth. But in what direction does the balance of probabilities lie?

One last aspect of this episode. You probably don't remember the Hezbollah ambulance incident from the Hezbollah battles of 2006, unless you followed the story at the time. Investigation of an alleged Israeli attack on a clearly-marked ambulance near the village of Qana brought to the fore a lot of evidence that the whole thing was manufactured by Hezbollah to make Israel look like callous murderers of medical staff. Of particular interest to those with an eye for the habits of propagandists is the location: Qana. Why? In 1996, there was an incident covered here in Wikipedia blaming Israel for killing 106 innocent Lebanese civilians. The incident became a cause celebre in the west and was also given as a prime motivating cause in the establishment of Al Qaeda.

What was the response of the large news organisations to the doubtful story about the ambulance attack in 2006?

The AP reported it like this:

'...the Lebanese Red Cross suspended operations outside Tyre after Israeli jets blasted two ambulances with rockets, said Ali Deebe, a Red Cross spokesman in Tyre. In the incident Sunday, one Red Cross ambulance went south of Tyre to meet an ambulance and transfer the wounded to the hospital. "When we have wounded outside the city, we always used two ambulances," Deebe said. The rocket attack on the two vehicles wounded six ambulance workers and three civilians - an 11-year-old boy, an elderly woman and a man, Deebe said. "One of the rockets hit right in the middle of the big red cross that was painted on top of the ambulance," he said. "This is a clear violation of humanitarian law, of international law. We are neutral and we should not be targeted." Kassem Shalan, one of the ambulance workers, told AP Television News that nine people were injured. "We were transferring the wounded into our vehicle and something fell and I dropped to the floor," he said. Amateur video provided by an ambulance worker confirmed Deebe's account of damage to the vehicles, showing one large hole and several smaller ones in the roof of one ambulance and a large hole in the roof of the second. Both were destroyed.'

AP stories are what much of the news output of the big media outlets is based on. Sure enough, this story was reported 'straight'; in other words unchallenged and as if it came from a trustworthy source. Interestingly, there is not a single archived story about this on the BBC website.

Another of the well-evidenced claims to come out during the blogosphere investigation of the Qana ambulance 'attack' was that Hezbollah were using ambulances as troop carriers in a number of places around Lebanon. This received no coverage at all in the large media outlets.

The picture that gradually builds up once you've paid attention to coverage of Israel and in particular its military engagements with its enemies is that stories touted which show Israel as brutal, murderous and anti-humanitarian are often given the benefit of the doubt by our larger media organisations; whereas stories that are put out by Israel showing it as careful, responsible and humanitarian (insofar as that is possible when you are fighting for your existence) are brought into question, even when the evidence provided by Israels enemies is of dubious veracity.

As Glenn Reynolds points out, its not so much that many of the media functionaries are 'sceptical' (which is how they see themselves), they're actually on the other side. That is a crazy situation. How can our societies fight and win when our media is actually rooting for the other guys?

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