a3c08aaa1e688210VgnVCM100000e56411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2009-Q1Israel is even winning the media war: it shouldn't93c08aaa1e688210VgnVCM100000e56411ac____Israel is even winning the media war: it shouldn'tThere is another war being fought almost as desperately between Israelis and Palestinians for the attention and support of international public opinion.<p>The tragedy unfolding in Gaza is, of course, as a result of a brutal military campaign, but there is another war being fought almost as desperately between Israelis and Palestinians for the attention and support of international public opinion. In the "media war", as in the real battles taking place, it is vital that the Palestinians do well: they are the weaker party; they have an excellent case, and they need international support to protect their rights - and their lives.</p>
<p>So it is necessary that they start strategising their media campaign as the Israelis do and not leave it to individual opinions and perceptions that gain them popularity only on the "Arab Street".
In this war, the Israeli narrative is dominant in the international media. The impressive Israeli PR apparatus was well-prepared before the air assault began, with many media experts recruited, and they have devised a range of new "weapons". Probably the most visible has been the number of Arabic-speaking Israeli spokespeople appearing on Arabic satellite channels to put the Israeli point of view. The Israeli offence on Gaza is presented as a "retaliation", by these people, and as "defensive".</p>
<p>Israel has also been actively using the internet to transmit its propaganda, particularly the extremely popular YouTube. The Israeli Defence Force has a radio station on YouTube with more than 12,000 subscribers, and there are numerous video clips available of the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, as well as IDF's spokespeople and other officials.
Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, was brought into the media campaign by Ms Livni before the attack on Gaza was launched on December 27. He has been quoted in the Israeli right-wing newspaper, the Jerusalem Post, proclaiming Israel's success. "Coordination is putting Israel ahead in the media war," he said. The message broadcast by its media spokespeople was certainly coordinated and consistent: "Israel's right to defend itself;" "defensive operation"; "retaliation" were terms heard over and over again in the international news media, including Al-Jazeera English. The campaign has been designed to create the image of a peace loving country under attack.</p>
<p>Contrast all this with the performance of the Palestinians when it comes to persuading international public opinion of the justness of their cause. One could argue that the reason that the media coverage of the war on Gaza is as distorted as it has been is because of the highly rhetorical discourse that is created by Hamas and other Arab and Muslim sources - and the limited, hesitant commentary from the Palestinian Authority.</p>
<p>The problem with the rhetoric used by Hamas and its allies is that it endorses the negative image created by the Israelis. On the first few days of the attack, Hamas leaders, including Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, have persistently repeated the threat that Gaza would be a "graveyard" for Israeli soldiers. So far, of course, more than 500 Palestinians have lost their lives - including more than 100 women and children - while Israel has lost just a handful of soldiers.</p>
<p>By using this kind of language, Hamas is presenting itself as a power that can stand up to Israeli forces, as well as threatening the Israeli population with its rockets - precisely the image created by Israel for the group. One understands that although this image functions as a source of political legitimacy for Hamas as "the people's protector", internationally it reinforces Israel's message about its "security concerns".</p>
<p>Instead of highlighting the strategic gap between the two sides - what, for instance, BBC World called Hamas's "home-made rockets" and the IDF described as "technologically sophisticated and capable weaponry" - Hamas leaders said that by invading Gaza, Israel "opened its gate to hell". Talk of killing Jewish children and targeting synagogues, only worsens Hamas's international reputation.
Moreover, very little mention has been made by Hamas of the Israeli occupation, or of the mutual responsibilities for breaking the ceasefire signed by the two parties in June 2008.</p>
<p>It is obvious that international public opinion is more important for the Palestinians, who have very little military power compared to Israel. Hamas - and the Palestinian Authority - should take this opportunity to make their case to the whole world. They have one of the most just causes, and the sympathy of a great many people, not just in the Arab and Muslim world. These days everyone is listening.</p>
<p>The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, the prisoners, the siege on Gaza, the expansion of the illegal settlements - all should be emphasised. The Palestinians may be outgunned by the Israelis but there is no reason for them to be "outmessaged". This will not be achieved if they only rely on inflammatory rhetoric.
Hamas's message should be that the Palestinians want peace, but they also want independence and guarantees of their human rights. They should emphasise the negative aspects of the Israeli occupation - the attacks, the checkpoints, the confiscation of land, the wall. This is what so much of the world is missing in its understanding of what is happening between Israel and the Palestinians. Otherwise, Israel's message will continue to dominate the international coverage of this tragedy and the Palestinians will continue to be the victims who are called "terrorists".</p>
<p>Dr Abeer Najjar is an assistant professor in the department of Mass Communication at the American University of Sharjah</p>