If you are living in the UK, you’ll have likely seen social media and news headlines drawing attention to the plight of the people under attack in Gaza.
Yet on the other side, in Israel, a people also feels itself to be under attack, and the best and worst aspects of Israeli society are on show if you look into the amphitheatre that is the realm of modern media.
From early-warning apps for smartphones, the vibrant political involvement of Israel’s youth, the IDF’s predictable hiding from responsibility for all innocent Gazan fatalities, and the disturbing and rising trend of Jewish right-wing extremism, as media technology continues its rapid advance, this is perhaps the most interactive war in history.
Many Israelis will have spent time in a shelter or reinforced room under the din of rocket sirens this summer, and thus TV and even smartphone applications have been catered to giving the public what they seemingly want.
Meanwhile, in a climate in which almost everyone in the country knows a soldier whose life is at risk right now serving in Gaza, social media is utilised by government, military and the general public alike by those who wish to spread ‘awareness’ about or rally support for Operation Tzook Eitan (Protective Edge).
Here are some examples of modern media’s hand in the current conflict:
Television and News
During times of war Israeli television becomes devoted to constant updates and discussion. This is not because of any directive of the government, but what the public wants; the stereotype of Israelis’ addiction to news is not an invalid one. Programs like below entitled ‘State Under Fire’ filled up the viewing slots for Israel’s channel 10 for the first two weeks of the conflict. Since the IDF moved on to a ground operation the program is retitled ‘Operation in Gaza’.
Comparing coverage abroad with the never-ending Hebrew TV news programs, the same sympathy for Palestinians trapped in Gaza that exists abroad does not exist here. The operations of the IDF are justified by the ultimate end goal of destroying the terrorist organisation Hamas. A lot is made of their ‘human shield’ strategy in Gaza. In short, the appetite for coverage of the Palestinian fatalities and displacement is not high in Israel. In fact, Israeli TV spends more time covering world’s coverage of Palestinian casualties than actually reporting Palestinian casualties – this isn’t helped by government ban on Israeli reporters entering the Gaza strip.
It often bemuses Israelis, and sometimes enrages them (see right), to discover the criticism from afar, that coverage is often heavily focused on Gaza, and that a substantial weight of opinion views Israel as the racist, bullying, aggressor.
“Israeli First and Foremost”
With over half a million likes (no small number – Israel’s population is just 8 million) the Hebrew language news service Walla! News is one of the main means through which the Facebook generation receive news updates.
A supporter of the ‘First and Foremost Israeli’ stance that Brits might recognise is Yossi Benayoun, a former Premier League footballer.
Their stance is a straightforward one: Israeli first, journalists second. Feeling Israel already vulnerable to anti-Zionist propaganda abroad, their correspondents have made it clear that they have no wish to do more harm to Israel. The reports they post are always worded as such, ‘IDF forces encounter terrorists, eliminates 4’, and so on.
The Israeli Left
A minority of Israelis, the Israeli ‘left’, are aware of and worried by this apparent lack of sympathy for the other side.
Here are a few prominent examples of the Israeli left:
- Haaretz: Guided by its publisher, Amos Shocken, this paper possesses its own distinct vision of what Zionism should mean in democratic and humanitarian terms. It is the only prominent Israeli daily which reports, or tries its best to, on the situation in Gaza from a Palestinian perspective. This has been more difficult since Israelis, including journalists, were banned from entering the Gaza strip. The paper is widely read abroad in English but is not so popular in Israel.
- Gideon Levy: The only newspaper which will take him is Haaretz. Levy is one of the least popular people in Israel due to his incessant criticism of the state’s and the IDF’s human rights infringements in Gaza and the West Bank. He was recently yelled at in the street in Ashkelon, a town close to the border with Gaza that has been severely disrupted by Hamas rocket fire, by a number of angry residents. ‘Go to Gaza, traitor!’ This is a directive which is lovingly used again and again by the most extreme on the Israeli right whenever they encounter citizens sympathetic with the ‘enemy’.
- +972 and Local Call: The English language +972 and its new Hebrew sister sight Local Call are on the same page as Levy, in that they feel Israeli ‘suffering’ in these conflicts already has more than enough coverage. They attempt to raise awareness of of the innocent victims on the other side of the fence.
Postings on Social Media
Social media presents an interesting reflection of sentiment – it is unregulated and some semblance of how it has been received is immediately available through the number of engagements a post gets.
The most extreme posts frequently imply the same message: that there is no partner for peace on the Arab side, they are too violent, backstabbing and inclined to terrorist attacks on civilians. We would be better off removing them from our society and razing Gaza to the ground.
Many Israelis often feel as if they are waging two wars: one against Hamas, and one against the UN. The UN’s stance against Israel has been clear for some time, and the reports recently that weapons stockpiles discovered by the organisation were handed immediately back to Hamas will not have done its credibility in Israel any favours.
The same poster also shared a video from the Knesset in which an MK named Nissim Ze’ev decries Arab culture as one based on bloodshed and violence, mentioning ISIS, Syria and Egypt as proof. He then labels Arab MK Ahmed Tibi as the most serious ‘tunnel threat’ – one that goes from Gaza right into the Knesset plenum.
This image was tweeted by the IDF, presumably to get British people to ask themselves that very question. But to many people in Britain, such attempts to play on emotion in an effort to gain support have not been well received.
Left translation: Ceasefire? “No. We need to continue the bombardment of Gaza”
The post on the left reads: “Bibi [Netanyahu] you are stupid! We are having a ceasefire, and they’re continuing to fire at us, wake up already!!!”. On the right “Share on your wall, it’s the least we can do in order never to forget.” – A collage of all the soldiers killed so far.
The last time she would ever see him. Sad photo making way across Israeli media this morning. Killed soon thereafter pic.twitter.com/UJKpFmhQqD
— Daniel Gordis (@DanielGordis) July 30, 2014
A photographer captured what turned out to be the last embrace between Staff Sgt. Adi Briga and his girlfriend on the border with Gaza. He was killed in a Hamas mortar attack three days later, 28 July.
Israeli programmers in the ‘start-up nation’, so-called because of its impressive internet and technological advancement, was not slow to provide its citizens with a host of ‘red alert’ smartphone apps – instantaneous warning of incoming missiles direct to your phone.
The Restrictions to Humanity in an Interactive War
Israel is such a small country that it often feels like a neighbourhood. Almost everyone is perhaps two degrees of separation away from the Prime Minister. When there is a war everybody participates in some way. Almost all hear the sirens, they all know people called up to be stationed in Gaza, and they all go through the same anxiety and fear, and often the same radicalisation and tendency to scapegoat only one side.
The speed and widened possibilities of modern media, with smartphones and Facebook, brings updates to people’s fingertips, and makes this an interactive war like few others. Yet it is hard not to think that while in theory everyone should be more aware by such an abundance of up-to-date news, the reality appears to be the opposite.
Social media hyper-simplifies the conflict, portrays it as a drama. And for Israelis, the temptation to see themselves as the good guys is too appealing. It is too simple to hook people with a picture or a quick story about an attempted infiltration by Hamas ‘terrorists’. They need only go online, read a snippet about some soldiers who got injured in the line of duty, copy-and-paste a message of support, and duck back out into daily life again. But promote empathy it does not and build bridges it certainly will not.