With a ceasefire in effect, Operation Pillar of Defense appears to be over. Of course there will be plenty of media coverage in the coming days and weeks as the “fog of war” clears. In any event, Israel is rarely out of the news, a situation that will not change in the near future.
It is, however, a good time to take stock and make some observations on how this conflict was conducted and covered from a media perspective.
Preparing the message
A Christian Science Monitor headline perhaps typifies the unusual starting point that the IDF found itself in when Operation Pillar of Defense began with the targeted killing of Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari.
Israel’s government had already laid the groundwork, briefing Western leaders on the intolerable situation of rocket attacks on Israel’s southern population. The almost unequivocal support from the US, Canada, the UK, Germany and others for Israel’s actions and firmly laying the responsibility for the situation at the door of Hamas played a significant role in pushing the media in that direction.
Of course, as more and more journalists arrived in the region, reporting from both Gaza and Israel, the media became more critical. However, this initial international support that was maintained throughout was crucial in setting the parameters of the story.
Many media outlets engaged in chronological inversion whereby the focus of a story is the Israeli response to a Palestinian attack. As we’ve seen so often in the past, the media pays little attention to Palestinian acts of terror, only waking up in time to cover Israeli countermeasures.
In this case, the story began with the targeted killing of Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari in the eyes of too many in the media who had ignored years of Hamas rocket attacks on the south of Israel. Israel was therefore the aggressor, the side that had deliberately escalated the violence according to a narrative that was actively promoted by Hamas and its supporters.
That the media labelled each day of the operation “Day One, Day Two” and so on certainly did not help when it came to identifying the beginning of the overall story. This problem was compounded by the IDF’s own descriptions of the chronology of the military operation as distinct from the ongoing violence that had plagued Israeli communities prior to the launch of Operation Pillar of Defense.
A social media war
Social media is a highly effective tool to bypass the mainstream media and to get a message out to the general public. In this respect, the IDF excelled, even breaking the news of Jabari’s death on Twitter. Clearly, lessons had been absorbed from previous crises such as the Mavi Marmara and Operation Cast Lead. By relaying information almost in real time, the IDF maintained control of the story. In the past the information vacuum had been swiftly filled by Palestinian spokespeople prepared to go to any lengths necessary to smear Israel.
Israel was aided by a groundswell of online public support that saw expression on Facebook and Twitter while other non-governmental organizations also played a crucial role in multiplying the impact of the information and producing effective content themselves for sharing online. HonestReporting’s video of Pallywood fake injuries, for example, has been viewed by over 300,000 people on YouTube – clearly not only playing to the choir, while the IDF’s own YouTube channel received huge numbers of views.