The PR War Front

Cross-posted with permission from Israel HaYom. Dr. Nachman Shai is a Labor Party MK and author of the book “Media War: Reaching for Hearts and Minds.”

The Palestinians are once again proving that in the battle for public image, unlike the diplomatic battle, they do not miss an opportunity.

The deaths of two young men in a clash with Israeli soldiers at Beitunia junction north of Jerusalem last weekend served as tinder to set off an ongoing explosion of events. Unlike the case of the death of the child Muhammad al-Durrah in October 2000, this time the two were apparently shot by Israeli security forces. The controversial questions are, were they shot by rubber bullets or with live ammunition, and why were they shot — were they a risk to the soldiers’ lives?

In the al-Durrah case, Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, then the head of the IDF’s Operational Branch, initially took responsibility for the event in the name of the army, supporting the version that the shots had been fired by the IDF. The day after the event, head of the Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yom Tov Samia ordered the destruction of the scene. After he was appointed to an investigative committee, the scene had to be recreated.

The IDF was very disturbed by the events that blew up quickly, and invested little time in investigating the incident. Some of the members of the committee itself were dismissed and it barely finished its job. Samia then claimed that the IDF had not killed al-Durrah, but no one could be bothered to listen, because events in Judea, Samaria and Gaza were deteriorating quickly. There was also a dispute between the Foreign Ministry and the IDF about whether to revisit the issue. The Foreign Ministry preferred to let it rest, hoping that it would be forgotten, while the army insisted that it was preferable to deal with the issue. The camp of those who doubted the Palestinian version grew slowly and in the end won, mainly due to the insistence of an international coalition.

In the Beitunia incident, the IDF and the defense authorities responded more quickly, but seemingly not quickly enough. The investigation by the army’s Criminal Investigation Division is typically slow and leaves the public diplomacy front vulnerable. It’s not their concern. As chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon provided the IDF with tools and protocols to fight the consciousness war. As defense minister, he put out a pathetic announcement. The fact that the Palestinians fabricate events or videos does not say a thing about this event and this video, especially when Ya’alon himself retreats and notes, “I haven’t seen the video.”

In the classic battle for information, the media tends to quickly endorse the Palestinians, not the credibility of the IDF. On this battlefield, the IDF must not wait. It must bring forth the information as soon as it has it and fight for the top of the news. The IDF’s media monopoly is over.

The public diplomacy arena has become complex and complicated. Non-government organizations have taken the place of countries or international organizations. They can leverage events without any diplomatic restrictions on the Internet and beyond it, embarrassing Israel. Recently, such groups have recommended that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas take Israel to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Ever since the first Durban Conference in 2001, such groups have proved their power and their prejudice against Israel in a number of tests. However, they must in no way be dismissed or ignored.

The current incident must be investigated with urgency; the information is available, witnesses are willing to speak and the matter is in the headlines. Yes, right now. It would be a delusion to think that if we don’t face it, it will blow away. Events collect and are perpetuated in databases and information channels and can reappear at any time. It is best to reach the truth now and handle the story while it’s fresh.

(Image via Pixabay/OpenClips)