Media War: Why are the Palestinian Arabs Winning?


by Chuck Chriss
President, JIA

Israel’s supporters are dismayed by press coverage of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. While most of us supporters think it is transparently obvious that Israel is right and the homicide bombers are wrong, somehow the world press often reports it differently, preferring to focus sympathetically on the "brutal occupation", the "plight of the refugees", and the "cycle of violence". When they report the deaths of "innocent civilians" it is more often Arabs killed by the IDF than Israelis killed by terrorists. Why does this happen?

Has Israel been inept with their public relations (or "hasbara") efforts, thereby dropping the ball? Yes, that is part of the problem. But while Israel may have been less than perfect in its hasbara, the larger problem is that Israel is being out-fought by the Palestinian Arab forces in the PR war. It is not just that Israel is weak in PR, but also that the PA has been very strong and very effective.

You have to look no further than the terminology of the debate. Every press account uses descriptive words that immediately put Israel on the defensive:

1. "Palestinian". This is a term with shallow historical roots, a loose regional reference to the whole general area of Southern Syria. Prior to 1948, the term usually meant the Jews living in Palestine, not the mixture of Arabs and others. Now it is routinely used as if there is a long-established "Palestinian heritage" in Eretz Yisrael.

2. "West Bank". Now almost always used for the geography between Green Line Israel and the Jordan River, displacing Judea and Samaria, the historically correct terms used universally until about 1950. Prior to the 1948-49 truce along that line, it was seldom necessary to selectively refer to those areas. Those who do use Judea and Samaria today are viewed as "fanatics" or "ultra-Orthodox". Calling the land "West Bank", along with "occupied territories", takes long standing Jewish rights and claims to the land off the table.

3. "Occupied Territories". Used to describe land that has been in dispute since the withdrawal of the British from the Palestine Mandate in 1948, land that was not considered "occupied" when Jordan and Egypt were there before 1967. "Occupied" implies invasion and imposition of outside force, rather than the actual situation of assertion of Israeli control over land with no sovereign, responsible government to quell aggression against Israel.

4. "Settlements". A description instead of "communities". It is easy to rail against settlements, meaning a foreign transplant or colony, overlooking that this is a call to eliminate communities of peaceful Jewish people on land that has no other legitimate claimant. The term also obscures the fact that many of these communities are part of Jerusalem or are expansions, adjacent to existing Jewish communities inside Israel’s 1948 borders.

5. "Humiliating checkpoints". A term used for security measures that are necessitated by Palestinian Arab violence, not by any desire of Israel absent such violence.

6. "Cycle of violence", a phrase that implicitly equates the murder of Israeli civilians by terrorists with Israeli defensive responses. I like the phrase that this "confuses the arsonist with the fire department." All civilized countries use force to quell violence — 34 killed and 1000 injured in the 1992 Los Angeles riots, for example. Only the Palestinian Arabs use homicide bombings and other attacks on civilians to express their grievances.

This list can be made much longer, but the point is clear. Israel’s enemies are in control of the debate. The skill of the Palestinian Arabs in manipulating the media — already biased against Israel for other reasons — has led to today’s situation. Arab terrorism is downplayed, while corruption in the Palestinian Arab handling of aid money and taxes seldom reaches Western audiences. But every real or imagined error by Israel, and its defensive forces, gets full media exposure. To add insult to injury, the much-coddled and protected Palestinian Arabs complain about media bias against them!

The Palestinian Arabs have produced this situation deliberately, through a program of expert media communications coupled with control and intimidation of reporting from their zones. While adopting the image of the downtrodden, they have used every slick image manipulation skill of modern propaganda at its peak of effectiveness. Their spokespeople are well trained, lavishly funded, and have the latitude to use lies and intimidation when other forms will not suffice.

This has to change. Until it does, the Palestinian Arabs will continue to receive international political support and funding while Israel is constantly forced onto the defensive. A bold new approach is needed that uses clear, unambiguous language to describe the Palestinian Arabs for exactly what they are. While not denying the unfortunate plight of the ordinary Palestinian Arab at the bottom, the responsibility must be put where it belongs: on Palestinian Arab "leaders" whose authority has been misused to promote relentless attacks on Israel while extracting corrupt personal benefits at the expense of their own people. And, don’t forget the culpability of the corrupt dictatorial leaders of all the other countries — in the Middle East and elsewhere — who inflame and manipulate hatred of Israel to deflect the rage of their own impotent peoples.