Palestine, Propaganda and War


This is a translation of an article by José Abu-Tarbush. It was originally published 30th July on the Contrapoder blog in

Palestine, propaganda and war

In politics, words count, and in international politics, they count, if you will, even more. Situations of crisis and conflict illustrate this very well. Confrontations are normally preceded and accompanied by a psychological and propaganda war. The objective is to create a favourable state of opinion for the amassing of internal and external supports, and to mobilise resources of every kind (human, material, economic, political, military and diplomatic).

In the current era, presided over by information and communications technology, this trend has increased. The use of ICT is an essential weapon in the information war that accompanies the deployment on the ground. In certain cases the disparity in access to information and communications resources between the conflicting sides also reflects the disparity in other spheres, from the technological to the military. This pattern appears in the current military confrontation between the Israeli army and the militias of Hamas. Whereas the former tweets in English about its military assault on Gaza, the latter lack anything equivalent on the internet in English.

All of this recalls the dominance and, on occasion, the hegemony that Israeli official discourse has held over the conflict throughout its long history. Right from its origins at the end of the 19th century, the Zionist movement launched a political and media campaign in Western power circles. The myths and slogans regarding its colonial enterprise in Palestine proved very effective in winning the sympathy and support of the main world powers of the time. Particularly so France and Great Britain, who, during the First World War, planned on delivering the coup de grace to the declining Ottoman Empire by dividing up its territorial dominions in the Middle East, as revealed in the Sykes-Picot agreement (1916).

At the time, Palestine was a reality, and Israel merely a colonial dream in the mind of Zionist leaders. More than 90% of the population was Arab Palestinian (largely Muslim in religion, followed by Christians and a Jewish minority) and similar proportions applied in land ownership. To invert the terms of this state of affairs (that is, for Palestine to be practically a fiction and Israel a reality), it was essential to have the support of Great Britain as the mandatory power in Palestine during the inter-war period; and the support of the United States from the post-war period until the present.

Of no lesser importance in the effort to legitimate the transformation of Palestine have been a potent propaganda apparatus and the transmission of certain myths: from the supposed divine promise to the definition of Palestine as an empty space. The Palestinians were either invisible, or they simply did not exist in the eyes of the Zionist leaders, but it was not because they did not see them, but rather because from their colonial prism they did not consider them a people worthy of rights. Hence they were defined as nomads, without roots in any particular territory and as a consequence, could be moved to any Arab State in the area. Then they were named refugees: a mere humanitarian problem, devoid of any national connotation. It was on this basis that Israel deflected its responsibility (for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine) onto Arab rulers. Not forgetting, lastly, their everlasting branding as terrorists.

In sum, despite the fact that the so-called new Israeli historians have dismantled official Israeli history, the new cycles of violence brought about by the conflict are still defined predominantly by one of its parties. Successive Israeli governments have maintained control over of the terms and the (mis)labelling for the other. Worse still is the way they are echoed and reproduced by certain media circles with neither objection nor empirical contrast. Thus a massacre is defined as a defensive war and its victims are blamed for being there or for allowing themselves to be human shields of Hamas, with no verification or evidence other than a tweet from the Israeli army, whilst the right to legitimate defence is the exclusive monopoly of Israel. As the veteran journalist Eugenio García Gascón points out: “there are two ways of reporting the conflict: by placing emphasis on declarations or placing emphasis on the facts. Depending on the option that is chosen, what gets transmitted will be either fiction or reality”.

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