My word: Photo finish and psychological warfare

In psychological warfare, words and images kill.

A Palestinian woman argues with Israeli army soldiers as she is searched at a checkpoint during clashes in the West Bank Al-Fawwar refugee camp, south of Hebron (photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)
A Palestinian woman argues with Israeli army soldiers as she is searched at a checkpoint during clashes in the West Bank Al-Fawwar refugee camp, south of Hebron
Good job I didn’t hold my breath. The UN condemned almost everything about Israel this week, roughly from its very existence to its choice of capital and its confounded chutzpah in continuing to defend itself. Yet when a rocket slammed into an UNRWA school in Gaza, the international body was disturbingly silent. It was a Palestinian rocket intended to hit a target in Israel, like the kindergarten in Sderot that was damaged a week ago. It fell short, landing in Gaza instead. There was no immediate UN outcry about the rocket damage. If you can’t blame the Jews, it’s not news.
The incident was yet another reminder of the double standards and the world body’s obsession with Israel.
But the true battlefield this week was not in the UN. It was about a different type of shooting. Call it “the camera wars.” At the beginning of the week, I was made aware of a series of videos claiming to portray the “systematic discrimination against Palestinian minors.” The videos, produced by AJ+ (Al Jazeera’s social media-friendly platform), were well made and employ the classic propaganda tactics combining catchy sound bites with dramatic footage and music. They are not easy viewing.
The idea is to shoot to kill – character assassination by camera.
But worse was to come. On Sunday, footage shot two days earlier went viral. The star was 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi, whose bountiful curls and much-filmed habit of trying to provoke IDF soldiers has earned her the nickname in Israel of Shirley Temper. This time she was seen with her girlfriends slapping the face of an Israeli officer who, remarkably, didn’t rise to the bait.
A few years ago, she was filmed biting the hand of a soldier trying to arrest her stone-thrower brother. She has been rewarded for her violence by meetings with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who praised her courage.
The Tamimis are a one-family propaganda machine and Ahed plays an essential role. It’s a win-win situation. Send a cute, blue-eyed blonde girl to attack a soldier, making sure to capture it on film: If he reacts, the result is more Palestinian “evidence” of Israeli brutality. If the soldier resists the urge to slap her back, the image is of a brave Palestinian girl who has beaten the khaki-clad Goliath. As “narratives” go, this is nonviolent resistance. Civil society at its most uncivil.
The Tamimis’ home territory of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, is the frequent venue for such clashes. And it’s not by chance. Provocations are the family business. They are feted by human rights groups and Ahed’s father, Bassem Tamimi, has even been on overseas speaking tours. The Tamimi name has dark associations in Israel. Ahlam Tamimi, a member of the clan, has never repented her role in the Sbarro pizza parlor bombing in 2001 that took the lives of 15 people, many of them children.
The real abuse of Palestinian children is not by Israeli soldiers. It is by their parents and leaders. The Palestinian education system and media foster the culture of martyrdom. Their calendar is frequently marked by “Days of Rage.” It’s not hard to figure out what the end result will be.
Martyrs are promised not only fame but family fortune, much of it courtesy of the taxpayers of well-meaning donor countries. The families of prisoners and shahids are guaranteed a steady income. More incentive to maim and kill.
This is not helping to build a future Palestinian state worth living in.
A video of a Palestinian man urging his toddler son to throw stones at soldiers, hoping they would shoot him, is distressing to watch, as child abuse always is.
The Palestinian “activists” want blood – and they don’t care whose, as long as there is plenty of it and it is caught on camera.
Dr. Ron Schleifer, an expert on psychological warfare who heads the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication and teaches at Ariel University, sees the camera as a weapon.
“The Tamimi family’s activities should be seen in the context of the Palestinian Authority’s actions,” he told me when we met earlier this week. “The PLO has been successfully portraying the Palestinians as victims for 40 years. The psychological warfare is fueled by and fuels intifadas and wars.
“The aim is to portray the Palestinians as victims, and preferably to capture this visually. It’s a technique taken from the world of public relations, which offers a different angle each time to the same story to keep it in the public consciousness,” he said. “For this reason, there is a huge operation of actors, extras, camera crew, directors and logistical support.”
Ahed Tamimi’s slap of the IDF officer resounded because it fit the propaganda purposes perfectly.
“Psychological warfare uses the enemy’s weak spot against him,” Schleifer said, and in this case the IDF’s very morality is used against it. The Palestinians are guaranteed a PR victory no matter what the outcome.
Lt.-Col. (res.) Peter Lerner, a former IDF spokesman, noted in a Facebook post on December 19 that the Nabi Saleh video was just another “viral escapade from Tamimi Production Inc. The officer and the soldier did not step on to the minefield, [and] remain composed, calm and collected, and maintained a standing that some in Israel see as humiliating.”
Lerner pointed out that the commander made a tactical decision not to arrest Tamimi, inevitably biting, screaming and hitting, on camera. “He knew his mission was to prevent more people interfering with the crowd control activities in the village, and dealing with the screamer wouldn’t have contributed to the fulfillment of his mission,” Lerner said.
“However, while he didn’t willfully stroll into the minefield, by inaction and waiting until the video surfaced the IDF walked into an ambush,” Lerner asserted.
“The question of course remains, why did the army wait until Monday night, after the video surfaced [to arrest her]? If the military understood it was a minefield, why not prevent the ambush? Arresting her prior to the video going viral would’ve given the IDF some credibility that it isn’t an arrest out of spite due to the humiliating video, it would’ve empowered the military to have some control over the message...”
Many of the viral videos stress that Palestinian minors are detained for stone throwing.
In psychological warfare, words and images kill. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that rocks and stones can also be fatal: Ask the family of Asher Palmer, who was killed along with his year-old son, Yonatan, when he lost control of his car when it was hit by rocks; ask the family of Adele Biton, who died at the age of four, having been critically wounded in a similar incident two years before; or the family of Alexander Levlovitz, killed after a stone hit his car as he returned from a meal celebrating the Jewish New Year in 2015.
Stopping the “Pallywood syndrome” could prevent loss of lives, both Palestinian and Israeli. An effort must be made to persuade those funding these camera projects that this is not a matter of empowerment. The Tamimis and others like them have been taught that provocation is power. It does nothing to foster peaceful resolution of conflict. Not by a long shot.