Ahed Tamimi is not naive. She knows very well what she did. At several points in the past, she has gone out of her way to harass IDF soldiers. This is also a family matter, as her family has a record of such encounters with soldiers.
Of course, all of these events were documented by Ahed and her family so that they would quickly be spread across social media and get the desired exposure. A few months ago, she stood in front of an IDF officer and cursed him. The officer responded with silence. He did not hit her with his weapon nor did he react in any way other than distancing himself from her. After some time, she was arrested and eventually sentenced to prison. On Sunday, she was released and returned with honor to her village, riding waves of sympathy and support. As she wanted, Ahed Tamimi has become a heroine.
The current war between Israelis and Palestinians is a war of public opinion. In this war, symbols are an inseparable part of the battle. This was what Muhammad al-Dura symbolized after he was killed at the Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000 – the first day of the Second Intifada. Palestinians have been searching for faces and names to illustrate their struggle since then.
Numbers and places do not speak. But the human face, preferably a young boy or girl, is the kind of fuel that sustains this war. The damage caused by a war of public opinion on Israel is no less serious than an intifada that kills and wounds people. Thanks to social networking and new technologies, on which they garner support, Palestinians can reach any corner of the world and incite public opinion or mobilize BDS protests.
In such a struggle the differences between strong and weak, big and small, and technological and primitive are reduced. Within this context, for example, the incendiary balloon and kite attacks juxtaposed with interceptors like the Iron Dome missile-defense system once again illustrate the asymmetric character of the struggle. Israel must have been aware of the impact of the transition and its outcome. We must not supply the Palestinians with means and reasons to attack us.
The war of public opinion requires a new approach other than what has been taken in the past. It is true that countries have difficulty with this. They have great military power and they tend to use it. Terrorist organizations, like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Taliban in Pakistan or ISIS in Iraq and Syria, are better than their more sophisticated enemies in engaging in this war.
It’s too bad we were caught in the trap and didn’t see it coming, because we can’t say we are surprised. We knew Ahed would be the heroine, and all our wisdom was spent trying to prevent her from reaching that status. Yet now she is a symbol whom many may copy and take after. She could have been put under house arrest. Other sanctions could have been placed on her and the family. We could have ignored the incident and waited for a calmer time, separate from the incident with the soldier. Any other solution would have been preferable to the situation created today and the unnecessary Palestinian celebration.
The war with the Palestinians does not end in Gaza and the West Bank, as was proven during the weekend, nor anywhere else. Their success breeds more events of this nature. We have to be prepared for this, not only in the realm of the IDF but also in all the relevant bodies: The Foreign Affairs Ministry, Strategic Affairs Ministry, Economic Strategy Ministry, Culture and Sport Ministry, Government Press Office and the Justice Ministry. Each one deals with this issue or various aspects related to the war of public opinion.
In order to achieve maximum success in this multifaceted campaign, we must work together in joint cooperation. There must be one body that takes the lead. In my view, there should be a government authority which deals with public diplomacy, and that body must lead the campaign and guide all other governmental bodies. That is the only way to win this war.
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