PR battle likely to intensify after fighting ends

Expert: Israel must press the point that many 'innocent' buildings in Gaza were arms depots or command posts, and thus legitimate military targets.

gaza ruins 248.88ap (photo credit: AP [file])
gaza ruins 248.88ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The public relations challenges after the Gaza operation ends could be even greater than they are now, media expert Prof. Eytan Gilboa told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. Gilboa is chairman of the Communications Department at Bar-Ilan University and a senior researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. "There will be two fields of activity: First, pictures and video of the damage and deaths in Gaza. Second, there will also quite likely be calls for Israeli leaders to be brought to trial as war criminals," he speculated. While the pictures coming out of Gaza now are not pleasant, it's quite likely, Gilboa adds, that when the conflict is over, there will be an onslaught of footage of the aftermath. Even more gruesome pictures of civilians killed and houses destroyed will no doubt be broadcast around the world. To combat those images, Gilboa suggested Israel should show its own counter-images. "We should show footage of how schools were wired with explosives like they did on the news here last night, and we should go and get footage of Hamas's underground bases," he said. "We should also find Palestinians and interview them about Hamas's actions, if the Western media doesn't do it themselves," he added. Israel should stress that Iran has been trying to stir up conflict in the region and that this war was to repel an Iranian hegemony (through its proxy, Hamas), he told the Post. On the second front, if any of our leaders are accused of war crimes, "we should turn around and file charges against Hamas people. We've never done that before and it's a major tool in our arsenal," Gilboa stressed. Internationally renowned experts should be invited to come here for conferences and to write op-eds showing that Israel's actions did not constitute war crimes, he continued. "We need to show that Hamas turned the entire Gaza Strip into one giant military base. Nothing is innocent in Gaza - every house, every mosque, every school was used as a storage depot or a command post or a firing station," he argued. "According to international law, you can attack military targets. We need to show pictures of large explosions when houses are blown up [because they were stockpiling missiles in them] and pictures of secondary explosions [caused by the munitions]," he added. In addition to these specific actions, Gilboa suggested that all of the Jewish and Israeli networks of NGOS, groups on the Internet, embassies in the Diaspora and friends in the business community be used to get out Israel's hasbara message. "They need to be given the materials to further the message," he said. Gilboa praised current hasbara efforts. He attributed their success to three elements, "there is one unified voice, the message is clear and the cooperation between government agencies has been very good." He sounded a note of warning, however. "It's an election season and that could seriously disrupt our efforts when the unified voice falls apart and internally we attack one another," he said. Lior Chorev, CEO of the EuroIsrael Group and strategic adviser to many a politician, stressed to the Post that the country needed to be sure to tell its own story. "We need to fight this battle on convenient ground. Yes, children died and civilians died, but the whole idea is who is responsible for that - Hamas," he told the Post. We have to pound home the points that we "haven't controlled the Gaza Strip since the disengagement [in 2005] and that Hamas was democratically elected. They fired rockets on civilians for eight years. They are responsible for the casualties," Chorev said. "This is not a proportional war. This is not symmetrical. To defeat guerrillas and terrorists you have to show them that this will be the type of response. You have to show the pictures of dead civilians to see what the price is for Hamas's actions," he contended. "You have to show that Hamas lost, you have to show those pictures where they hid behind civilians, so the Gazans will turn on Hamas and ask them why they acted as they did," he said.