IDF's 'Arabic Voice' fights alone

Army spokesman Avichay Adraee says "not everybody is al-Jazeera."

avichay adraee 224 (photo credit: )
avichay adraee 224
(photo credit: )
For almost 200 million Arabic speakers from Indiana to Indonesia, the IDF has one face and name - 25-year-old Avichay Adraee. The lone member of the IDF's Spokesman's Office Arabic Language desk has had his hands full over the past week, presenting the army's perspective on Kassam rockets and IDF operations in Gaza to the variegated world of Arabic-language media. "The narrative that Hamas wanted to present was one surrounding the children, with images of children fleeing, and burned bodies of children and so on," said Adraee, who said that the most difficult question that he was asked in recent days was whether the IDF had changed its strategy to specifically target children. "You try to say that children are a red line, whether they're in Sderot or Beit Hanun, and that the difference is that there is an organization [Hamas] that puts children on the front line, and intentionally acts from civilian areas," explained Adraee. "And ultimately, there were comments made by Palestinians within Gaza that inadvertently helped make this point." Adraee recalled one instance in which the director of a Gaza hospital was being interviewed in recent days, and was asked if he could tell the difference between "freedom fighters" and civilians when they are brought in after being wounded. The doctor said no - explaining that "the freedom fighters are forced to blend in with the population," which Adraee said only helped to strengthen the IDF's point. Adraee is quick to emphasize that it is a mistake to view the Arabic-language media as monolithic, even on a rallying point like IDF operations in the Gaza Strip. "There are media outlets that are much more pragmatic, and didn't go all the way with the Hamas, even asking very hard questions of the other side," he said. "Al-Jazeera were very, very militant, whereas Al-Arabiya was quite informative. They demonstrated that they knew the great force of press in the Arab world and didn't want to use it to inflame the region. "Not everybody is Al-Jazeera. The pornography of death is not necessarily part of the Arabic consensus - and they understand that it doesn't always contribute to the situation in the region." In some cases, Adraee tried to present the situation as a simple battle between a state and terrorists, an analogy that speaks to moderate Muslims in predominately secular countries like Tunisia and Morocco that are also plagued by Islamist terror groups. "There is today an understanding that is anti-Hamas," explained Adraee, "and they understand the concept of the axis of evil." The most widely-distributed Arabic-language newspaper in the world, A-Sharq al-Awsat, was also not entirely convinced by what Adraee described as the Hamas narrative of suffering and victimhood. The popular London-based paper ran two opinion pieces attacking Hamas, saying that it was giving Israel an excuse to attack, and that the rocket fire ultimately harmed Palestinian civilians. At times, said Adraee - who describes himself as having had "a bug" for Arabic ever since his father forced him into intensive study of the language in high school - his efforts hinge on a simple turn of phrase. One such incident occurred when he was surprised to find himself live on a BBC Arabic-language radio program facing off against a senior Hamas spokesman. "He offered the usual narrative, and then I responded, using an Arabic expression that says 'you hit me and then you began to cry' to describe the situation in which we have faced seven years of rocket fire." After that comment, Adraee said, he received e-mails and messages on Facebook from Arabic speakers congratulating him on his quick and witty response. At another point, he asked if Hamas wouldn't serve its people better by using the pipe components of Kassam rockets to improve Beit Hanun's sewer system. Seven Palestinians were killed in 2007 after the northern Gaza city's sewers exploded due to faulty infrastructure. It is this feedback that makes Adraee's unique task rewarding. "I'm not trying to open a branch of the Zionist movement in Beirut, but if I've managed to convince one person at the other end of the world, then I see that as a great achievement."