Civil Fights: Lies begging to be exposed

If Hamas prefers giving fuel to protests and not to hospitals, then it's hardly Israel's fault.

Hamas MPs 298.88 (photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli)
Hamas MPs 298.88
(photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli)
Many factors contribute to Israel's perennially poor public relations, most of them stemming from its own incompetence. They range from spokesmen who are not fluent in the relevant foreign language to the failure to formulate a clear, simple and consistent message for these spokesmen to convey. One aspect of the problem, however, is Israel's persistent failure to refute Palestinian lies. Two weeks ago, for instance, the New York Times/International Herald Tribune ran a report on the latest poll by Khalil Shikaki's Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR). It stated that Shikaki "was shocked" because the poll "showed greater support for violence than any other he had conducted over the past 15 years... Never before, he said, had a majority favored an end to negotiations or the shooting of rockets at Israel." Shikaki's "explanation for the shift," it continued, "is that recent actions by Israel, especially attacks on Gaza that killed nearly 130 people, an undercover operation in Bethlehem that killed four militants and the announced expansion of several West Bank settlements, have led to despair and rage among average Palestinians." The message could not be clearer: The normally peace-loving Palestinians, who previously opposed rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, have been driven to violence by Israel's brutality. There is only one problem: Shikaki's claim is utterly false. HIS LATEST poll found that 64 percent of Palestinians favored rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Far from being unprecedented, however, that figure is almost identical to what it was 18 months ago, according to Shikaki's own data: A PSR poll conducted in late August, 2006 found that 63 percent of Palestinians favored such attacks. And it is lower than the figure in some earlier Shikaki polls: In September 2004, for instance, PSR found that 75 percent of Palestinians supported rocket attacks on Israel. The other leading Palestinian pollster, the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, has consistently produced similar results: A JMCC poll from July 2006, for instance, found that 60 percent of Palestinians supported rocket attacks on Israel. In other words, peace-loving Palestinians have not been suddenly radicalized by Israeli brutality; they have supported rocket attacks on Israeli civilians from the moment they acquired this capability. This is not a trivial issue. First, the main international criticism of Israel's counterterrorism operations in Gaza is that they hurt "innocent civilians." Yet that argument loses much of its force if those "innocent civilians" actually support the rocket attacks, because repeated studies have shown that whether terrorist organizations wither or thrive depends substantially on the support they receive from the local population. Thus a populace that backs terrorist activities is not "innocent," it is an active and essential contributor to the terrorists' success. This is even truer for the Palestinians, because Hamas is not only a terrorist organization; it is also an elected ruling party. Public opinion is thus an especially crucial component of its power, one it cannot afford to totally disregard. Hence were ordinary Palestinians largely opposed to rather than supportive of rocket attacks, Hamas would be much more likely to restrain both its own military wing and smaller groups like Islamic Jihad. Israeli operations in Gaza are also routinely slammed as counterproductive - which might be valid if these operations indeed increased support for anti-Israel attacks. But if support for rocket attacks against Israel has remained steadily high for years, regardless of the ups and downs of the fighting, that claim, too, loses much of its force. THE SHIKAKI poll, of course, is merely one of many Palestinian lies that have gone unrefuted by Israel. Another excellent example is the partial fuel embargo on Gaza. Palestinians have had great success in charging that this embargo deprives them of fuel for such humanitarian essentials as pumping water and running hospital generators. Israel routinely counters that it does provide enough fuel for humanitarian needs, but since it never provides evidence to back this assertion, the world has largely dismissed it. Yet such evidence is readily available: One need look no farther than the New York Times. On February 26, for instance, the International Herald Tribune ran a Times report on a protest against the Israeli embargo that Hamas organized in northern Gaza. Of the approximately 4,000 demonstrators, it said, "many were schoolchildren who arrived directly from their classrooms ... They had been bused in to join the protest, despite complaints from Gaza about a dire shortage of gasoline because of the Israeli sanctions." On March 11, the Times reported on another Hamas-organized protest, in Gaza City. Palestinian livestock owners "were paid 100 shekels each (about $28) to attend the protest, as well as transportation costs. Hundreds of animals - sheep, camels and donkeys - came from all over Gaza." Busing in schoolchildren from all over Gaza guzzles fuel; so does trucking in livestock from all over Gaza. Thus clearly, Hamas has fuel for things it deems important. If it considers anti-Israel demonstrations more important than supplying hospitals and pumping stations, that is hardly Israel's fault; it is Hamas that has chosen to deprive its own people in order to score propaganda points. Again, this is a nontrivial issue. Virtually nothing could damage Israel's image more than people worldwide imagining Palestinian children with no water to drink, or hospitals unable to perform lifesaving operations, due to an Israeli embargo. And virtually nothing could damage Hamas's image more than having people worldwide realize that it is cynically withholding vital fuel from its own people in order to make Israel look bad. It would be nice if journalists, world leaders and international human rights organizations consistently noticed such lies on their own, but the reality is that they rarely have the time, energy or interest to do the necessary research. For Israel, however, exposing Palestinian lies is a vital interest. Hence it is Israel's responsibility to invest the resources necessary to document these lies and expose them to international opinion leaders. That would still be only one small element of the comprehensive public relations strategy that Israel needs. But it would be far better than the current policy of letting such damaging lies go unchallenged.