The Palestinian Use of Propaganda
The use of propaganda has a long history, going back to the Persians in 6th century B.C. The word itself can be traced back to at least the early 17th century when in January, 1622, Pope Gregory XV set up the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Its objective was missionary work to oppose the Protestant Reformation. In general, propaganda is the use of communication to influence the emotions, attitudes, and opinions of people in the attempt to get them to accept a particular political, religious, or economic point of view. It implies, in democratic as well as in non-democratic societies, conscious manipulation of the opinions of those societies.
That manipulation is usually directed at emotion rather than to thought. At its most extreme, propaganda takes the form of the big lie, the repetition of a view of events or history that induces or encourages action. It was Adolf Hitler who clearly explained this manipulation when he wrote "The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly -- it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over." That technique takes many forms, appeals to prejudice and to fear, disinformation and presentation of forgeries and false documents, selective truth, scapegoating or demonizing the enemy.
Arguably, the use of propaganda by Palestinians to gain compassion and political support has been their one great success. The Palestinian narrative of victimhood, with its falsifications of history and politics, its portrayal of themselves as not only innocent but the most compelling victims in the world, its staging of events to blame Israel for atrocities they themselves have committed, its deliberate concentration on alleged injuries or deaths of children, and its achievement in persuading much of the media to accept and advance its manipulation of language and action, have all been part of its success in the propaganda war.
That success is shown by the fact that a considerable proportion of the European population accepts the Palestinian propaganda that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians, in spite of the reiteration of Palestinian leaders of their determination to eliminate the State of Israel. Israel, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, is held responsible for the problems not only of the area but for those in the world in general.
In contrast, the Palestinians present themselves as helpless, blameless individuals who have been the victims of Israeli brutality and colonialism. This presentation has been advanced in a number of ways but most successfully by three devices: using Palestinian children to assert Israeli brutality; staging and falsifying events, sometimes in collusion with sympathetic Western journalists, to portray Palestinians as innocent victims and Israelis as cruel oppressors; and by distorting the historical and political chronicle of Jews and Arabs.
Faking news has become a Palestinian cottage industry. A familiar aphorism is that a picture is worth more than a thousand words. The most diabolic aspect of Palestinian propaganda is its use or rather abuse of children by using them as stage props. Palestinians have been adept at that, often using photos of injured or dead children who supposedly have been killed by Israeli fire. The international Western media has often been eager or induced to use the photos, often recycled, of the dead or suffering children, thus seeking compassion for Palestinians and demonizing Israel at the same time. The compliant media and the compassionate public ignore the reality and the irony that some of these children had been injured or killed by rockets fired by Hamas that had been aimed at Israeli civilians.
The device of using children has probably been the most effective tool in the propaganda campaign against Israel. It was Yasser Arafat who in January 2002 who appreciated this when he said, "The Palestinian child holding a stone, facing a tank-is that not the greatest message to the world, when that hero becomes a 'martyr'?" He used the photo of a 15 year-old boy stoning a tank to good effect. In saluting the boy as "our hero, the martyr," Arafat encouraged other children to attack soldiers. Those children who are sent to the front lines, and others who throw stones at Israeli cars attract television cameras.
The most well known use of children was the incident of the supposed death on September 2000 of Mohammed al-Durah, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy allegedly killed by Israeli fire. The "targets of Israeli fire," emotional documentary footage of the scene with the boy and his father supposedly endangered by Israeli fire was narrated by a French reporter, Charles Enderlin, who had not been there, but who apparently accepted the Palestinian version of events. The acceptance and reporting of the story by the international media provoked anti-Israeli riots.
Yet the story was false; it was a hoax with fake photos devised by a Palestinian propagandist, as Richard Landes and others have explained. If al-Durah had been killed, which is in doubt, it was by Palestinian not Israeli fire. However, the image of the boy was used throughout the Western as well as the Muslim world to depict Israel engaged in criminality, equivalent to that of Nazi Germany.
The charge of criminality surfaces on many occasions. In April 2013 the Russian newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, published a false story, based on an accusation by a Palestinian who had been released from an Israeli jail. It stated that Israel injected Palestinian prisoners with dangerous viruses before releasing them from prison. The prisoners also were said to suffer from serious diseases such as bladder cancer and liver problems caused by Israeli torture. Symbolically, the charge is reminiscent of blood libel accusations against Jews.
Another false photo story, this one published by Reuters news agency in 2006, was of a young Palestinian girl killed during an air strike in Gaza in operation "Pillar of Defense." The reality was that the girl had died as a result of falling off a swing.
The distorted Palestinian chronicle of history and events has become all too familiar.
The anti-Israeli propaganda campaign has focused on a number of false charges. Zionism, the Jewish national movement, and therefore Israel is characterized as colonialism and oppressive. Israel is a racist country responsible for the plight of Palestinians in general, and for the problem of Palestinian refugees in particular. Israel has usurped the rights, land and natural resources of Palestinians, and destroyed Islamic holy places. Israel has conducted massacres in Jenin and Nablus, poisoned children, spread drug use, and committed war crimes.
The propaganda campaign continues with presentation of false charges and the reiteration of the fallacious Palestinian narrative of victimhood. The campaign has and may continue to achieve some acceptance by some in the international community, but if it is not confronted with exposition of its pernicious character, its harmful impact and lack of validity the battle for a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict will be lost.