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The IDF, Twitter and Propaganda

The role of Twitter in the Arab Spring and movements such as Occupy Everywhere has been commented on many times over the past two years. As a member of the latter and several post-Occupy groups I can attest to its utility and versatility during political actions and campaigns.

Twitter has been recognised for its ability to disseminate key information quickly, to aid in organisation and as a tool of social change: the evolution of Twitter (and other social media) into a forum for the voices of the disenfranchised during the Arab Spring and Occupy Everywhere was seen as a powerfully positive development. While the Israeli Defence Force’s (IDF) decision to open a Twitter account to broadcast propaganda is in itself unsurprising, I find its presence and purpose perverse. This feeling is only exacerbated by the realisation that the language and content used by the IDF and its supporters is very similar to (if not directly inspired by) that used by the social movements. Indeed, the use of certain techniques to produce this content (such as filtered photographs and hand-written notes as can be seen in the example below) means that the IDF has hijacked memes linked to non-violence and resistance against the state to promote war: state-sanctioned murder. As I shall explore below, this content is used to paint the Palestinians in Gaza as aggressors against an innocent people (like some of the most famous Occupy photographs) and is incredibly hypocritical given the might and behaviour of Israel’s military. The IDF have even produced graphics asking supporters to share them “because the mainstream media will not.

This photo was shared by the IDF on Twitter and claims to be a call for peace to the ‘terrorists’ in Gaza.

I, like many others, only became aware of the main IDF propaganda account (@IDFSpokesperson) after it was used by the Israeli military to announce they had assassinated the head of Hamas’ military wing, Ahmed Al-Jabari. Shortly thereafter the account sent a series of tweets declaring the IDF’s intent to attack Gaza, including a ground invasion “if necessary.” Where the Arab Spring supporters and Occupiers had used Twitter to counter state violence, the IDF had used it to declare war.

As Operation Pillar of Defence has unfolded, IDFSpokesperson has provided regular updates about IDF movements, the number of rockets launched from Gaza, Israeli casualties, anti-Hamas propaganda and a series of patronising ‘facts’, ostensibly designed to show the humane side of a military body drawn into a war by ‘terrorists’.

IDFSpokesperson’s tweets are rich with media featuring links to photographs, videos and blog posts on a range of topics designed to paint Israel as a country constantly attacked by terrorists and living in fear of Hamas: which they describe as an evil, violent, genocidal, terrorist group. In the last 24 hours, IDFSpokesperson has started posting infographics for easy sharing on social media (much like Occupy) that are notable for their bare-faced hypocrisy. In one, the IDF declares that 400 rockets from Gaza have hit Israel in the last three days; in another they make light of Hamas using Al-Shifa hospital’s basements as headquarters and accuse them of using the patients as human shields. During the last Israeli campaign against Gaza a number of IDF soldiers were convicted of using human shields and were handed very lenient sentences for their actions. Also, while having 400 rockets fired at your country would be terrifying to live through it is an amazing point for the IDF to make after years of invasions, killings, blockades and assassinations using drones and guided missiles.

One infographic that stood out for me was one pointing out how precise Israeli missile attacks had to be to make sure there was minimal collateral damage. They did this by highlighting a factory suspected of being used as a rocket base by militants and pointing out its proximity to mosques and playgrounds; in the documentary The Tea Boy of Gaza, it is mentioned that the father of the eponymous boy was bombed by the Israeli Air Force when the factory he was working in was suspected of manufacturing weapons. As his conversation with the documentary-maker reveals he is neither a supporter of Hamas or Fatah – he is “just a son of this country” and exactly the sort of person the IDF is claiming to be trying not to kill.

The IDF’s claims that they only launch attacks against targets with utmost precision was seriously called into question following their attack on two media company buildings, resulting in 6 journalists being injured and one having a leg amputated. Instead of using electronic (ie., non-lethal) methods to block transmission from the antennas on top of these buildings (or, you know, allowing Gazans to live their lives in peace), the IDF decided to destroy them with guided missiles. A US-based group called The Israel Project (that claims to provide “accurate info about the Middle East to media, policy makers & the public”) even claimed that Hamas had used the journalists as human shields! [As I write this, the IDF has tweeted a long response to criticism of the attack against the journalists, concluding with the ultimatum that journalists, "just like any person in Gaza", should stay away from Hamas positions and operatives. How they are expected to do this without knowing who or what Israel has determined are Hamas assets is not explained but the threat in the message is amply clear.]

The IDF’s claims will be completely discounted if they follow through with threats to launch a ground invasion as their record during invasions of Lebanon and Gaza in the last decade has shown them to be ruthless and indiscriminate in their killing and maiming, especially through their use of white phosphorous.

The IDF’s social media campaign is a textbook example of propaganda that belies the racist and genocidal nature of the Israeli apartheid regime. The IDF has hijacked the media techniques of social justice movements and non-violence activists to promote war and killing and to lambast a people suffering as a result of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Israel deserves nothing but derision and condemnation for their actions and should have sanctions placed on it in response of their threats to invade Gaza. Again.

I completely support efforts to get aid and medical supplies to Gaza and am looking into groups that have the best chance of getting supplies through to Gaza without being caught up in the Israeli blockade. I urge you to do the same.