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August 29, 2018 7:24 am

The Failure of the Palestinian ‘March of Return’

avatar by Yoni Ben Menachem / JNS.org

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Palestinians burn tires as they riot by the fence on the border between Gaza and Israel, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, June 8, 2018. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

JNS.orgThe war of attrition that Hamas launched against Israel in March  2018 — the “March of Return” campaign — at first attracted great interest in the Western media. Foreign reporters came to the Israel-Gaza border every Friday to cover the “Palestinians’ peaceful protests against the Israeli occupation soldiers.”

At first, Israel was harshly criticized when casualties among Palestinian civilians — including paramedics, women, and children — sparked outrage in the Western world.

But over time, Western media coverage of the marches has declined drastically.

This sharp falloff in the level of coverage may have been one of the reasons that Hamas — with the Western world losing interest in the issue — decided that the time had come to reap the political fruits of its war of attrition against Israel.

The Palestinians are very worried that they are not successfully marketing their narrative in Western countries. They are no longer automatically regarded as the underdog, and the Israeli hasbara effort is managing to succeed in selling the Israeli narrative.

On August 18, the newspaper Al-Araby al-Jadid — one of the mouthpieces of Qatar, which supports Hamas — published an article headlined “The Western Media and the Palestinian Narrative: Perennial Obstacles.”

The article gave a litany of explanations for the failure of the Palestinian propaganda effort in the “March of Return” campaign. Specifically:

  1. The media message that the Palestinians purvey is ill-suited to Western culture, and Israel exploits this to spread its own narrative countering the Palestinian narrative.
  2. The Palestinians have made mistakes in their advocacy, and Israel has exploited them with declarations, images, and video segments that it has broadcast to its advantage.
  3. The Palestinians do not monitor publications in the foreign media, while Israel diligently monitors anti-Israeli messages and demands corrections in reports.
  4. The Palestinians concentrate on the Arabic-language media, while neglecting the English-language and other foreign media.
  5. Israel wields diplomatic and financial influence over the media in Western countries. For example, after a demand by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the BBC revised one of its reports about a pregnant Palestinian woman and her daughter who were killed in an Israeli airstrike.
  6. The Palestinians have neither foreign-language experts nor the ability to create a media message that jibes with Western society.
  7. The Palestinians are not providing enough information to those in the Western countries who identify with and support them.
  8. Israel has established the Strategic Affairs Ministry and the Hasbara Ministry (sic) to produce the Israeli narrative; the Palestinians have not done anything comparable.
  9. Israel has influenced and pushed groups in the West to apply pressure to the Western media.

The Israeli hasbara apparatus, with its different branches, should be very much encouraged by the Al-Araby al-Jadid article, which indicates that it is moving in the right direction.

But that does not mean complacency is called for. The Palestinian propaganda effort has not failed completely; it has succeeded to give Israel a bad name throughout the world. Israel, however, has fought back intensively and managed to expose the many lies in the Palestinian narrative.

The main thing worrying Hamas is that the Western world no longer buys its message that the March of Return was a peaceful march by innocent civilians.

When it comes to hasbara and bringing the Israeli narrative to Western countries, the main lesson that Israel should draw is to increase its use of social networks with videos, images, and interviews in all languages, especially those foreign languages that are an Achilles heel for the Palestinian propaganda effort.

The political echelon, for its part, needs to boost the Israeli hasbara apparatus as a whole by giving it the budgets it needs, because it has proved that it can get good results.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

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