Shizuo Kambayashi, File, Associated Press
JERUSALEM — Beyond the boom of Israeli airstrikes and the stream of rockets fired from Gaza, Israel and Hamas are also battling to control the message emanating from this latest Israeli-Palestinian conflagration.
Using videos, Twitter, text messages, leaflets and phone calls, both sides have attempted to direct the tone of the fighting — for their own public, their opponent's population and for a global audience. Propaganda and psychological warfare are nothing new in battle, but technology and social media have exponentially increased the ability of each side to penetrate their intended audiences.
Each side has sought to tip the moral scale in its favor with an international audience. Israel has tried to make its case that it is defending its citizens from unprovoked attacks but taking steps to avoid killing civilians on the other side. Hamas has appealed to the world by pointing to the high civilian death toll from Israel's onslaught on Gaza.
Israel and Hamas are each addressing the other's populations as well.
Israel has pushed the message to Palestinians in Gaza that the territory's Hamas rulers are to blame for the bloodshed that's being wreaked. In phone calls that the military makes to Gazans to tell them to evacuate their homes before a strike, the recorded script in Arabic also tells them that Hamas is using them as human shields.
Hamas, in turn, has sent text messages directly to Israelis, warning them that the group will continue firing rockets at them until its demands — like the end of the long-stifling blockade of the tiny Gaza Strip — are met.
"This is a war over public opinion," said Yuval Dror, an expert in digital communications. "It's an inseparable part of battle in the modern age."
Israel says it launched the war on July 8 in response to heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza. By mid-day Wednesday, at least 657 Palestinians and 31 Israelis were reported to have been killed in the fighting, which escalated last week with the start of a ground offensive. The war over hearts and minds that has accompanied it has been just as dramatic.
Israel's military has been at the forefront of trying to mold the message. Its spokesperson's office has posted more than 40 videos online since the conflict began, an onslaught of footage aimed at portraying its citizens as under threat from Hamas attacks.
The videos range from raw footage taken from a warplane's cockpit, to high-gloss productions with jazzy graphics. The other main theme in them aims to show Israel is trying not to hit civilians but Hamas is putting them in danger. One picture posted on the military's Twitter feed was a schematic drawing purporting to demonstrate how Hamas tunnels are built intentionally underneath Gazan homes.
In the most sensational offering, Israel released video game-like footage of what the military says is an attempt by Hamas militants to swim from Gaza to Israel to infiltrate and carry out attacks. The video, which has garnered more than a million views on YouTube, shows the suspected militants creeping onto the beach, scampering on sand dunes, and then one by one getting picked off by blasts of Israeli fire. The military says four militants were killed in the incident.
The message was that Hamas is not just relying on rudimentary rockets but is actively trying to attack inside Israel.
Hamas quickly countered with its own video, presenting the same message from the other side — apparently trying to intimidate Israelis and show its own population it is striking back against the Israeli pounding of Gaza. Its video, with a suspenseful musical score, shows Hamas navy commandos training. Armed men in full scuba gear are seen weaving through murky green waters, emerging at the water's surface and opening fire.
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