After the apparent public relations failure (and, arguably, military failure) of Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, the Israeli military took one lesson with it to Gaza: the importance of new media to simultaneously wage a propaganda war alongside a military one. On December 29, 2008, two days after the start of the war, the Israeli military launched a YouTube channel to disseminate footage of bombing operations in the Gaza Strip, as well as aid distribution, interviews with military officials, and other footage. As Israeli Foreign Press Branch head Major Avital Leibovich claimed, ‘the new media are another war zone… We have to be relevant there.’
Most of the footage is of precision aerial bombings of (supposedly) Hamas targets such as buildings and roads, in relatively low-quality video. In this video clip – silent, black-and-white and grainy – men are allegedly loading Grad missiles onto a Hamas pick-up truck. Moments later they are obliterated by an air strike. It is difficult to validate claims of either legitimate targets or relief trucks headed for Gaza. One must simply believe the content at face-value, since there is no context provided beyond the minimal text supplied by the military. Major Leibovich commented that such video footage ought not to be disturbing to viewers: ‘the intelligent audience watching the footage will know that people killed did not have peaceful intentions toward Israel. I don’t believe they’ll be disturbed…’
Regardless of one’s personal reaction to the clips (I, for one, was disturbed), they are indicative of the latest phase in Israel’s ongoing military and public relations superiority. The YouTube channel bespeaks of Israel’s need to promote its military campaigns to the mediated/technological realm, thereby targeting a wider, more international, and younger audience. It also represents Israel’s latest attempt at branding itself and its wars: on the one hand Israel continues to boast of its military superiority; on the other, the state is well aware of international accusations that it often responds disproportionately to Palestinian armed struggle. Footage of precision bombing, saving humanitarian trucks making their way into Gaza and obliterating militants reveal Israel’s two-pronged branding approach: demonstrate its military superiority and morality in contrast to Hamas’ lack thereof.
The new media strategy ought to be understood within the larger practice of the Israel’s ‘vertical control’ over Palestinians – everything from settlements constructed on hills, to complete control of the airwaves over the Territories. Both real and YouTube-broadcast bombings are extensions of Israel’s policies of owning the space above Palestinians. Only by maintaining a bird’s eye panoptic view of Palestinians can Israel continue to construct them as terrorists by whose elimination we ought not be ‘disturbed.’
At the most basic level, the notion that media of any sort should encourage a mindset in which watching the end of human life is anything other than disturbing is, well, certainly nothing short of disturbing. Similarly, the clip combined with Leibovich's statement creates a pit in the stomach with its forceful reminder of just how total Total War is.
By my (potentially flawed) recollection, Israel's first real engagement with YouTube public relations was in the wake of last year's attack on the Mercaz Yeshiva, when the government posted video of the event's aftermath. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/969094.html The footage was smeared with the red blood of the victims and accompanied by a haunting Emergency Call on the soundtrack. As one might expect, the representation system of the military video posted here couldn't be more opposite. Rarely does media allow such a painfully obvious lesson in the ways in which nations create Us and Them.
As a child of the early 90s I'm of course reminded of the early days of Desert Storm and the real reassurance that "smart bomb" videos provided to my rather naive self at the time. Watching this video now I wonder how effective such an obviously limited window can be in cultivating support when so many other vantage points are available to viewers. The point from the military perspective might be seen as adding to the cacophony of Internet voices that make the signal so hard to sort out from the noise. The lack of corroborating evidence provided with the video gives me the impression that it intends to reassure the already assured, re-enrage the already enraged and convince everyone else just to give up and stop trying to sort things out. Or perhaps I remain naive (albeit in a new way) and this sort of thing really does have explanatory value to some rational minds.
For my part I remain disturbed.
Thanks for bringing these to
Thanks for bringing these to our attention, Helga, and for your incisive comments. This definitely a disturbing new way of thinking about Israel’s “vertical control” of Palestinians. Also, though, I think we should remain open to the possibility that these kinds of videos and other parts of Israel’s PR do not do the job they set out to do, at least not as consistently as Israel might wish. What are the comments like on this YouTube video? I’m sure we’re not the only ones who are less than convinced by these videos. This kind of “smart bomb” footage was critiqued way back in first Gulf War for making war seem like a video game, etc. Popular audiences are more sophisticated about media now, and in this moment, I think there is more openness to a critique of these disproportionate wars in general.
For a positively hilarious PR move on the part of an Israeli arms firm, check out this YouTube video. According to the site, “The Israeli arms firm Rafael displayed this Bollywood dance number-based marketing video at the recently held Aero India 2009 in Bangalore.”
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