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Monday, December 4, 2023

Hamas and Israel: War of Images

Hamas prepared its war meticulously in order to ensure that the damage to Israel’s image was as great as possible. But that is not the only reason why international solidarity with Israel is crumbling.

Destroyed buildings with an Israeli flag flown on them.

Sign of control: An Israeli flag in the Gaza Strip on November 15th Photo: Leo Correa/ap

What is happening in the Middle East is also a war of images, a battle for narratives, for understanding and solidarity. This week, as babies in a hospital in Gaza were in mortal danger, a woman in Israel dressed in white like a nurse stood in front of some incubators and said into the camera: “Israel is ready to help.” The army would bring the incubators to Gaza delivery. “Our war is against Hamas, not against the people of Gaza.”

A clear message to everyone who does not want to admit that Israel was forced into this war by a terrorist organization and is apparently trying to prevent the very worst – despite the enormous number of civilians killed. Army spokesman Daniel Hagari drove himself to the war zone in Gaza City to, in fluent English, give a tour of Hamas weapons depots and hostage hideouts that Israel’s troops said they had discovered under hospitals there.

The recordings reached living rooms worldwide. The “Tagesschau” also carried the pictures. They get them online Israeli army posts regularly hundreds of thousands of clicks. The list of high-profile actions and media work is long and not limited to the Internet. In Berlin, Paris and Washington, parliamentarians saw a horrific 40-minute film, a compilation of footage from the Hamas massacre.

The taz and other media were also welcomed to the Israeli embassy to look at the “raw material”. Professional public relations work, it seems, counters the terrorist propaganda of Hamas and its anti-Israel sympathizers with a different image: that of a state that legitimately defends itself against terrorists, but at the same time maintains humanity and spares Palestinian civilians.

Strategically catastrophic

However, one has to rub one’s eyes in amazement when one hears an Israeli minister actually talking about a “Gaza Nakba”; another recommends “voluntary migration” of Palestinians as a “humanitarian solution.” And a document is leaked from government circles in Jerusalem recommending the expulsion of the entire population from the Gaza Strip. Wasn’t it said that this war was aimed only at Hamas, not at the population?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whistled his ministers back last week. Those who express themselves publicly must show more sensitivity. The army is also counterproductive in its external impact: why is that? Photo of heavily armed soldiers, who posed for the camera this week with the Israeli flag in the newly captured parliament building in Gaza City? Of course: The existentially threatened country must restore its deterrent power after the shock of October 7th.

And of course: It would be quixotic to assume that the Israelis in the Gaza Strip themselves would be welcomed as liberators instead of as conquerors. But presenting military success as a conquest and providing the public in the West and in Arab countries with corresponding images is strategically catastrophic – and undermines Israel’s extensive public relations work.

What is truly tragic is that every gesture of conquest and every Nakba statement plays directly into Hamas’s hands. The terrorist group is not interested in militarily defeating the vastly superior Israeli army, but in delegitimizing the Jewish state. She prepared this war for a long time and meticulously in order to ensure that the damage to Israel’s image was as great as possible. This is what serves her the hospitalsunder which the terrorists are presumably hiding.

The extensive tunnel network under civilian infrastructure serves this purpose, in which warfare is extremely difficult for Israel, provided that it wants to adhere to international legal standards as much as possible. The destruction of the entire network would result in a “civilian collateral damage“, which would hardly be accepted internationally. So Israel can only do it wrong.

Against this background, Israel’s army and the current, partly right-wing extremist government offer an enormous target. Anyone who doubts whether Israel is really only defending itself against Hamas terrorists will find plenty of material for counterarguments. The more Israel presents itself as a conqueror and the more often ministers talk about the Nakba, expulsion, and even about the use of nuclear weapons in the Gaza Strip, the further the goal of creating understanding for and solidarity with Israel in this justified war becomes more distant against Hamas.

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