Retweeting the war on Gaza

An image from the IDF's social media compaign.

An image from the IDF's social media compaign.

The conflict raging in Gaza is the worst we’ve seen in four years and while we’re far from media saturation, it’s certainly capturing headlines. A truce mediated by Egypt appears to hinge on Israel’s acquiescence, whose air strikes on Gaza have continued unabated for a week.

A truce notwithstanding, much damage has already been done, with casualties rising, in the name of self-defence. Yet, the timbre of the media narrative is so deeply unbalanced, it’s difficult to comprehend how so many innocent lives lost can be diminished to “self-defence”. 

It’s not surprising that Gaza’s political parties remain the terrorists in a land occupied since 1948. But seeing BBC reportage referring to the deaths is disheartening to say the least. While Israelis are “killed”, Palestinians “die”. This is the feral language of war.

The occupier becomes the victim, while the oppressed unfortunately fade, a rising statistic so large it becomes meaningless. The media reports four Israeli deaths as real, tangible loss, while Palestinians are collateral damage.

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Meanwhile, social media, ubiquitous and, arguably, a powerful tool when it comes to shaping mass opinion remains saturated in the conflict. These days, we go to Facebook and Twitter to gauge sentiment.

My Facebook feed is jammed with quotes, op-eds and disturbing images of bloodied dead children. They seem oddly out of place in a forum that’s more suited to innocuous pursuits, sandwiched as they are between memes and birthday party snaps.

But even the Israeli military sees the muscle of social media and is making best use of it. Why else would it be live-blogging and tweeting its victories over Hamas, a democratically elected authority for Gaza?

Social media now plunges us headlong into conflict, asking us – in an act of near futility – to think about what we can do stop the bloodshed before we move on to the next Instagram shot of someone’s dessert.

There is something grotesque about it, though saying nothing is not an option. Even as we try to carry on with our lives, images of carnage embedded in our brain, and with the region so deeply riven by conflict, it’s pointless to think we can continue on, happily detached from something that we feel doesn’t have a direct impact on us.

Social media is a platform the Israel Defence Forces is actively using, with a campaign to garner support globally and maintain firm control over news coverage. The IDF goes so far as to tweet developments, using hashtags, as it rains down destruction on a small strip of land. In a move that beggars belief but borders on comical, @IDFSpokesperson even delivered the following warning to Hamas on Twitter, as though the members might be attached to their smartphones awaiting instruction from Israel:

“We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”

As readwrite social’s Jon Mitchell notes: “We’ve never seen anything quite like this.”

And indeed we haven’t. Because there seems to be no limit to Israel’s portrayal of war. While Mitchell originally praised the genius behind tightly controlling the flow of information to the media, his post on Israel’s updated blog doesn’t drip so deeply in awe.

Noting that the IDF blog has “atrocious gamification badges”, offering points and rewards to users for sharing content to social media, he’s critical of the approach.  Ten visits gives you the "Consistent" badge. Searching the blog numerous times awards you the title of "Research Officer".

“Yes, Israel has gamified war. This is absolutely horrendous.”

And yet, it’s nothing new. Israel is just making war cool, and enlisting helpers as it repeats the same tired story to the rest of the world – even with its advanced military technology, illegal settlements and continued displacement of Palestinians, and a wall that separates people from their own land, it is the victim.

Apparently the ''game'' has been active since July, and while it wasn’t on display for a time, it went live again following the attack on Hamas. According to Mitchell, the “game” was even promoted on the front page.

It’s impossible to fathom how anyone could justify this trivialisation of war. People are being killed and the conflict is spiralling out of control, but observers can titillate themselves with a reward system for taking a side.

As Mitchell summarises, gamification is offensive when it’s carried out by coupon companies, let alone an actual war.

“Israel is trying to enlist the people of the world in its campaign with military ranks, badges and points. Innocent people are dying on all sides, and the IDF wants to reward people for tweeting about it.”

It certainly places social media into a vastly different realm – no longer is war primarily won on the ground. While you can launch an offensive from a different city with the click of a mouse, you can try to persuade the viewing public that the spectacle of bloodshed is something to enjoy. Indeed, one is left wondering how something as innocuous as a tweet can become a weapon of war.

7 comments

  • If Hamas are launching rockets from inside heavily populated areas, what do you propose the Israelis do to stop this? Should they sit back and just let it continue like it has day in, day out since 2005, terrorising the residents of Israel?

    How does one negotiate with a 'party' who's number one item on its Charter is for the destruction of the State of Israel?

    What other nation on earth drops leaflets into enemy territory telling their enemy when they are going to launch their counter attack, thus giving civilians a chance to escape.

    Hamas a democratically elected government? Since the first 'election', when has the next election taken place? Where is the opposition party - Fatah? The opposition were systematically murdered by Hamas - thrown off the roofs of their homes and dragged along the street. Hamas has also destroyed the rights of women, western thinking individuals and homosexuals.

    This war would be over if Arrafat accepted the offer by Barak in 2000 for a Palestinian state containing the West Bank and Gaza - exactly what the Palestinian demanded.

    Commenter
    brad
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 12:16PM
    • I find the collective amnesia in the Zionist conscience to be quite amusing. They scream and moan about how Palestinians shoot missiles into Israel and conveniently leave out the fact that Gaza has been under an illegal blockade (YES ILLEGAL) for almost a decade. You cannot expect the systematic abuse of Palestinians to be something that can be shoved under a carpet and ignored. Israel does not want peace for the region - it wants peace for itself at the expense of the innocent around them, and they are more than happy to terrorise and inflict collective punishment on others to achieve this peace. The story does not start with Hamas shooting rockets into Israel. Rockets are a sign of desperation; a symptom of a much larger problem that Zionists (in Israel, US and the rest of the world) refuse to acknowledge.

      Commenter
      M98
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 1:36PM
  • Btw, Israel is using social media because in the past the media has blatantly been biased against Israel in its reporting of conflicts. Most of what Israel is subjected to isn't report by media.

    Commenter
    brad
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 12:18PM
    • Hi Amal,

      Sorry to be the one to break it to you but Gaza isn't occupied territory. It is its own sovereign state. If they don't want to get beaten up in a war with neighbouring countries then they should stop attacking them.

      Commenter
      David_R
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 12:24PM
      • Agreed Amal.

        Palestinians face daily humiliation of being penned-in without the right to travel freely, without the right to pursue a nation of their own, without a country, without hope for a better tomorrow. This is why the Gazans fight, why the Palestinians revolt, because men do not want to live like dogs, as prisoners, as second-class people relegated to be stepped on because of their ethnicity.

        If Palestinian stop fighting, the situation may be normal for Israelis living in a comfortable second-world existence. The situation will be far from normal for the Palestinians subject to the daily humiliations of border control, the blockade, the fence, the lack of freedom to travel, trapped in their Israeli-created ghetto.

        Commenter
        nobody
        Date and time
        November 21, 2012, 12:47PM
        • Hello Amal,

          I agree with your comments and indeed the war is playing out on Twitter and Facebook in a concerning way.

          I just find it so ironic that a people who suffered the horrors of the Holocaust should then see fit to treat another people in a similar way. It would seem that Gaza is rather like the Warsaw ghetto. Israel may have to the right to "defend itself" but the once again disproportionate response and heavy Palestinian death toll - many women and children bombed inside their own homes - makes it hard to see Israel as a victim. If Israel doesn't want the inconvenience of bombing, perhaps peace talks might be a way forward. It seems the Israel does not favour peace talks because they have every advantage, not just militarily. But if they really want to live there, they might consider that their neighbours have the right to human dignity - until then, sadly the violence and murder will not stop.

          Commenter
          coathanger wings
          Date and time
          November 21, 2012, 1:29PM
          • Hmm, how come you Amal haven't asked why it is that Nth Korea drags bodies behind moving vehicles and today palestinians have done exactly the same thing?

            Amal, is that normal behavior in the arab world or is that normal behavior just in the hate-filled world?

            Hmm, one more question Amal- did Gandhi advocate firing missiles or just firing guns into civilian neighborhoods as a means of freeing India from the yoke of the British empire?

            # You'll achieve far more with peace than with terrorism but I don't know if the people of palestinian territories truly want peace- they seem to want revenge.

            Commenter
            Alex
            Location
            Finley
            Date and time
            November 21, 2012, 1:38PM
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