Ray Hanania’s Column
Israel is right about one thing, the news media coverage of the Intifadah, on balance, does slightly favor the Palestinians. It’s not for the reasons of bias that Israelis argue. Nor is it the result of an orchestrated campaign of professional media strategy by the Palestinians.
Instead, the favorable coverage stems from an accident of reality: photographs and video do not lie. It could be even more favorable for the Palestinians if they even understood the basics of public relations, which they don’t.
While they enjoy this slight, accidental advantage, the Palestinian leadership is plagued by individuals who do not understand how to delegate responsibility. The small circle of Palestinian leaders believe they can do everything themselves, from directing a government to developing an effective communications strategy.
Israel is engaged in a strategy of state-sponsored terrorism that feeds into a broader political policy shift. That shift is the result of the election of Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister and involves halting the progress of peaceful negotiations with the Palestinians.
Sharon wants out of the peace process, which is not surprising since he openly opposed it for the past eight years. But he wants to make sure that the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians, in order to protect Israel’s existing though tenuous relations with the Arab countries of Egypt, Jordan and even Lebanon. Sharon has been successful at achieving that goal, with very little effort and by using the most sophisticated public relations strategies.
Sharon has moved his soldiers into the Palestinian areas where he knows conflict will result just from their presence. This conflict becomes the foundation of his assertion that he will not return to the peace table until the violence stops.
He knows it will not stop as long as his soldiers are in Palestinian areas.
The facts of Sharon’s strategy and this reality are obvious.
The Palestinians only control 18 percent of the West Bank while the Israelis control 72 percent of the West Bank. Most of the violence and deaths have occurred in those areas controlled not by the Palestinians, but by the Israelis.
The PLO’s Washington Representative, Hasan Abdul Rahman, is right when he asks how can the Palestinians exert influence to stop the violence in areas that the Israelis, not the Palestinians control?
But that contention should have come out eight months ago, not this week on CNN, and it reflects the overall poor media efforts of the Palestinians. To put it simply, they just don’t understand how to identify their strongest (key) messages. And, they don’t understand how to convey them in a Western-based media that is dominated by Israel’s friends.
Sharon can control the violence, but he can’t completely control the media coverage. The results of the violence are obvious and even a master public relations strategy cannot completely off-set the negative images that expose the real picture.
Despite the fact that Israel controls the media content through its political alliances and it’s extraordinary manipulation of public relations, it can’t control the images that often accompany this content.
Israel can spin the conflict anyway it wishes. It can lean on its army of media columnists to argue the pro-Israel line. It can buy full page ads in the nation’s largest newspapers, promoting hatred of the Palestinians. It can push the majority of American elected officials to speak out in support of Israel and to ignore the facts of Israel’s own violence. It can convince the writers of editorials in most American newspapers to blame everything on the Palestinians.
All of these efforts comes together to portray a massive, pro-Israel media campaign.
But it can’t stop an American from seeing a film clip or a photograph that shows a fully armed Israeli soldiers carrying an American-made weapon, shooting a young Palestinian teenager who is defended only by his courage and carrying a small stone.
If the Palestinians have an edge, it is purely accidental. It comes from paying a very high price in lives lost. Palestinians are killed at a ratio of five to one in comparison to Israelis. That ratio comes across in the images, even if the Palestinian deaths are downplayed in the news reporting and Israeli deaths are given greater coverage.
It might also help the Palestinian cause, of course, if the Palestinian leadership would at least try to learn how to implement public relations strategy and professional communications techniques.
But the Palestinian experience has created an unusual situation where each Palestinian leader is a self-described “jack of all trades.”
You can even call it culturally Arab in nature where in the Arab World power is never shared, it is held in the hands of one person. That mentality exists from individual families where the father directs a family to a King who establishes policy.
Palestinian leaders want to direct the revolution and armed struggle. The same people want to be in charge of state-building, investments, and strengthening an economy. And, they all want to be the faces and voices quoted on the nightly news.
They don’t understand that to lead a revolution, you bring in a military strategist; to build an economy, you bring in a banker; to govern you bring in an administrator; and to direct public relations, you bring in a communicator.
That is the weakness of the Palestinian leadership. It also becomes the strength of the Israelis who have hired three Public Relations firms to tell them what to do while the Palestinians continue to conduct their public relations the way they always do, on the basis of pure emotion.
(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American writer based in Chicago and a regular contributor to MMN. His columns are archived on the web at www.hanania.com)