Israel is losing the battle in public diplomacy
Yesterday a mobile phone game inviting contestants to pose as the Israeli military and bomb Gaza was dropped from the Google app store following public outrage. The aim of the game was to "drop bombs and avoid killing civilians;" grossly inappropriate considering the Israeli army have been targeting hospitals and UN schools harbouring displaced Palestinians.
The same day 12 activists chained shut the doors of an arms factory in Shenstone, Staffordshire and climbed up onto the roof. They are live-streaming their occupation of the building here with the aim of closing it down. Drone engines made in the factory - UAV Engines Limited, owned by UK Company Elbit Systems - were exported to Israel in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The British government is already responding to such protests with a review of its £8 billion arms sales to Israel.
They are small victories in a huge war, but they are, nevertheless, dents in the public image of the Israeli PR machine. During the Arab Spring social media gave a voice to those who had not necessarily been heard before, and gave an insight into raw events on the ground. In a similar way Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have disseminated unfiltered images of the terror and grief of Israel's war on Gaza by the civilians who are living it.
An event which shocked the world came when the Israeli army shelled a beach in Gaza killing four boys aged between 7 and eleven years old as they played. The event was witnessed and reported on by many journalists. Ayman Mohyeldin, foreign correspondent for NBC news, posted this distressing video on Facebook of a mother looking for her son, which captured the moment she found out what had happened.
Sadly, there are numerous examples of such heart-breaking videos. At the beginning of August a TV presenter cried live on air after a young boy in Gaza uploaded a video of himself reciting poetry: "We in Gaza are fine, tell me how you are. We are fighting our enemy from behind and above, we have enough of everything thank you for your support, we in Gaza are fine." He was killed 45 minutes later.
On 22 July Osama Damo, a Save the Children official in Gaza, told the Telegraph that they have described the ongoing operation as a war on children. Last week UN spokesperson Chris Gunness broke down at the end of an interview with Al-Jazeera; Israel had just shelled a UN school sheltering some 3,300 Palestinians and killed 16 staff and refugees. Gunness said of the attack: "The rights of Palestinians - even their children - are wholesale denied. And it's appalling."
It is images of children like this that have made it onto social media and into the psyche of the public. Of the 1,800 Palestinians killed, 400 are children. Of the 67 Israelis that have been killed, all but three of them are soldiers. The huge number of civilian deaths has resulted in a torrent of sympathy for Palestinians, reflected in the protests taking place across the world. From Peru to Japan thousands have taken to the streets to oppose the Israeli war on Gaza.
It's not just those who are politically active showing their support for Gaza; the rising death toll has encouraged actors, musicians and sports stars to speak out. On 23 July Madonna posted flowers to her 18 million Facebook fans and wrote: "These flowers are like the innocent children of GAZA! Who has the right to destroy them? No one!! CEASEFIRE! #peaceinthemiddleeast – Madonna." The post received some 40,000 likes.
Zayn Malik of boy band One Direction tweeted, #FreePalestine to millions of followers and despite receiving death threats did not delete it. Disney star Selina Gomez posted on Instagram "It's about humanity. Pray for Gaza." Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem signed an open letter, along with other Spanish actors, calling Israel's actions genocide and calling for a lift of the siege on Gaza and for the EU to condemn the bombing of the Strip.
Recently, CNN's Jake Tapper asked Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev: "If my calculations are right, Israel has in the last three weeks killed more Palestinian children, more than 200, than the total number of Israeli soldiers killed in military operations since 2006, which includes the second Lebanon war, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defence, and now Operation Protective Edge.
That is a lot of dead children, especially relative to the number of soldiers that have been killed in Israel in Israeli military operations in the last eight years. At what point does the Israeli government say, enough, we're killing too many innocent children?"
Israel's actions have become impossible to defend and answers like, "We don't want to see innocent civilians caught up in the crossfire between us and Hamas," are sounding increasingly disingenuous.
Thanks to the work of citizen journalists, the bravery of ordinary Palestinians and the use of social media the magnitude of Israeli crimes perpetrated in Gaza has stirred the world's conscience in a manner not witnessed since the anti-war protests of 2003.
Published in Middle East Monitor