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Media blackout on Israeli losses: evidence and motives

The first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, spoke at a rally on 22 January 1948 a few months in advance of his declaration of independence speech. "I do believe that there should be critical newspapers but we should not give any facts or information to our enemy," he said. "We can not and should not contribute to the sense of panic among the public."

This was the template for how Israel thinks and military censorship has been imposed on journalists in times of war and peace ever since. It works in two ways. They are first warned against publishing certain material and then prohibited from distributing material that is not being addressed in the media.

Military censorship was used during the 2006 war with Lebanon when the government imposed restrictions on what could and could not be published. There was a blackout imposed about Israel's strategy and the types of nuclear weapons that are available to its armed forces; the spy agency Mossad and the nature of its foreign operations was also covered by the ban. The necessarily secretive nature of Mossad causes a number of problems for Israel in terms of the information that it withholds in regards to its operations. Post-2006 military censorship was expanded and the Israeli media was forced not to broadcast the speeches of Hamas leaders Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyeh. Israel bans the publication of any speeches made by Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah as well as the spokesperson for the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades. The ban also prohibits broadcasting news on any events held in the Gaza Strip or those sponsored by Hezbollah except as a transient news story.

The military censors now refuse to broadcast the truth about the Israel Defence Forces' ability to bring down rockets. The excuse given is that Palestinian resistance forces can benefit from such information. The media used to broadcast statistics about the number of civilian casualties; however, that has changed since the onset of the latest war on Gaza with the figures being hidden and the issue of those killed is not addressed in any way.

Evidence of a media blackout

I will focus on the Israeli media blackout on human and material losses from the basis of three pieces of evidence that reinforce the idea that it deliberately obfuscates some of the locations where rockets land; they do not disclose the exact location of the point of impact and the extent of the damage that is caused.

The first evidence is an intelligence report about the Palestinian resistance Al-Qassam Brigades, of which I have seen a section. To my knowledge it was based largely on information obtained by Palestinian Arabs living in Israel. What I saw revealed the names of approximately 20 locations that were targeted; they are merely a sample of the large number of targeted areas ignored completely by the media.

The second piece of evidence is a document issued by the office of the Israeli Prime Minister, which discussed isolating the rabbi of Bani Barak after he talked to local residents and told them that no rockets would fall on the city. The rabbi's speech contradicted the information that was released by the Ministry of the Interior. In reality, rockets did hit the city and there were injuries. It is worth mentioning that the people who live in Bani Barak are religious Jews who believe in their rabbis more than they believe in the government.

The third piece of evidence was "Walla!", an Israeli news site. It revealed that three people were arrested on 16 July; they had filmed rockets being directed at Jerusalem and published the video on Facebook. The three Jerusalemites were charged with terrorism for screaming "Allahu Akbar" (God is great!) in spite of the government's warning about censorship.

The Iron Dome's failure

Since its aggression against Gaza in 2008-2009, the Israeli government has promoted the idea that its Iron Dome anti-missile technology is among its key solutions for preventing rockets from being fired on Israeli cities. Israel claims that the Iron Dome is capable of stopping all rocket attacks; however, three observations confirm the system's failure:

  1. Israeli media has revealed that there are eight Iron Dome units and that each unit covers one city. However, Palestinian resistance forces are capable of launching rockets towards 50 cities; you do the maths about the cities that are not covered by Iron Dome.
  2. Yedioth Ahranoth newspaper published an article a few days ago stating that approximately 1,350 rockets have been fired at Israeli towns but Iron Dome only stopped 230 of them; just 15 per cent of the total number of rockets fired at Israel.
  3. The Israeli media has published misleading images and presented them as evidence of rocket attacks. It does this by showing pictures of aerial explosions or areas in which Iron Dome was used. The system launches two or three missiles to tackle every rocket launched from the Gaza Strip. In the event that an Iron Dome missile misses the Hamas rocket, it is programmed to self-destruct approximately 6 kilometres in the air to avoid landing and potentially inflicting damage on Israelis.

What are described by the media as hostile rockets being intercepted by Iron Dome missiles are often, in fact, simply the system's own missiles self-destructing. According to Dr Motti Scheffer, an expert in aerospace engineering and award-winning Israeli security specialist, "Today, there is no missile that can intercept another missile. All the explosions we see happening in the air are the result of programmed self-destruction and the parts that we see on the ground are a result of the Iron Dome itself."

Motives for the media blackout

Israel considers its confrontations with the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah to be limited because there is no military victory on the ground. Thus, the media decides who the winner is. For this reason, the media is one of the most important weapons in the armoury. This helps to explain why the true number of casualties and the extent of the damage are hidden from the public, in order to win the psychological aspects of the confrontation.

The Israeli government does not want there to be a negative impact on its citizens, nor for them to be frustrated by transparent claims of the IDF's deterrence capabilities. More importantly, Israel does not want to lose the image that it has managed to promote among its Arab neighbours, which emphasises military superiority in that it cannot be, and is not, affected by Palestinian resistance. One must add that Israel does not provide the Palestinian resistance with any information that could be useful to its fighters. Instead, it seeks to damage its morale and force it to search for an alternative to rockets.

The media blackout in the current war on Gaza is unprecedented when compared to past confrontations between the Israel and those resisting its military occupation.

Despite the widespread use of social networking sites and the independent media, the military-censors have the last word because they can access any website and delete any information or pictures that violate their orders. Israel punishes those who break the guidelines on this matter. For example, some soldiers were disciplined when they published pictures of military bases, something that the government regards as a security threat.

Despite the military censorship and media restrictions on Israeli citizens, Palestinian forces have not only learnt to carry on as normal but also to expand their zone of influence in various domains. Thus they are able to challenge the enemy in the psychological aspect of the war and break the censored media monopoly on information; in this way they are able to carry the war to the occupation.

Translated from Al Jazeera net, 22 July, 2014

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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