How social media is defeating the Palestinian intifada

Smartphones and YouTube clips are breaking the Palestinian lock on the narrative. Eric Greenstein, Mida’s resident Middle East expert, tells the story.

The PLO version of the Walking Dead: The "dead" terrorist in an Israeli hospital. Photo: GPO, Flash90

It was a pretty embarrassing moment for MSNBC. It isn’t every day that a journalist reporting from the field is reproached by a news anchor during a live broadcast for distorting reality. But that’s exactly what happened last week in connection with a stabbing attempt at Damascus Gate.

In case you haven’t seen the viral video, here is what happened: Ayman Mohyeldin, an MSNBC reporter on the far left of the political spectrum who formerly worked for Al Jazeera, was reporting from the field on an incident unfolding before his very eyes. Mohyeldin described how Israeli police shot a young unarmed Arab who was fleeing for no apparent reason. What he did not know was that several seconds before his report a video of the incident, shot on a mobile device, was shown on the broadcast, and it was clear from the video that the Arab was holding a knife. Thus an anti-Israel libel, which would certainly have been widely used for propaganda purposes, was immediately refuted.

This incident, which may result in another reporter entering the job market, clearly demonstrates how the current media battle is different from previous rounds of Palestinian terror: This time, everything is happening here, in our backyard, under the watchful eyes of a network of police and mobile cameras. The Palestinians are suddenly discovering that cameras and social networks make it very difficult for them to sell their narrative. Since the sympathy they garner is largely a result of their well-oiled and effective propaganda machine, the current violence may be an error with much greater significance than at first appears.

Below are links to videos showing the events of the past few days. We recommend that readers who prefer not to watch these difficult scenes avoid clicking on the links.

The Walking Dead, the Violent Moderates, and the Innocent Murderers

Abu Mazen, the Palestinian Authority president, discovered the new situation the hard way. In a speech he gave several days ago, he attempted to make Ahmad Manasra a new symbol of Palestinian resistance, emphatically accusing Israel of the “execution of our children in cold blood.” At the same time, Manasra was being depicted on Arab social networks as the new Muhammad al-Dura, a boy Palestinians claim was shot by the IDF during the second intifada in a gun battle with armed Palestinians.

But what you can do in Ramallah you can’t do in Jerusalem. It wasn’t long before video clips were posted online showing 13-year-old Palestinian terrorist Manasra with his 15-year-old cousin on a killing spree in the streets of Jerusalem, attacking Israeli civilians with a knife, including a Jewish youth who was hospitalized in critical condition. Furthermore, Israel released photographs proving that Manasra was alive and receiving good treatment at an Israeli hospital. An embarrassed Abu Mazen attempted to limit the damage, and an English-language press release issued by his office referred to “the shooting of our children in cold blood.” But even this allegation was quickly exposed when the head of the hospital where Manasra is being treated announced that there were no signs he had been shot.

Abu Mazen was caught red-handed, which did not escape the international media’s notice. Even newspapers that are generally far from being pro-Israel, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, criticized Abu Mazen for the lie of the “living dead.” The Washington Post went even further, with its editorial gently hinting that Abu Mazen is not being truthful (“Mahmoud Abbas has adopted an ambivalent position”) and calling him “irrelevant” in terms of control over the Palestinian “street.” Even prominent Jewish journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who is firmly on the left, wrote harsh criticism in The Atlantic of the Palestinians’ murderous anti-Semitism, identifying it as the source of the violence.

Abu Mazen, of course, is just the cherry in the Festival of Martyrs taking place among the “moderate” Palestinian leaders who, when they are not giving interviews to foreign networks, are busy justifying violence. Thus, for example, Tawfiq Tirawi, a PLO Central Committee member and the former head of the Palestinian security apparatus, stated in an interview with the Amad news agency’s website that he favored “popular resistance,” that is, stabbing innocent Jews, which is “one of the means of resistance.”

Jibril Rajoub, a member of the Fatah leadership and chairman of the Palestinian Football Association, had this to say about the terrorists: “These are their heroic deeds, the lone-wolf attacks are heroic acts. I am proud of those who carry them out and I congratulate them.” Rajoub added that since “the international community does not accept buses blowing up in Tel Aviv,” it is better not to get dragged into this, but to continue with individual attacks. He believes that the “will for the martyr,” posted on Facebook by one of the terrorists, “should be studied in schools.” Other officials on the PLO Central Committee, such as Azzam al-Ahmed, called for “an expansion of the cycle of popular resistance,” and Abbas Zaki went so far as to suggest that a “war room” be established to coordinate all terrorist activity. Muhammad Dahlan, former head of the Preventive Security Force in Gaza, wrote similar things on his Facebook page, while PLO Executive Committee member Mahmoud Ismail called the murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin in front of their four small children “a national duty.”

The Evidence Speaks for Itself

Saeb Erekat, like his boss, accused Israel at a press conference of murdering children. When Erekat, who is head of the Palestinian negotiating team, a member of the PLO Central Committee, and one of the most prominent “partners” of the various peace initiatives, called on the UN to immediately come to investigate the “kangaroo courts,” he was referring specifically to Fadi Alun, who stabbed a 15-year-old Jewish boy and caused him moderate wounds, and Mustafa al-Khatib, who attempted to stab a police officer at the Lions’ Gate and was shot on the spot. In keeping with the accepted practice in Palestinian diplomacy, Erekat added that the Palestinians had begun to gather evidence in order to file a complaint at the Hague against Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and the head of the Shin Bet.

But it appears that even in the Hague they would give greater credence to concrete evidence in the form of bleeding, wounded Jews in hospitals, many Israeli police officers, and civilians present at events while they were taking place. This may be why Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, was quick to claim that police planted the knife on al-Khatib to justify shooting (the police claimed there were two knives). After all, it is common knowledge that Israeli police are in the habit of shooting random Palestinians and carrying kitchen knives—part of their official equipment—in order to incriminate them.

In the meantime, Palestinian Authority spokesmen have not ceased lying and spreading false accusations. This was what happened, for example, when a female terrorist tried to carry out a car bombing in Jerusalem. Adnan al-Damiri, spokesman for the Palestinian security services, claimed that the car went up in flames only because of an electrical malfunction. Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam explained to its readers that “Israel fabricated a story about a supposed car bomb, just as it has done in countless instances in the past.”

But again, the evidence reveals that this is a bluff: aside from gas canisters and combustible material, there was other evidence found in the car showing malicious intent, such as letters in the terrorist’s handwriting expressing support for martyrs. By the way, following the explosion, the police officer who approached the car in an attempt to check it suffered burns to the face. Given that there was immediate documentation, it is no wonder that Palestinian tall tales are quickly losing their interest.

Another example: Several days after the start of the current wave of terror, the PLO released an announcement about “the youth Yussuf Tabib, who was seriously wounded by shots fired by settlers.” The boy’s parents, who live in a village in the Kalkiliya area, stated that he “was shot in the stomach by a driver traveling in an Israeli vehicle near the village of Nabi Ilyas” and that “the driver who shot him fled from the scene.”

The truth? Israeli security forces who arrived at the scene quickly revealed that the young man had been injured by a bullet while playing with a gun used by his brother, a Palestinian Authority policeman. The fact that Israeli forces were accompanied by Palestinian security officials did not prevent the PLO from leaving its original statement intact.

Violence for the Sake of Violence

The numerous attacks, many of them fully documented, show Palestinian aggression for what it is: drivers running down innocent people and attacks on passersby with knives and axes. Sometimes the perpetrators continue their attacks and do not lay down their weapons even when surrounded by security forces and police, and this is clearly reflected in photographs and videos. In the Western world, an armed person who attempted to murder civilians, continued to brandish a knife, and failed to heed calls by police would not be considered innocent, and personal violence, so up-close and cruel, toward children, women, the elderly, and passersby on the street would be considered an act of barbarism.

Furthermore, the profiles of some of the attackers, which are revealed immediately on social media, show that reasons such as poverty, discrimination, the occupation, or backwardness do not explain their violence. The attackers themselves, in their authentic public statements, leave no room for doubt that theirs is a murderous ideology and hatred that is essentially religious and nationalist and is directed against Jews as Jews.

Who’s Really Violating the Status Quo?

What all of these incidents have in common is that except for individual attacks, what has worked well for the Palestinians during the rounds of fighting in Gaza and in previous intifadas is not working for them this time: apart from official sources, smartphones and social networks are exposing the truth time after time, and Palestinian Authority spokesmen are being publicly embarrassed.

Even the semi-official cause of the violence—allegations that the Temple Mount status quo is being violated—are very easily refuted. While it’s true that the number of Jews ascending the Temple Mount has increased in recent years, the status quo restricts the behavior of Jews on the Temple Mount, not their numbers. In any case, it’s worth noting that the numbers are small: While there have been some 3.5 million Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount in recent years and another 80,000 Christians, only 12,000 of the visitors have been Jews—or in other words, only about 0.3 percent.

In fact, if there has been a change in the status quo on the Temple Mount, it is that conditions for Jews have deteriorated. First and most importantly, violence against Jews on the Temple Mount has gotten much worse. According to the status quo, Jews are permitted to visit the Mount but not to pray there, but in recent years, Muslims have been attempting to turn these visits into a dangerous nightmare.

Anyone who has been on the Temple Mount in recent years recognizes the phenomenon. When Jews approach the center of the Temple Mount plaza, a regular commotion begins: dozens of activists, mainly female, gather around the Jewish visitors, screaming loudly and threatening them. “Al-Aqsa is in danger, Allahu Akbar,” they call out, loudly and rhythmically, in order to interrupt the tour and the tour guide, and in some cases, as the following video clips show, they have spit at the visitors and attempted to attack them.

These violent groups, the Murabitun and Murabitat, are funded by Hamas and the Islamic movement, and their function is to keep Jews away from the Temple Mount. In an interview with Channel 2, one of the activists said: “I am prepared to die for al-Aqsa and to commit suicide and become a martyr for it.” Only last month, before the Jewish holidays, it was reported that activists from these organizations stay overnight on the Temple Mount complex in order to ”prevent the Jews from entering.”

Thus, the Jews enter the complex frightened, in small groups, and with heavy police security. All of them are accompanied by waqf officials, who monitor every movement by Jewish visitors and report to each other using walkie talkies. Recently, the government decided to ban these organizations and to work to dismantle their financial infrastructure. This does not violate the status quo; it defends it.

And that’s not all: the Muslims are constantly expanding the areas for prayer on the Temple Mount. If in the past prayers were held only in the al-Aqsa Mosque, as a result of actions by the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, headed by “al-Aqsa sheikh” Raed Salah, additional areas for prayer have been prepared in Solomon’s Stables and the Ancient  al-Aqsa Mosque in an attempt to push the Jews out further. The Muslims, the waqf, and the Islamic Movement are systematically violating the planning, construction, and antiquities laws on the Temple Mount and consistently destroying irreplaceable historical treasures. ISIS, anyone?

Another player violating the original status quo is the Kingdom of Jordan. The Jordanians, as part of their peace treaty with Israel, have been given standing concerning events on the Temple Mount. They have demanded that Israel not construct a permanent, stable, and safe bridge at the Mughrabi Gate, caused the postponement of a Knesset session on Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and prevented the removal of garbage near the Little Western Wall. And if all that is not enough, the ban on raising flags on the Temple Mount is enforced only against Jews, while PLO, Hamas, and sometimes ISIS flags are proudly flown there.

Given all this, Jews are today more limited in the hours when they may ascend the Temple Mount and in their freedom of movement, and they are in real danger and suffer from violence when they do go up. None of this prevents Abu Mazen from repeatedly spreading the libel that “al-Aqsa is in danger” and stating that “the Jews have no right to defile it with their filthy feet.” After asserting that Israel is taking over the mosques, Abu Mazen continued: “We welcome every drop of blood spilled for Jerusalem; it is clean, pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, for God’s will. Every martyr will reach Paradise, and every person wounded will be rewarded by Allah.” Now go and convince the world that you are “opposed to violence.”

Perhaps This Time the World Will Understand

And here, too, the Palestinian calumny has failed to take off. Perhaps the best proof of this is the recent statement by John Kerry, who backed Netanyahu. Kerry noted that “we don’t contemplate any change [on the Temple Mount], but nor does Israel. Israel understands the importance of that status quo.” Kerry also expressed U.S. opposition to the French proposal to send observers to the Temple Mount, which the Palestinians support.

For many years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was conducted in the shadow of the fog of war. Complex international commissions have heard complex evidence from various parties, have purported to determine the facts, and have attempted—well after the incident and often with a clear political bias—to find guilt and responsibility for allegations that were strongly disputed by the parties.

These rules of the game have changed drastically in the recent attacks, which are occurring in a civilian arena with numerous cameras. The special nature of the current conflict, documented in real time, is eroding the Palestinian allegations at record speed and showing their propaganda in a false light. Abu Mazen and other Palestinian Authority spokesmen have failed to understand that the reality in the Internet age limits their ability to fabricate and create effective propaganda for the world.

This is a rare opportunity for Israel to expose the Palestinian leadership’s lack of credibility, without filters and without protection. And perhaps this time, someone in the international community will listen.

English translation by Miriam Himmelfarb. 

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