In a new media landscape dominated not by Western media giants but by Instagram reels, TikTok videos and YouTube shorts, Israel’s ongoing war on the besieged Gaza Strip is more than televised.
Audiences across the world, and especially young people, have been watching the devastation caused by Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of the Palestinian enclave on their preferred social media platforms, in real-time, for over a month. Anyone with internet access has seen countless videos of babies torn apart by bombs, women crushed under tonnes of concrete and mothers cradling the dead bodies of their children.
Israel, of course, still continues with its usual efforts – and more – to control the narrative about its bloody wars and decades-old occupation.
It does not hesitate to brand as “terrorists” and assassinate Palestinian journalists who work tirelessly to tell Gaza’s truth to the world. During this latest war alone, Israel killed at least 53 journalists and media workers, mostly in targeted air strikes alongside their family members, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Al Jazeera Arabic’s Gaza Correspondent, Wael Dahdouh, lost his wife, son, daughter and grandson in one such attack. He received the news while he was on air.
And Israel does not allow foreign journalists to enter Gaza and report on what they see freely either. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria recently admitted that the Israeli military currently only allows into the war-torn Gaza Strip foreign journalists who agree to “submit all materials and footage to the Israeli military for review prior to publication”. Zakaria said CNN agreed to these terms “in order to provide a limited window into Israel’s ops”.
Yet, despite all these efforts, thanks largely to social media, Israel is no longer able to conceal the truth about its conduct in Palestine. It can no longer control the narratives and the public opinion on Palestine. As mainstream media loses its ability to single-handedly decide what Western and, to a certain extent, global audiences get to witness about the situation in Palestine, the brutality of Israel’s occupation has been laid out in the open for everyone to see.
Now social media users are openly mocking Israel’s desperate attempts to control the narrative of its war on Gaza, and swiftly exposing the Israeli lies parroted by mainstream outlets. On November 29, the #WeWontBeSilenced campaign was launched across social media platforms, encouraging posting this graphic, or a picture with one hand covering one’s mouth, and a relevant message written on the other hand or a poster. Since its launch, it has received hundreds of thousands of impressions across platforms and will continue to gain traction as social media accounts feel the effects of shadow banning, censorship, and intimidation.
It’s not only Israel that knows it’s losing the PR war either – its biggest financier and enabler knows it, too. Last week’s announcement of a temporary ceasefire, which is due to expire soon, has revealed the US is as concerned about changing public opinion on the conflict as Israel.
Politico reported that senior Biden administration officials have been concerned about how the temporary ceasefire “would allow journalists broader access to Gaza and the opportunity to further illuminate the devastation there and turn public opinion on Israel.” In other terms, US officials are cognizant of the direction public opinion has shifted since the beginning of this episode of bombardment and are worried that an influx of journalists into the Gaza Strip could further expose the genocide Israel has been committing there with their permission and support.
Israel and the US, however, did not lose the all-important war on narratives just because of its latest war on Gaza. The current assault on Gaza has only expedited Israel’s weakening grip on the media narrative and public opinion. In March of this year, many months before the beginning of the latest round of violence, Gallup published data that, for the first time ever, revealed that, “Democrats’ sympathies in the Middle East now lie more with the Palestinians than the Israelis, 49 percent versus 38 percent.” This shift in Democrats’ sympathies is indicative of a weakening of the mainstream media monopoly on the narrative of Israel-Palestine. Meanwhile, many in the GOP have also begun to rethink the US-Israeli relationship vis-a-vis foreign aid. Former US President Donald Trump’s “America First” doctrine has made many Republicans question whether supporting Israel with regular military aid should remain a foreign policy priority for the party.
Since October 7, Meta’s reaction to accounts and posts that raise awareness of the mass murder of Palestinian civilians has largely been one of censorship, with reports of over 90 percent of pro-Palestinian content deleted. Now, there are concerns as to how X will respond to Israeli PR pressure.
This week, X CEO Elon Musk visited Israel and met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a trip widely criticised as a form of “cleanup” after his endorsement of an anti-Semitic post on his platform. As part of the propaganda tour, an agreement was reached that Musk’s Starlink, a satellite internet service, can only be used in Gaza with the approval of the Israeli government. The Israeli occupation wields and controls the flow of water, electricity, food, humanitarian aid – and now Musk’s internet services – into Gaza, yet remains adamant it is not an occupier.
Israel has only itself to blame for its increasingly negative image in the international community.
It cannot expect the world to turn a blind eye to the genocide it is committing in plain sight, with the support of the US. The short ceasefire – which allowed some humanitarian aid to enter the besieged enclave and the Palestinians to bury their dead and wrap their wounds as much as they can – is expected to end soon. Israel will likely continue with its indiscriminate bombardment and suffocating total siege on Gaza in the immediate aftermath of the brief truce. Israel’s war on Palestinians may be far from over, but it has already lost the war of public opinion.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.