InfoWar over Gaza

[Originally published here on the WITNESS Hub blog.]

The information war being fought over Gaza is one of the most commented-on aspects of the current crisis – Israeli military footageTwitter updates, Facebook groups, media interviews, blogs, the use of megaphone software like GIYUS.  It’s not a new phenomenon, but the extent to which Israel’s government has made bypassing, controlling and marginalising the media, and using YouTube and other platforms to disseminate core messages a central part of its information strategies is unprecedented.

On the Palestinian side, it seems to be happening in a more decentralised way: emailed photographs of injured or dead children, video documentation and interviews from within Gaza and from solidarity events around the world, but not on the scale or coordinated nature of Israel’s media strategy, as discussed in this Al Jazeera interview with Dan Gillerman, about Israel’s media strategy:

Both sides, of course, are provoking comment over errors and misinformation based on visual material.  But this, and the exceptional level of message control and coordination, serve to saturate new media as well as news media with polarising talking points – and takes us further and further from the daily reality of life on either side.  The work of organisations like B’Tselem to document daily, mundane, individual human rights abuses, and to ensure that these reach the sphere of public debate in Israel and internationally is a crucial part of this – here’s Oren Yakobovich on their Shooting Back project in Hebron.

But as we discovered in our recent UDHR60 project, images that open our eyes to human rights don’t have to be videos or photographs.  For me personally, some of the most striking, intimate and revealing images of the daily routine of human rights abuses faced by Palestinians are not of graphic human rights abuses, or of military successes – they come from a comic by Maltese-American journalist, Joe Sacco (whose latest book, Footnotes on Gaza, is due out imminently).

I felt the American media had really misportrayed the situation [between Israel and the Palestinians] and I was really shocked by that.

I grew up thinking of Palestinians as terrorists, and it took a lot of time, and reading the right things, to understand the power dynamic in the Middle East was not what I had thought it was…

There are two ways in which Palestinians are portrayed – as terrorist and as victim.  There may be truth in certain situations for both descriptions, but Palestinians are also people going to school, who have families, have lives, invite you into their home, and think about their food.

In 1991 and 1992 (coincidentally around the time WITNESS was founded), Joe Sacco spent time in Israel and Palestine researching the daily reality of life under occupation.  The comics he drew based on his research were serialised over the next 8 years, and then finally published as a single volume, called Palestine, in 2001.  Here’s a page from the book that brings home the experience of sitting in a roadblock:

In this recent interview with Al Jazeera (from which the quote above also comes), Sacco describes why he chose to focus on the everyday lives of ordinary Palestinians, rather than on more graphic images of torture:

I heard torture stories that were unusually harsh, but I decided not to use those kinds of stories, and instead something less shocking, something more of an “everyman” experience.  I think it’s the “everyman experience” that people can relate to. It’s harder to imagine; harder to put yourself in the picture of someone who is being humiliated.

Sacco went on to release a series of extraordinary comics taking the same highly sophisticated approach to documenting situations and personal stories from the war in the Balkans, and more recently Iraq (for the Guardian newspaper – part one (PDF), and part two (PDF)) and Chechnya. His Gaza comic could not be more timely…

We’ve talked about the power of animations before, but we’re equally interested in the power of printed visual materials (our own video advocacy training modules take the language of an airline safety card…) – if you’ve managed to make it through this rather long post, and you can think of great examples to share, either related to the current crisis in Gaza, or more broadly on human rights, please do drop them in the comments box below…


[I’ve pasted across key comments from the original post for completeness’ sake.]…

By Sameer Padania on Jan 7 09

So here’s an insight into the editorial process…

I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the authenticity of the IDF YouTube channel, but given the perfectionism of Chris Morris, the Yes Men and other media pranksters, something was nagging us about it. The trail seems to start with an email being sent out by Aliza Landes to a bunch of online sources, and presumably media:

IDF Youtube Channel

To whom it may concern,

The IDF’s International Press Branch has opened a YouTube Channel. We will be uploading IDF footage as it comes out.

Thank you,

Aliza Landes
North American Desk
International Press Branch
IDF Spokesperson’s Unit
206 Jaffa Street, Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972 (2) 548-5800

So I’ve just spent an hour or so digging around online as an experiment – despite being sure that the YT account and the blog were legit – to see how much information about the owners of the YouTube channel and the blog there is online, and whether it’s officially linked to the IDF. (Yes, I know Avital Leibovich talked about it, but I wasn’t at the press conference…) OK, so here goes…

– There doesn’t seem to be any major mention on the IDF website itself of either YouTube or the username idfnadesk. That could be bad searching… but it was strange not to find a link or a press release. (Is the IDF now out-Baudrillard-ing Baudrillard, as well as devouring Deleuze and Guattari?

– The IDF Spokesperson blog lists the email addresses for contact as, but the WhoIs info (…) lists Sure, the IDF uses YouTube, WordPress, Twitter even, but GMail?

– The phone number for the IDF press office (+972 (2) 548-5800) does correspond with the phone number given here for this IDF international press desk ({47082CF8-C222-4A7E-92FC-A5375FF7283D}&notoc=1) but not with the numbers given here, which all begin “608”:… – of course, I could just call the number, but I was interested in how far it is possible to triangulate this kind of thing online, especially when there’s a military involved. I bet it’s a pay-as-you-go mobile…

– Aliza Landes, who is posting info via the IDF Spokesperson blog, seems to have a minimal online trail outside the context of this particular story (e.g., but does appear quoted in one Jerusalem Post story:… – so that’s beginning to get a bit more substantial.

– And that address – 206 Jaffa St – is the address for the Jerusalem Capital Studios Building … and – It’s all looking pretty clear now…

So basically, it’s an outside unit, based in a production studio, running off WordPress, Twitter and GMail? Are they filming their interviews on Flip cameras? We really all are in the same boat when it comes to social media…

In These Times on the Information War

By Sameer Padania on Jan 7 09

“AqsaTube’s content is user-driven, but its structure and background remain elusive. There appears to be no direct link to Hamas’ official media apparatus. According to an October BBC report, al-Aqsa TV denies affiliation with the site, and AqsaTube’s registration information was tied to an apparently falsified contact in Dubai.”

Global Voices’ Jen Brea on media attention, Gaza and DRC

By Sameer Padania on Jan 9 09…

[thanks to EthanZ for the link…]

Velveteen Rabbi – from 2004 – on seeing the other side…

By Sameer Padania on Jan 15 09

through Joe Sacco’s eyes. A moving, compassionate post that it’s worth re-reading in the context of what’s happening in Gaza right now:

Excerpt from an interview with Mother Jones magazine, 2005

By Sameer Padania on Jan 15 09

Mother Jones: Do you think there’s any advantage to this kind of storytelling?

Joe Sacco: It’s a visual world and people respond to visuals. With comics you can put interesting and solid information in a format that’s pretty palatable. For me, one advantage of comic journalism is that I can depict the past, which is hard to do if you’re a photographer or filmmaker. History can make you realize that the present is just one layer of a story. What seems to be the immediate and vital story now will one day be another layer in this geology of bummers.

Joe Sacco strip on Gaza (from The Lede, NYT Blogs)

By Sameer Padania on Jan 25 09

So the New York Times has made Joe Sacco’s last strips from Gaza, in 2003, available as a PDF: (via The Lede)

and news come from Publishers Weekly that:
“in fall 2009, [Metropolitan Books] will publish the much-anticipated Footnotes in Gaza by comics journalist Joe Sacco, author of Palestine. In Footnotes in Gaza, a sequel of sorts to Palestine, Sacco returns to Gaza and makes a little-known and violent incident in a refugee camp in 1956 the basis for a 400-page history of Gaza that takes the reader from 1956 to the present.”








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