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#IDF v #Hamas: the new Gaza war in 140 characters or less

The hostilities between Israel and Hamas this week are just another sad exchange of munitions of no benefit for anyone, least of all the impoverished residents of Gaza. Rockets go one way, Hellfire missiles…

Gaza under Israeli Defense Forces fire as seen from the Israeli town of Sderot, which itself is the victim of rocket attacks from its Palestinian neighbour. EPA/EDI Israel

The hostilities between Israel and Hamas this week are just another sad exchange of munitions of no benefit for anyone, least of all the impoverished residents of Gaza. Rockets go one way, Hellfire missiles go the other. Targeted killing, random strikes, claim and counter claim of who is a terrorist and who is acting in self defence.

Of far more novelty though is the Twitter war that broke out between the Israel Defense Forces and their opponents. Taking their fight to the micro-blogging world, the Israeli military and the al-Qassam Brigades resembled nothing more than two drunk blokes at a football barbecue “sword fighting” with their streams of urine.

On one side you had the IDF making releases and claims about their operations, playing the self-defence and indignation line: “Reminder of Hamas' strategy: Fire rockets & mortars from Palestinian schools & hope they land on Israeli schools”.

On the other side, Al Qassam was responding with talk about martyrdom and the fires of hell. “Assassination of the great leader Ahmed al Jabari is the beginning of liberation war and ominous harbinger on sons of Zion”.

As usual in the Twitterverse the flame war between the two was soon overwhelmed by the zerging forces of the supporters and re-tweeters. The “GO ISRAEL!!” pack versus the “IDF ARE THE REAL TERRORISTS” mob. It makes it harder to watch the sword play when all that chaff is in the way.

Crowded hashtags are certainly a first world problem, but in the meantime of course, people are dying in far less than the time it takes to bang off a tweet.

It wasn’t just Twitter that the Israelis turned to as part of the social media operation. They used YouTube to show footage of their hit on Ahmed al-Jabari, the commander of the military wing of Hamas. They also posted aerial footage of Palestinians allegedly unloading rockets from a truck.

Twitter

This clip was accompanied by a wholly implausible sub-titled dialogue with the IDF ground controller thanking the aircraft commander for uncovering this evidence and detailing the specifics of the rockets and where they could hit.

The use of such media for publicising Middle East conflict is not new. Both (or should that be “many”?) sides of the Syrian catastrophe have taken to social media to plump their messages. Grainy cell-phone footage and unverifiable shots of massacre victims hit the Internet and become the news story of the day. The full range of media is used to engage the world and spin the desired message.

Damascus also has the support of the “Syrian Electronic Army”, a group of cyber-activists adept at hacking opposition and media sites or swarming Facebook pages and news comments with pro-Assad messages. The Iranians have a similar “Cyber Army” who target opposition web material and Twitter accounts. (Even Monash University fell victim to pro-Iranian hacking this year.)

Such is the nature of the Internet and these global causes, these electronic warriors may not even be officially part of the regime they support, but just sympathisers located anywhere in the world.

Fighting the other corner you have civilian and military programs to defeat such efforts. Israel this week graduated its first class from a new Cyber Defence Division. The aim is to protect Israel from cyber attacks on either military or economic targets.

A hacking war broke out between Israeli and Saudi nerds early in 2012, with three Israeli banks falling victim to security breaches on credit card data.

All of this digital conflict makes an interesting sideline to the various bushfires of the Middle East, but the question arises as to how compressed the nuances become. If the Israel-Palestine conflict is being reduced to less than 140 characters, how much understanding is being lost?

Recent research suggests that young people in the West have a shallow grasp of political news, even when it occurs in their own country. So what hope do they have of appreciating the complexities of Gaza when the debate is rendered into a school yard trading of one-liners?

Or perhaps that is the aim of both sides? By dumbing down the message to “You’re mean! No, YOU are!”, they avoid explanation. The supporters fall into line behind their chosen team and the whole tragic cycle plays out again.

Join the conversation

10 Comments sorted by

  1. James McCluskey

    Editor at The Conversation

    Another great insight from Mat Hardy. But you forget one important thing. We are on the security council now. #australiawillfixit

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    1. Jennifer Raper

      Mrs

      In reply to James McCluskey

      What are they all thinking of? Their behaviour is childsh in the extreme.
      The great tragedy is that someone is providing both groups with some nasty weapons. Their actions are stupid enough, but supplying weapons is just plain evil.

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  2. Tim J Hawes

    Mr.

    So which came first, ignorance or twitter?

    I guess I still count as one of these dumb & ill informed young people. Weren't we just discussing how my generation is apathetic about democracy (see Lowy Institute poll)?

    I dunno, but the whole, "the kids aren't alright" line just rings hollow. I don't really believe, in my subjective experience, that people are all that nuanced and informed to start with. Ignorance isn't generational, rather ubiquitous. When listing my travel history to donate blood, the 50 year old nurse had never heard of Palestine.

    It seems inevitable that actors will expand campaigns to all the new mediums available. You go where the audience/fight is.

    And while we're at it, isn't, "The supporters fall into line behind their chosen team and the whole tragic cycle plays out again." just a microcosm of the election cycle?

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    1. Leigh Blackall

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Tim J Hawes

      good comment Tim. I tuned in my tv this week (renting a new house). I was dismayed at the twisted, deliberate ignorance displayed in the coverage by ABC and even SBS (it's all over for tv news in australia now). I'd been following this event through a combination of twitter, wikipedia, RT, Real News and Democracy Now. I'd wrongly assumed any half decent news outlet would be following these channels and more, not just the press releases from IDF, DFAT and AP.

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  3. Chris Booker

    Research scientist

    So my understanding is that the IDF took to Twitter first, with their 'Eliminated' poster, and the Youtube footage you mention of the rocket strike itself. Whatever your thoughts on the Israel/Palestine situation and wherever your loyalties lie, putting up a crisp, movie-advertisement-like poster of a guy you've just killed with the caption 'Eliminated' and uploading footage of when he died is just sick.

    I think the best thing Twitter can do is ban IDF for using threats of violence (which are against the Twitter T&Cs) and keep this crap off their feeds.

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    1. Baz M

      Law graduate & politics/markets analyst

      In reply to Chris Booker

      I completely agree. The whole your evil, no your evil is to be somewhat expected from both sides. However putting up in boasting of a human being you have just killed unfortunately is reflective of the IDF and current Israeli governments self righteous mentality. Than again, what else is to be expected from the same military that specifically targeted a UN controlled centre for children in its last land invasion of Gaza

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  4. Baz M

    Law graduate & politics/markets analyst

    Insightful article. I won't get into the politics of the IDF/Hamas affair but regarding the ignorance of youth nowadays concerning global political affairs or conflicts is pretty spot on.
    However I don't blame the youth per se. They are a product of the current times. And the current times are a result of the end of the soviets hence US global domination on its own and with that the dominance of its preferred economic structure. Such structure being the onslaught of popular culture capitalism…

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  5. John Knowles Stretch

    Arid Rangeland resident

    140#
    More Israel’s election-timed overreach Mat
    If you consider the role Ahmed al Jabari played
    in effectively ‘blocking His Own Breech’

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  6. Fran Barlow

    teacher

    Well that was full of novel insight. You are an authority on Middle Eastern matters and you give us "he said, she said". Gosh.

    There is a real conflict going on in the observable world in which people are dying. One ought at least to be able to come here and find san account of why it is occurring/continuing and how it might come to an end.

    Instead, you give us twitter-based sabre rattling. That's just sad.

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    1. Ryan Struk

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Fran Barlow

      To provide an account of why it is occurring and continuing is no small task and not the point of this article. This is a discussion on how both sides are attempting to dumb down the conflict into a string of back and forth one liners. I think that is a valid line of enquiry from a media studies perspective.

      I would add that this theme of twitter/political pub brawling is something I've noticed when watching Q&A. There is no shortage of trite twitter comments which simply barrack for one side or the other.

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