By Stuart Littlewood
Stuart Littlewood calls on Hamas – indeed, on all Palestinians – to hone their long-neglected public relations strategy, arguing that “whoever rules in Palestine will never win any battles with Israel or the US without a proper media set-up and an effective communications strategy”.
In the five years since I became interested in the Palestinians, only two things of positive note have happened in the occupied territories.
The Palestinians held full and fair elections in 2006 to establish themselves as a democracy – and much good it did them.
And in Gaza these amazing people have resolutely survived a vicious land and sea blockade imposed by Israel and aided and abetted by the Western powers as soon as those elections put Hamas into government. They have resisted almost daily air strikes and armed intrusions for four years and courageously withstood the cowardly Israeli blitzkrieg of 20 months ago.
And during all that time they have endured unending barbarity and betrayal, which would have brought a lesser nation to its knees. They have come through.
I often wonder if the British could have clung on through the London blitz, which my family lived under, if they’d had nothing to fight with and nowhere to run and, in addition, they’d had to contend with Nazi tanks in the streets, thousands of checkpoints, Nazi rifle butts smashing down their front doors, and the foul stench of Nazi stormtroopers in their jackboots ransacking their homes and dragging off family members.
Palestinians have been put through that sort of mangle for decades. Death and misery still stalk their daily lives thanks to piss-poor Palestinian leadership and the international community’s moral bankruptcy.
When Palestinians elected Hamas, sore losers Fatah set out to cause maximum trouble. The relentless pressures of occupation and bribery succeed in causing internal divisions and self-destruction. When an attempted coup was beaten off there were claims that Hamas “seized control” when it simply acted to enforce its legitimate authority.
With Palestine’s internal squabbles continuing – even now – Yasser Arafat would be spinning under his mausoleum slab if he could see the depths to which his party has sunk.
Meanwhile, Israel’s propaganda machine, unchallenged, churns out the lies that Western politicians and Western media feed on and broadcast in order to sustain the racist entity.
“Impossible to reach agreement with Israel”
Khalid Amayreh, writing in Desert Peace, describes how the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas is being pressed yet again by Washington to resume “seemingly futile” peace talks, while two of Fatah’s veteran heavyweights speak out against any more concessions to the Obama administration.
Ahmed Qurei, a one-time aide to Arafat and a former prime minister of the PA, argued that, in view of Israel’s refusal to give up the spoils of the 1967 war, it was pointless to keep talking just for the sake of it. Nineteen years of talks had achieved nothing. “It seems utterly impossible to reach an agreement with Israel. Therefore, the Palestinian people must seek alternatives… Israel is not willing to end its occupation and allow for the creation of a viable Palestinian state.”
He didn’t say what the “alternatives” might be, which is a little unhelpful.
At the same time Nabil Amr, former Palestine Liberation Organization ambassador in Cairo, condemned the Abbas leadership as “vacillating, inconsistent, and unable to withstand external pressure”. He also had harsh words for “the mantra of American pressure”, which was designed to push the Palestinian people into submission or capitulation. “There are those among us who are trying to portray American pressure as if it were expedient to our interests,” said Amr. Actually, Obama is no friend. He has become a coercer, even a bully, while Netanyahu is given a free hand to dictate the rules of the game.
OK, so not all Fatah people are useless.
But there’s a gaping hole at the heart of the Palestinian Authority’s battered credibility – quite apart from a sickening lack of integrity. It’s their failure to understand that the war of words, if conducted effectively, is more important than the war of bullets. Israeli spin doctor Mark Regev and his team of lie-mongers would be easy meat for a Palestinian media outfit that was properly trained, alert and reasonably well resourced.
Alas, the Palestinian Authority refuses to gear up to meet the challenge. So the Israelis run rings round their victim – though not as much as they used to. The Zionist regime’s “crapaganda” effort has been significantly blunted not by the Palestinian Authority, which remains paralytic, but the actions of student groups and other pro-Palestinian activists around the world, who are beginning to put the Israelis in their place.
It is hugely disappointing to friends and supporters that Ramallah’s hot-shots have failed to put a coherent message across, supposing they actually had one. When I was writing my book (in 2006) I tried several times through London and Ramallah to arrange a meeting with Fatah bosses. They wouldn’t even give me the time of day. They simply didn’t care about communicating with the outside world. So I joined the growing multitude who wrote them off as a waste of space. Their antics since then have confirmed my assessment.
It is vitally important for Palestinian embassies in London and other key capitals to become a ready source of newsworthy material, and to proactively set the news agenda with spokespeople speaking clear and faultless English. Until this happens it will not be possible to engage the interest of mainstream media, and Palestinians will continue to lose the propaganda battle even though truth and justice are on their side.
Yes, we all know the British media are biased. But editors say they receive press releases from the London embassy “once in a blue moon”, while the Israelis take the initiative on the news front and fall over backwards to make a reporter’s life easy.
“We are not trained like the Israelis,” I heard one senior PA man say. Exactly. That’s the problem. The PA was offered media skills training some four years ago and turned it down. There may be murky reasons. It has been suggested that the PA, in its game of “footsie” with the US, was made to promise not to embarrass Israel publicly. This has given rise to suspicions that Palestinian ambassadors around the world are gagged by the regime in Ramallah and prevented from crossing swords with their blood-thirsty opponents. Why else would headquarters have left its London office, in particular, so woefully lacking in the skills and resources needed to make a proper impact at this important time?
I don’t believe they are batting for Palestine at all. But that’s just a personal opinion.
The wreckage of Gaza, the great suffering and the day-to-day air-strikes against its civilians – these ongoing crimes are allowed to be lost in the smoke and mirrors of Netanyahu’s scheme to divert attention towards Iran.
Netanyahu briefs Western journalists on his outrageous programme of conquest, implying that Palestinians must accept settlements declared illegal under international law and insisting that Israeli “sovereignty” over Jerusalem cannot be questioned. The PA’s media experts – if they had any – could make mincemeat of Israel’s preposterous claims and reframe the occupation in a way that told the world the truth.
“A house divided cannot stand”
Ordinary working people from countries far away, who put their hands in their own pockets and bravely drove with Free-Gaza convoys or sailed with mercy-mission ships, have done far more for the Palestinian cause than the internationally-funded, natty-suited poseurs who have no democratic mandate but strut the international stage achieving – well, achieving what?
Fatah have done themselves (and others) irreparable damage. They have shot their bolt. How will they command respect in the foreseeable future?
Meanwhile, it is four-and-a-half years since the fateful day Hamas was elected to power. They may have been surprised and unprepared then, but there is no excuse for squandering such a heaven-sent opportunity now. If, as the Islamic resistance movement has said before, it is prepared to accept the reality of Israel behind the internationally-recognized pre-1967 borders, its much criticized Charter no longer has a place in Hamas diplomacy. Why hasn’t it been consigned to the wastepaper basket of Palestinian history and replaced with something more constructive?
Hamas must do (within chosen limits, of course) whatever it takes to abolish its sinister image and make the rest of the world feel comfortable. It must erase its ‘terrorist’ reputation, whether justified or not.
It must remove obstacles to cooperation. It must take the wind out of Israel’s and America’s sails. In short, it must reinvent itself as a matter of urgency.
It must re-brand, open the door and make itself more approachable.
This wouldn’t be difficult. Hamas’s government team are well educated and competent. They have been tested like no other. Some are described as hardliners but they are not generally seen as Islamic extremists, and I heard no serious complaints from the Christian community when I was there. There is every reason to believe that the tradition of getting along together is still cherished despite the best efforts of “Christian” warmongers of the West to drive a wedge between Muslim and Christian.
It seems to me that if Western politicians can enthusiastically hobnob with rabid Zionists, ignore their war crimes and persistent lawlessness, and even wave the Israeli flag for them back in London and Washington, they should find it perfectly agreeable to sit down with not-so-rabid Islamists.
But how do we get to that point?
Two years ago a Palestine strategy group produced a report called “Regaining the Initiative – Palestinian Strategic Options to End Israeli Occupation”. Besides reminding Palestinians what their strategic objectives should be, it urged them “to seize their destiny in their own hands” by refusing to enter into peace negotiations unless the international community dealt first with issues relating to national self-determination, liberation from occupation, individual and collective rights, and enforcement of international law.
Only when these priorities were met could peacemaking and state-building begin.
First things first, right?
Secondly it spelled out the need for national unity. “A house divided against itself
cannot stand… Palestinian strategic action is impossible if the Palestinian nation is unable to speak with one voice or to act with one will.”
Right again. Well-wishers like me shake their heads in disbelief at the ongoing disunity.
The report, which was funded by the EU, concluded by saying:
What Palestinians must be prepared to undertake is nothing less than a final and conclusive strategic battle with Israel… The main conclusion of the strategic review conducted by the Palestine Strategy Study Group is that Palestinians have more strategic cards than they think – and Israel has fewer.
If that’s the case, the authors might consider turning their report into a fully-fledged action plan taking into account what has happened in the last two years and what might happen next if the paralysis continues, and making it a working document for the international community as well as the PA and Hamas to study.
Perhaps they have already done so.
But whoever rules in Palestine will never win any battles with Israel or the US without a proper media set-up and an effective communications strategy.
Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk