“This child, who is grasping the stone, facing the tank, is it not the greatest message to the world when that hero becomes a martyr? We are proud of them.” – Yasser Arafat
Hanging above Israel is a strategic threat that, at the end of the day, is greater than Hamas terror, burning kites, tunnels and rockets, greater even than Iran and Hezbollah. It is the threat of “child soldiers,” a tool the Palestinians have been using successfully since the 1970s to promote anti-Israel propaganda and earn the favor of the West. It is a wicked and cynical modus operandi that works perfectly.
We’re not talking about “humani shields,” “incitement” or any other clumsy euphemism of the government’s tired and ineffectual hasbara machine. We are talking about the cruel use of children in a prolonged, cynical, no-holds-barred campaign of psychological warfare. Through it, the Palestinians cause us to doubt the justice of our path, to fight terror with our hands tied, to explain and to apologize to the world and to turn our allies into our adversaries.
They take advantage of our natural compassion, and that of every civilized society, toward children and turn it into power, and we are supposed to apologize for being the only country in the world where every new house or apartment contains a blast-resistant “safe room,” which spends huge sums on the Iron Dome anti-missile system and which does not supply, after each attack deliberately targeting its civilian population, the gory images for which the global media hungers.
Not only does Israel’s government fail to address this threat and understand why this form of warfare is so successful from a psychological perspective, the government supplies the fuel for it. For decades we have done an excellent job fighting Palestinian terror militarily, but we continue to lose this war of public diplomacy. This emotional manipulation can and must be stopped; if not, we won’t be able to gain the compassion and solidarity that we deserve. Nor is a peace agreement attainable, as long as the world views us as criminals.
In the absence of a strategy to combat the Palestinian propaganda war, time and time again we fall into the same trap. Our army is compelled to respond with force, which by necessity results in Palestinian casualties. We deserve more than a government that only reacts and whose agenda is set by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. We deserve more than a government that lifts up the BDS movement on the backs of Lionel Messi and Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai, while whining pathetically about “anti-Semitism,” its excuse for all its failures.
The hasbara war is war. It requires a strategy and a sustained, effective and powerful offensive. After 30 years of propaganda, the time has come to expose the Palestinians’ strategy of using children, to document it and to turn this weapon against them. In our 70 years of independence, we have created a story that is much greater and more inspiring than what we have shown to the world. We must give voice to this story. Hasbara is no substitute for a persistent war on terror, but in a cynical, media-saturated world it is necessary.
And we absolutely must also take the initiative in proposing a peace plan instead of waiting for the barren notions of others. Without a diplomatic initiative, our military victories will be for naught and we will lose the hasbara wars again and again. The solution and the victory in the conflict are one, and they will be achieved only through a combination of military offensive, public diplomacy and political security arrangements. When we genuinely search for political solutions we shall find them, and when we do we shall fight better until we realize them.
We deserve a government with vision that initiates solutions, not a government that makes do with reaction and containment at the expense of its citizens, out of weakness.
And against the loathsome ideology of Arafat and his successors, we are sufficiently strong and enlightened to propose our own ideology:
“And cursed be he who cries out: Revenge! / Vengeance like this, for the blood of a child, / Satan has yet to devise. / Let the blood fill the abyss!” (Chaim Nahman Bialik, 1903, after the Kishinev pogrom)
We are a strong and moral society, we have a strong and moral army, so let’s behave like the strong and replace vengeance with solutions.
Amiram Levin is a retired major general and a member of the Labor Party.
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