Dr. Ron Schleifer
Dr. Ron SchleiferCourtesy

The sight of reporters from Hamas and PLO news agents participating in the barbaric Hamas raid on the communities near the Gaza Strip on the Simchat Torah holiday, Saturday 7.10 was not a surprise to reporters in the international and Israeli media.The Palestinian Arabs' information control was known to all the foreign correspondents who ever reported from Israel and to all the influential media outlets in the world.

This is an Israeli government failure, and is in fact a weakness of all Israeli governments from the days of the Rabin government to the present day.

Sabra arrogance vis-à-vis Jews abroad is the other side of the coin of Israel's groveling to any authority from abroad. Added to this is the contempt on the part of members of the defense establishment, the administration, and the media regarding the importance of Israel's image abroad. They preferred another tank, plane or secret agent to budget allotments to public relations.

The Palestinian Arabs, on the other hand, understood very well the gap between Israel's military might and theirs. They relied on psychological warfare as a tool against Israel by conveying messages to the world through the media, especially the foreign media.

The way to speak to all target audiences, especially in the Western world, relies on the mass media,which traditionally enjoyed high credibility."It was written in the newspaper," "it was broadcast on television," "they said it on the radio," - certainly if they quoted the news agencies.

In the late 1970s the PLO opened an office on Salah a Din Street. In eastern Jerusalem which supplied services to foreign journalists. Known as PALESTINE PRESS SERVICE it translated into English the articles from the Arab newspapers that conformed to its political line. It arranged tours for foreign journalists throughout Judea, Samaria and Gaza, mainly in the refugee camps, and initiated meetings with Palestinian Arab political leaders and interpreters in a variety of foreign languages. The office was run by Raymonda Tawil, who later became Arafat's mother-in-law. Thus, a broad infrastructure of assistance to foreign correspondents was created as an address for sources of information and information on their behalf. It was already functioning during the first intifada in 1987.

On the other hand, the Israeli political system has traditionally ignored the hundreds of foreign correspondents who roam Israel looking for journalistic stories for a living. The political elite referred only to the big stars such as representatives of the major television networks from the United States. The Palestinian Arabs exploited this lacuna and failure to the fullest. They provided information on behalf of all the other journalists who were not among the world's largest broadcasters. They forged social and personal ties with these journalists, and of course professional connections.

The flood of journalists that deluged Israel during the first intifada became a goldmine in every sense for Israeli media professionals and nimble Palestinian Arab entrepreneurs. They rushed to provide services to the approximately 800 foreign correspondents who came to cover the events. In fact, Israel has always been a convenient place for coverage, with comfortable hotels, good restaurants, an educated Jewish and Arab population and a source of dramatic news production without the need for endangering lives.

The PLO Media Center moved to the prestigious American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem. A reporter who came from abroad received briefings and VIP hospitality free of charge from the PLO. The journalists received accommodation services, transportation to the field and mainly "human interest" stories from a Palestinian Arab perspective, vis-à-vis what was portrayed as the "occupying" Israel. The foreign media cooperated and generously paid Palestinian Arab journalists and photographers. The latter found it a generous source of income.

The organizers made sure to place the teams in convenient photography locations (in advance) and, in the absence of events, also made sure to produce them. During the second intifada, Palestinian Arab terrorism escalated with shootings and suicide bombings, which increased expenses for media organizations, such as salaries and life insurance premiums for reporters, and coverage was transferred to the stringers – the local reporters and aid personnel who link the foreign correspondent to the local society wherever it is covered.

Gradually, the coverage passed into the hands of the locals, who the Palestinian Authority and Hamas sponsored, of course, with the understanding that they were reporters recruited in the service of the Palestinian Arabs and not Western nonsense such as the public's right to know. The affair of Mohammed a Dura's killing, (psychological warfare at its best) was filmed by Talal Abu Rahma at Netzarim Junction for a French television channel. Reporter Charles Enderlin was at his home in Jerusalem at the time.

Needless to say, in many cases the credit is given to the foreign network. The difference between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority was that a foreign journalist who did not conform was cut off from his sources and threatened with his life by Hamas.

This is the background to the Arab photographers on the motorcycles and Toyota trucks that were seen speeding between the kibbutzim on Saturday, October 7, including Hamas members who acted as reporters along with the raiding force. On this front, too, Israel fell asleep on guard duty and is paying an unbearable price.

As in the fighting in Gaza and the awakening vis-à-vis the Arabs of Judea and Samaria and Israel, this is the time for Israel to stand its ground against foreign media organizations as well.

Dr. Yehudit Yehezkeli is a senior political analyst and journalist at Yedioth Ahronoth

Dr. Ron Shleifer is a lecturer at the School of Communication at Ariel University