The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) published in its weekly summary a report on an incident in which three Palestinians were killed by IDF fire: "On Saturday, December 26, 2009 at around 00:30 Israeli forces opened fire on a number of Palestinians who approached the border. As a result, three of them were killed. They were unarmed and apparently trying to infiltrate Israel in order to look for work."
The organization thus accuses the IDF of killing three innocent Palestinian civilians. In order to further exacerbate the Israeli "crime", the organization added details in the service of Palestinian propaganda in relation to the economic distress in the Gaza Strip, which it claims is the reason that the group of Palestinians attempted to enter Israel to find work.
Stories of this kind, about young people who were killed in an attempt to cross the border to find work in Israel, can be found in abundance in reports issued by Palestinian human rights groups as well as in reports on Palestinian victims issued by B'Tselem.
This case allows one to learn about the conduct of terror organizations, Palestinian propaganda (sometimes with the assistance of Israeli human rights organizations) and the ineffectiveness of Israeli public relations. In this relation it should be clarified that not a single Palestinian terror organization claimed responsibility for the incident. Does this mean that these were civilians and not terrorists? Not necessarily.
The IDF Spokesperson's Office issued a statement on December 29, 2009, which sheds some light on the incident:
"On Friday night an IDF force identified four terrorists approaching the border fence in northern Gaza in a military crawl, apparently in order to carry out an attack in Israel. The force fired at them using the 'see and fire' system, with the help of Air Force jets and forces from the Golani Brigade. The fire killed three terrorists and an additional terrorist was injured… In patrols held after the incident soldiers discovered a rope ladder and three explosive devices, among them a powerful device."
The story of the incident, as it is revealed by the IDF's version, is totally different from the report published by the Palestinian human rights group. The four Palestinian youths, three of whom were killed by IDF fire, were not trying to find work in Israel due to economic distress, but were sent either by a Palestinian terror organization or the Hamas government's security forces on a mission – to plant powerful explosive devices on the border with Israel.
The devices could have been intended for attacks on Israeli vehicles traveling on the road near the border, or as preparation for an attack intended to attract IDF forces to an area full of explosive devices near the border.
No PR strategy
The terror organizations work in a way that takes advantage of young Palestinians as assistants in terror attacks without identifying them as operatives of specific organizations. This is known from experience and requires a careful analysis of Palestinian claims regarding the killing of civilians by the IDF.
PCHR is doing extensive damage to Israel in the international arena. The data it publishes are accepted as reliable by UN agencies, which use them to condemn Israel. It also played an important role in feeding figures to the Goldstone committee on Operation Cast Lead, and influenced its conclusions. In addition, in recent years the organization's management has been conducting international legal battles against state and army officials in Israel, and was also responsible for filing legal claims against military officials in Britain, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, and other countries.
Israeli public relations organizations have so far refrained from contradicting the data published by PCHR, or confronting it with facts held by the IDF in order to harm its credibility. In the case of the four Palestinian youths all of the facts needed for a PR campaign exist, and according to the description in the IDF statement it can be deduced that the forces possess filmed proof of the gathering of weaponry from the incident.
So why doesn't Israel take advantage of the opportunity before it to attack one of the organizations held responsible for the damage done to the state and its image? The answer to this is simple and unfortunate. No proper Israeli PR plan exists, and there is no PR strategy but for occasional ad-hoc treatment of momentary crises.
From government to government the PR failure continues and it serves to undermine Israel's most vital interests. The continuing helplessness in the field of PR will not only cause hefty political damage, but will also destabilize the foundations of support that exist in Jewish communities abroad. This is a national emergency where Israel is concerned, and true leadership that can conduct change in the field of PR is desperately needed.
Jonathan Dahoah Halevi is a senior researcher and fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Director of Research at the Orient Research Group
-- A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting its shoes on Mark Twain