Fact or Fiction: The propaganda war won’t stop, even during a truce | Israel-Palestine conflict
After weeks of discussions on a “humanitarian pause”, there is finally a tenuous truce in place.
This has been a long road, largely because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants a never-ending war — in part to defer his ongoing domestic political and legal woes, and in part because he claims to want to pursue the almost impossible task of eliminating Hamas.
Meanwhile, Hamas know their only hope for being perceived as victorious — however pyrrhic any such “win” might be — is to secure an indefinite ceasefire.
With that scenario unlikely, they must also maintain a narrative of escalation, and use rhetoric to ensure that their regional allies remain primed and ready.
Cue the rise of anti-diplomacy, which international security studies scholar James Der Derian characterises as a form of “war by other means”. It encompasses practices that effectively perpetrate a form of violence against the traditional process of diplomatic mediation and reconciliation.
Part of this anti-diplomacy is an increase in attacks on those advocating mediation, reconciliation and peace – often involving disinformation and propaganda. These attacks are multifaceted, occurring domestically, regionally and internationally.
On November 23, the Israel account on X, run by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, posted an edited video showing an Israeli soldier purportedly navigating a Hamas tunnel near al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza — adding to a growing set of such videos. Intriguingly, the video references Qatar three times, specifically pointing out the tunnel’s proximity to the “Qatari compound” and the “Qatari building”.
The phrase “Qatari building” in the context of al-Shifa has only ever been used since November 16, with the earliest mention appearing to emanate from a video posted by the Israeli army. Usually, the Qatari building refers to the “Qatar Reconstruction HQ”, which lies 3km (1.9 miles) away.
The use of such language is no coincidence. With propaganda, nothing happens by accident. Word choices — especially the mention of particular countries or people, are carefully selected to convey certain messages.
In this case, it’s part of a broader attempt to try and link Qatar to Hamas and the Israeli narrative of al-Shifa serving as a command-and-control centre for the armed Palestinian group.
Qatar has been playing a leading role in mediating for peace amid the current war. Its work has been central to the negotiations that have led to the release of captives by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners by Israel, starting Friday.
By trying to undermine the mediator’s credibility, Israel hopes it can pressure Qatar into securing a better deal for itself — sometimes, even when its efforts are at odds with what the United States, its closest ally, is saying and doing.
In October, for instance, the Israeli army deleted a video critical of Qatar following US President Joe Biden’s commendation of Qatar for its mediation efforts, pointing to a tension between US policy and Israel’s internal politics.
In other words, Israel’s attempts at anti-diplomacy have run afoul of the US, which has emphasised its faith in Qatar’s role as a mediator.
There are other examples, too, of anti-diplomacy at work. United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories Francesca Albanese has been the target of a smear campaign accusing her of violating the UN’s Code of Conduct.
Albanese, an international law expert and outspoken advocate of peace, publicly refuted accusations promoted by pro-Israel propagandists surrounding a trip to Australia, clarifying that the journey was officially funded by the UN as part of its mandate.
Albanese has emerged as one of the most eloquent and credible voices in calling for an end to the war through a ceasefire. Her snappy put-downs of ill-informed questions from journalists have frequently gone viral, earning her a growing social media following. In Australia, one pro-peace protester even held up a placard bearing her picture and the slogan “The real Albanese” — in a reference to the country’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
For Israel, the end of conflict may also mean the process of accountability beginning. This is why influential diplomatic voices like Albanese’s, calling for peace, are targets of disinformation.
With more than 100,000 followers on X, her reach and social media savvy make her a threat to Israel’s forces of anti-diplomacy. The war on attempts to bridge differences — diplomacy, in a broader sense — is playing out on college campuses in the US and Europe, which have become battlegrounds of public opinion. There have been allegations of college protests promoting anti-Semitism and anti-Palestinianism.
Yet these are also subject to anti-diplomacy campaigns designed to promote division and conflict. The University of British Columbia’s branch of Hillel, an organisation dedicated to promoting Jewish life on campus, reported that a contractor of theirs, without the organisation’s knowledge, had placed stickers around the campus with the message “I love Hamas”. The aim was clearly to manipulate anxieties and smear pro-Palestinian activists as necessarily pro-Hamas.
What about Hamas?
Hamas will have its own propaganda plans for this period of truce. And in the absence of a full ceasefire — with Israel making it clear that it intends to continue the war after the pause — Hamas might have reasons to worry.
At the moment, the global public mood, including in the West, seems to be in support of a ceasefire – although Western politicians seem less inclined to back that sentiment.
Mainstream media and social media are vital in shaping opinions. Hamas knows this, and that it needs relentless global pressure against the war.
Hamas doesn’t just need Gaza to remain in the news, but needs Palestinians to be humanised. Will the world stop caring as much if the temporary let-up in bombing slows down the tide of horrific social media videos of slaughtered civilians coming out of Gaza?
With Israel gunning for further war, Hamas must prepare both militarily and also rhetorically.
Enter anti-diplomacy, again. On November 23, after the truce had been announced and less than a day before it was to come into force, the military wing of Hamas released a video calling for “all resistance fronts” to escalate confrontation with Israel.
It may seem counterintuitive to call for an escalation right before a pause obtained through tough negotiations. But Hamas will not want the truce to send the signal to its allies in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran that they can ease up in their support for the Palestinian group in the war against Israel.
The threat of regional escalation — yes, on “all resistance fronts” — has been one of Hamas’s trump cards in trying to encourage even reluctant US efforts to call for a truce.
So, what do I expect in the next few days?
Israel will seek to keep public opinion mobilised in support of war and undermine mediators or those calling for peace. For their part, Hamas will want to generate maximum sympathy for Palestinian suffering, while also maintaining a level of bellicosity to maintain support from their allies.
On November 25, the deal that has enabled a pause in fighting faced another crisis when Hamas delayed the release of captives, accusing Israel of reneging on aspects of the agreement.
It’s hard to say which side was to blame, or whether both shared responsibility — but the drama underscored the fragility of the truce.
The bombing may have been paused, but war by other means continues.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.