Total Pageviews

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Palestinian Blogger Chips Away at Israel\'s Image, One Ill-Advised Instagram at a Time

A young Israeli soldier was reprimanded by his superiors this week after his urge to share his life in the military with friends and strangers online led him to post a photograph on Instagram offering a view of the back of a Palestinian boy’s head in the cross hairs of a sniper rifle.

The photograph was discovered last week by the Palestinian-American activist Ali Abunimah, who monitors social networks for “raw and unfiltered” glimpses of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank to publicize on The Electronic Intifada, a site he co-founded.

A screenshot of an image posted on Instagram by an Israeli soldier. A screenshot of an image posted on Instagram by an Israeli soldier.

Before the 20-year-old Israeli sniper who uploaded the photograph was able to delete his account from the social network, Mr. Abunimah and other bloggers copied it and the snapshot was published on news sites in Israel and around the world â€" dealing another self-inflicted blow to the Israeli military’s effort to use the Web to burnish its image.

After a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces told reporters that sharing the photograph was “a severe incident which doesn’t accord with the I.D.F.’s spirit and values,” the young man also deleted his Facebook account, where he had posted images of himself using his sniper rifle as a comic prop.

A screenshot from the Facebook account of Mor Ostrovski, a young Israeli soldier. A screenshot from the Facebook account of Mor Ostrovski, a young Israeli soldier.

The Israeli veterans’ group Breaking the Silence, which collects testimony from soldiers who have served in the Palestinian territories first occupied by Israel in 1967, posted a screenshot of the photograph on Facebook side-by-side with a very similar image “taken by another Israeli soldier in Hebron in 2003.”

A photograph taken through the scope of a rifle in the West Bank in 2003, released this week by the Israeli veterans group Breaking the Silence.Breaking the Silence, via Facebook A photograph taken through the scope of a rifle in the West Bank in 2003, released this week by the Israeli veterans grou! p Breakin! g the Silence.

In a statement on the two images, the veterans wrote:

Both pictures are testaments to the abuse of power rooted in the military control of another people. Ten years have passed. Technology and media have changed. The distribution of images has changed. But the exaggerated sense of power and the blatant disregard for human life and dignity have remained: this is what occupation looks like.

Israel is not the only country that has been forced to confront the irrepressible urge of young recruits to share aspects of their lives in uniform online that their superiors would rather keep from public view. Just months into the uprising in Syria, graphic video clips of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad torturing prisoners and gloating over dead bodies became ammunition in the propaganda battle being waged online. As that struggle escalated into armed conflict into war, similar images of rebel fighters committing atrocities were passed around on social networks by Assad supporters.

The American abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib predated Facebook and Instagram, but it resonated online in large part because of the disturbing snapshots the prison guards took of themselves reveling in the humiliation of their captives. Similarly, the Pentagon’s effort to win a propaganda battle with the Afghan Taliban has been undermined by damaging trophy shots American soldiers took of themselves urinating on insurgents they killed in battle and posing with civilians they killed for sport.

Like the activist bloggers in Syria who are working to undermine their enemies, Mr. Abunimah and his colleagues at the Electronic Intifada scour the Web for material to counter Israelis who use social media platforms to cast their army’s activities in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip in a positive light.

In an online chat with The Lede on Tuesday, Mr. Abunimah explained that the Electronic Intifada bloggers, “monitor social media content produced by Israelis and Palestinians in the context of the ‘conflict.’ This has proven to be a source of newsworthy content that is often raw and unfiltered by P.R. machinery.”

Asked how they manage to monitor such a torrent of information, Mr. Abunimah said:“We try to keep an eye on various streams. Without being too specific, we may pay attention to particular tags.” The same principle, he said, “applies to all popular social media platforms: YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.”

Mr. Abunimah added: “we’re always on the lookout for sock puppetry and astroturfing that Israel or surrogates may launch P.R. campaigns that are not overtly identified as such. So we look at the output of individuals because we cannot assume that all propaganda is put out with the state’s name on it.” The Electronic Intifada helped uncover one such covert campaign in 2011, in which an Israeli actor pretended to be a disillusioned supporter of the Gaza flotilla movement for a fake video blog post.

As The Lede reported in 2010, the battle between supporters of Israelis and Palestinians is even waged between the lines of Wikipedia entries on the history of the conflict. That year, Naftali Bennett, a rising political star and a leader of Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank, explained that he was training a group of about 80 activists to edit Wikipedia entries to make sure that information in the online encyclopedia reflected the worldview of Zionist groups. For example, he said, “if someone searches ‘the Gaza flotilla,’ we want to be there; to influence what is written there, how it’s written and to ensure that it is balanced and Zionist in nature.”