After a brief period of a relatively peaceful co-existence between the Jews and Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territory, a series of events sparked the flames that fanned into the movement commonly called the Intifada. The embers were stirred on October 1, 1987, when the Israeli military killed seven men from Gaza who were believed to be participants in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization. A few months later an Israeli civilian was stabbed and killed in a market in Gaza. However, the final spark was an incident in which four Palestinian youths from Jabaliya were hit and killed by an Israeli semi-truck—the accident was quickly rumored to have been intentional and the truck, an Israeli military vehicle. The next day, December 9, 1987, with stress and tension already high between the two communities, an Israeli officer open-fired into a hostile, protesting crowd of Palestinian youths and killed seventeen year-old Hatem Abu Sisi. Most historians refer to these events as the start of the Palestinian Intifada.
By nearly all accounts, the Intifada achieved several measures of success for the Palestinians—especially those living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Among other accomplishments, most scholars of the Intifada agree that the movement resulted in 1) greater national self-confidence, empowerment, and unity, 2) an improved international image, 3) national adoption of effective, non-lethal mass civil disobedience, 4) turning the occupied territories into economic liabilities for the Israelis, 5) polarizing the Israeli society on the Palestinian question, 6) forcing the dispatch of large numbers of Israeli soldiers to engage unarmed Palestinians, 7) giving the Palestinians leverage in negotiations, 8) causing King Hussein and Jordan to give up the claim for the West Bank, and 9) forcing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to take earlier rejected action—accepting Israel’s right to exist and renouncing terrorism (actions which were prerequisites to U.S. involvement in peace talks and which led to Oslo accords) (Friedman, 1995; Reische, 1991; Nassar, 1997; Hiro, 1999).
The Intifada was not a tank on tank battle or plane on plane engagement. It was not even an infantry fight. The Intifada largely consisted of Palestinian boys, teenagers, and college-aged kids throwing rocks at the most powerful military force in the Middle East. How then did the Palestinian movement achieve the impressive aforementioned accomplishments? The thesis of this paper is that the Intifada achieved the success through an effective, coordinated series of psychological operations (PSYOP). This paper will look at several different activities and tactics of the Intifada and relate these actions to PSYOP. Specifically, the paper will analyze the Intifada’s use of leaflets, symbolism, and the media.
Psychological Operation Basic Principles
To understand the Intifada’s use of PSYOP, one must first have a basic understanding of PSYOP and its goals. Col. (ret.) Alfred H. Paddock, Jr. , explains that “A broad definition of psychological operations details the planned use of communications to influence human attitudes and behavior. They consist of political, military, and ideological actions (emphasis mine) conducted on target groups to create desired behaviors, emotions, and attitudes” (p. 25). Similarly, the late air force colonel, Fred W. Walker wrote, “We might consider the term persuasive communications to mean the same thing as psychological operations” (p. 17). The essence of PSYOP then is to target specific audiences, develop messages for those target audiences, determine how the messages will be delivered and disseminated, and then evaluate the overall effectiveness of the campaign. All these activities are undertaken for the single goal of influence.
Among other items, U.S. Army doctrine teaches that a PSYOP program and plan must include: objectives, themes to stress, target audiences, and dissemination means and conduits (US Army Field Manual 3-05.301, CHP 6, Para 6-1). This paper will demonstrate that the Intifada PSYOP meets these criteria. In order to support the thesis that Intifada achieved the success through an effective, coordinated series of psychological operations, the paper will address the messages of the Intifada, what messages were delivered to which target audiences, how the messages were delivered, and when possible, evaluate the effectiveness of the messages.
Often people think of PSYOP as only being implemented against an opposing force in order to bend the will or cause the enemy to behave in certain ways. While this presupposition is true for United States PSYOP (where law prohibits any US PSYOP from targeting American citizens), it is not necessarily true in other regions. In fact, PSYOP can prove extremely effective when targeting groups other than enemy targets. Findley (2004) writes, “Directed toward neutral or friendly target audiences, it (PSYOP) can be used to unite them, boost their morale, and provide information designed to foster their understanding and cooperation” (p. 52). As one can see, PSYOP can be advantageously directed towards friendly, enemy, and/or neutral target audiences. The PSYOP employed by the Intifada targeted all of these three specific and unique audiences: 1) the friendly target audience—the Palestinians in the occupied territories, 2) the enemy target audience—the Jewish people in the Israeli state and the Israeli army 3) and the neutral target audience—the international population i.e. international public opinion and international policy makers. As a result of the diversified target audiences, the Intifada incorporated different themes and messages for each target audiences. Finally, Intifada used different means of delivery and distribution dependent on the particular message and the target audience.
The Use of Leaflets in Psychological Operations
When leaflets and poems guide people’s routines, bring them into the streets and dictate the permissible and the forbidden, something serious is occurring. It happened in Zionism, it happened to national movements in Europe, in South America, and in Asia. It happened in Iran, and it has happened among the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Mishal & Aharoni, 1994, p.1)
Perhaps one of the oldest forms of PSYOP, besides face-to-face communication, is the leaflet. US Army doctrine list several advantages of using leaflets as a PSYOP product. These advantages include: 1) Printed word has a high degree of credibility, acceptance, and prestige. 2) Printed matter is unique and can be passed from person to person without distortion. 3) A permanent message cannot be changed unless physically altered. 4) Dissemination is to, and is read by, a larger, widespread target audience. 5) Target audience can reread for reinforcement. 6) Messages can be hidden and read in private. 7) Complex and lengthy material can be explained in detail. 8) Printed material can gain prestige by acknowledging authoritative and expert authors (US Army FM 3-05.301, Chp 9, para 9-26). It is likely for these advantages listed above that the leadership of the Intifada used leaflets as the primary means of communication to the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Target Audience of the leaflets
Although at times Palestinian leaflets addressed the Israeli public or specific Israeli groups to explain actions or argue for peace, during Intifada, the target audience for the leaflets was almost exclusively other Palestinians living in the occupied territories that were participating in the uprising. As mentioned earlier, oftentimes PSYOP towards friendly or neutral groups can unite, boost morale and inform. Additionally, “psychological operations can promote resistance within a civilian populace against a hostile regime” (Goldstein & Jacobowitz, 2004, p.5). Gaza and the West Bank were considered occupied territory and therefore a hostile regime to the Palestinian people. It is for the goals listed above (unity, boosting morale, information and promoting resistance) that the Palestinians used PSYOP on their own people—a friendly target audience. The Intifada leaflets achieved the objectives of PSYOP towards a friendly audience and more.
Messages and Distribution of the leaflets
In this situation, we know why the Intifada chose a friendly target audience, we know how the Intifada delivered the message (in leaflet form) but what message did the leaflets convey and how did the Intifada go about distribution? The leaflets, distributed secretly, on average every two weeks became the de facto political voice and form of political expression for the Palestinians under occupation. Similar to the approval process for US PSYOP products, the leaflets developed by the United National Command (UNC) were drafted in the occupied territories, and then faxed to PLO headquarters in Tunis for input, approval, polishing and signatures. The leaflet directed everyday activities and routines of the Palestinians lives. They offered encouragements, outlined Intifada’s achievements, and addressed such issues as work, health, transportation, education issues and religious instructions, agriculture, strikes, boycotts, shop hours. “The leaflets provided detailed guidelines on what was permitted and what was prohibited” (Mishal & Aharon, 1994, p. 29). In essence, the leaflets called for the Palestinians to engage in daily PSYACTs.2
In addition to the distribution of the leaflets locally and countrywide, the contents of the leaflets were often broadcast by Quds Palestinian Radio, out of Damascus and from the voice of the PLO Radio based in Baghdad. Not all directives from the leaflets were innocuous forms of civil disobedience and instructions for daily affairs. The leaflets also called on the population to engage in throwing stones, firebombing, building barriers, graffiti, and clashing with Israeli troops. “Shock squads” were then dispatched to encourage and lead these activities at the right time and location. This PSYOP campaign mirrors a historical example in which the communists effectively used leaflets, radio, and shock squads to disseminate directives and instructions in Vietnam. As Johnston (2004) explains in his essay “What no one understood at the time was that radio was being used to communicate the Communist part line to the agit-prop cadres in the remote areas of South Vietnam. They, in turn, were translating the party line in action (emphasis mine) among the masses” (p. 98). Finally, the messages of the Intifada leaflets were not only transmitted over radio broadcasts, but the messages were also propagated via graffiti. Hiro (1999) writes in his book Sharing the Promised Land, “The graffiti expressed nationalist, and anti-Israeli sentiment, and conveyed information about forthcoming strikes or demonstrations, commemoration of martyrs and nationalist days, boycott of Israeli products, and campaigns to assist specific groups of Palestinians” (p. 186).
Effectiveness of the leaflets
Perhaps the most difficult aspect when incorporating PSYOP is determining whether the message and dissemination was effective. US doctrine uses the term “measures of effectiveness”. In essence, measures of effectiveness is finding some way to determine if a) the target audience is receiving the message and b) is the target audience taking the actions that the message encourages. All indications point to the fact that the message from the leaflet got out and that people followed the directions as prescribed. When the leaflets instructed to strike, the Palestinians did not go to work. When the leaflets decreed to stay off the streets, the Palestinians stayed inside. As Mishal and Aharoni (1994) observe in their analysis of the leaflet campaigns:
Leaflets never played such a key role as during the Intifada. The diversity and frequency of the leaflets, and the scope of obedience and response they elicited, showed their centrality among the population. In the absence of an official and prominent local leadership, leaflets became a substitute leadership during the Intifada (p. 25).
Not only did the leaflets serve as instruments to express Palestinian attitudes and direct behaviors, they also came to influence the Israeli authorities’ behavior as well. After learning of the widespread influence of the leaflets, “they (the leaflets) became “working papers” guiding the scale and intensity of the army, the Civil Administration, and other Israeli security bodies” (Mishal & Aharoni, 1994, p. 29). Additionally, when the Israelis could not stop the distribution of and obedience to the leaflets, the Israelis themselves began forging leaflets in an attempt to confuse and sow dissension among the Palestinians (Hiro, 1999). Whenever an enemy force recognizes the impact of a PSYOP product and changes or adapts their tactics and procedures in accordance with information contained in the PSYOP product, it serves as a good indication that the PSYOP campaign is successful and the message is being widely followed.
The Use of Symbols and Symbolism in Psychological Operations1
The map of mandate Palestine, the Palestinian flag and a gun frequently accompanied the slogans. Also accompanying was the combined image of an eagle and a picture of Arafat embracing (the assassinated) Abu Jihad. No great artistry was needed to spray garbage bins of all sizes with “Israel” or “Shamir’s Office.” Shamir was consistently drawn as a donkey, Rabin as a monkey, and Ariel Sharon as an elephant. Other popular anti-Israeli images were: a machinegun firing bullets at an Israeli flag, and a sword slashing the Star of David (Hiro, 1987, p. 187).
The leaflets discussed previously often referred to historical Palestinian heroes and religious icons in order to further inspire the people to emotion and action. The use of well-known images and figures familiar to the Palestinian people in order to influence behavior is the use of symbolism. Often the Palestinians used symbolism in the graffiti mentioned in the above quote as well. As the quote illustrates, the Intifada effectively incorporated symbols into the PSYOP campaign.
US Army FM 3-05.301, Psychological Operations Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, describes symbols as visual, audio, or audiovisual means used to convey, reinforce, or enhance a line of persuasion. For a symbol to be effective it must be 1) recognizable, 2) have meaning, and 3) convey a message. As one can see, the message to the target audience in this case is inherent in the very nature of a symbol. Most symbols like the ones mentioned above were so powerful and universal that they targeted all three audiences simultaneously. An example of a common, obvious symbolism came in the form of the Palestinian flag. The flag’s red symbolizes the blood of martyrs, green, the fertility of Palestinian land [for most of the Arab world, green is also the color of Islam], white, peace, and black, the occupation. (Hiro, 1987) However, more generally, the flag and the colors transmitted the message to all target audiences the underlying theme of the entire Intifada—Palestinian nationalism. The flag, the symbol of Palestinian nationalism, was ubiquitous in the occupied territories. As one Israeli soldier noted, “Bits of green, black, and red cloth, the PLO colors, hang from telephone lines like torn laundry.” However, the movement incorporated less obvious, subtle symbolism as well. The Palestinians conveyed messages in the three other symbolic ways: 1) the name of the movement—Intifada, 2) the eventual spokesperson of the movement—Yasir Arafat, and 3) the trademark act of the movement—throwing stones.
The Name of the Movement
The Palestinians used PSYOP symbolism in the name of the movement itself —Intifada. As noted PSYOPer, Col. Fred Walker (2004) explained, “A simple thing like terminology can indeed be a major factor in various public audiences’ acceptance of—or support for—any policy” (p. 19). The name Intifada soon became widely and easily recognizable and conveyed a message to all three target audiences (Palestinians, Israelis, international community). Intifada translates to “uprising.” Thomas Friedman (1995) in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, ponders why the Palestinian named their uprising intifada instead of the popular call of “thawra,” which means revolt. The answer is in the symbolism of the name and the message it sends. The Palestinians were not just revolting. As Friedman notes, intifada connotes “to shake, to shake off, shake out . . .to rid oneself of something, to refuse to have anything to do with something, to break with someone” (p. 375). The movement, by the name alone, let all three target audiences know they (the Intifada) “did not see themselves, first and foremost, as overthrowing Israel as much as purifying themselves of “Israeliness””(Friedman, 1995, p. 375).
The Spokesman of the Movement
“Maybe you don’t know that in some circles, I am considered more than a freedom fighter. By some, I am considered a symbol of the resistance.”
Yasir Arafat, interview with Playboy (Sep. 1988).
The Intifada used PSYOP symbolism by allowing a near-obsolete Yasir Arafat (the PLO spokesman), become the spokesman and symbol for the Intifada. Arafat was a short and scruffy man who got kicked from country to country. He never slept in the same place two nights in a row. Countries tried to rid themselves of him, yet he would not go away. He was the personification of the Palestinian nationalist hopes. His internationally recognized status and treatment as a head of state in many parts of the world gave his people pride and hope.
Arafat himself nurtured his iconic status. Arafat’s watch always showed the same time: five minutes to midnight—a time of emergency that called for a closing of the ranks against external threat. He even meticulously arranged his kaffiyeh so that it would symbolically fall in the shape of the historic Palestine. As Menachem Klein (2005) wrote upon Arafat’s death,
No one could compete with the fact his image became a national symbol. His symbolic standing was built upon his image as a struggler/warrior. His image as a warrior received expression in his clothing: a military suit with all its badges, the pistol that was always close to him . . . .Arafat was perceived in the eyes of the Palestinian public as someone who was sacrificing his life for the Palestinian revolution.
The Actions of the Movement
Finally, the Intifada used PSYOP symbolism in the most recognizable action of the uprising and the most common activity of the Palestinian youth—throwing rocks and stones. Why did the Palestinians throw stones? As one Palestinian rock-throwing youth wisely answered, “Because we don’t want to face Israeli tanks” (Friedman, 1995, p. 384). He rightly answered knowing that Israeli soldiers would have killed many Palestinians and squashed the movement if the Palestinians had taken up firearms. Throwing stones was a brilliant PSYACT that sent messages to all three of the target audiences.
Message to Israelis.
Friedman (1995) states that the message the Palestinians were sending to the Israelis with the stone-throwing was “I am not part of you. I may have worked in your fields and factories for twenty years; I may have spoken Hebrew, carried your identity cards, and sold your yarmulkes. But I am telling you here and now that I am not part of you, and I have no intention of becoming part of you” (p. 375). The message to the Israelis was one of separatism and Palestinian nationalism.
Message to themselves and other Palestinians.
The message rock-throwing sent to themselves and other Palestinians was one of solidarity—we are in this together. Throwing stones symbolized joining the Intifada. As Helen Winternitz (1990), an American researcher based in the West Bank observed, “Throwing a stone, and thereby joining the makeshift army of the intifada, is a rite of passage into manhood. Every boy knows this dictate. To do less is to be a weakling; to do more is to be a hero.”
Message to the International community.
The message stone-throwing sent to the international community differed from the messages to the other target audiences. The message to the international community was the struggle of the oppressed (Palestinians) against the oppressors (Israelis). The Palestinians wanted the international community to get the message that the powerful Israelis were abusing the defenseless Palestinians. I Samuel 17:48-50 conveys the well-known Old Testament story of David and Goliath: “And David put his hand in his bag and took from there a stone and slung it and struck Goliath in the head and slew him.” Dr. Kelton Rhoads, noted social psychologist and lecturer on PSYOP asked an international audience of military officers to think of as many stories or movies as possible where the underdog or the little guy overcomes all odds and becomes victorious. The audience easily came up with countless examples. Next, he asked the listeners to name as many stories or movies where the giant or the oppressor beats the underdog. The crowd was hard pressed to come up with even one. It appears that it has been ingrained in international consciousness “to pull” for the little guy—the one that must overcome the odds and become victorious. The symbolism of boys with rocks and slingshots standing toe-to-toe with Israeli tanks and machine guns is a hard image to overcome. And for most people following the conflict, it appears that it is human nature to support the underdog.
For much of Israel’s existence, the Israelis were looked at as the “David” fighting the “Goliath” of the Arab nations. Images of the holocaust were still fresh in the world’s mind and the west watched with wonder as a seemingly defenseless, new nation fought off numerous Arab nations intent on taking their new country away from them. However, events following the Six-day War of 1967 in which Israel launched preemptive strikes against Egypt and Jordan caused this image to begin to change. And later, in 1982, although Israeli troops were not directly responsible, they received much of the blame, as the world watched in horror the images from the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. The international community increasingly began to view Israel as the local bully. Friedman (1995) states “The pictures of butchered Palestinians bodies strewn about the filthy streets of Sabra and Shatila sent shock waves reverberating all the way to Washington” (p. 191). So by the time of the Intifada, Israel’s transformation from David to Goliath was nearly complete. Neil Lazarus (n.d.) states in his lecture “Israel In The Media,” “The international community now began viewing the Palestinians as the David and the Israelis as the morally corrupt Goliath. The Intifada provided the Palestinians the platform for continuing to capitalize on the image of a technologically advanced, superior army fighting “defenseless” children throwing stones.”
The Use of Television in the Intifada’s Psychological Operations
Palestinians have a special relationship with the media. Starting with the first Intifada (1987-1993), a large percentage of Palestinians have become aware of the important role that media can play for their cause, an awareness confirmed by videos, such as that showing Israeli soldiers breaking the arms of Palestinian youths. During that Intifada many international media outlets covered the daily protests against Israeli aggression (Obeidi, 2003).
Any PSYOP analysis of an event beyond the middle of the twentieth century must include the impact of media—in this case specifically the impact of television. Television served as the main component for transmitting the Intifada’s “David and Goliath” message to the international target audience. Television allowed the world to see the images of armed Israeli soldiers facing down boys with rocks. The PLO had learned the lessons of the power of the media in the 1968 Battle of Karameh where they and the Jordanians were soundly defeated militarily by the Israelis. However, the media images of dead and injured Israelis broadcast throughout the Middle East resulted in a groundswell of support for the PLO and proved to be a moral victory for the PLO (despite the fact that it was the Jordanian army that inflicted most of the causalities on the Israeli army). The power of the press was again illustrated in the aforementioned massacres of Sabra and Shatilla that resulted in international outrage and sympathy. The PLO turned these lessons into the 1984 formation of the Palestinian Press Service who in turn joined forces with the Palestine Human Rights Information Center (PHRIC). PHRIC seminars taught Palestinians how to steer the media toward four consistent themes or messages for the target audience—Israeli occupation, illegal settlements, human rights abuses, and the right of the Palestinian refugee to go home. Regardless of the question, PRHIC taught Palestinians these to repeat these themes over and over again (Hirt-Manheimer, n.d.).
When the Intifada started, the Palestinians were ready and had the knowledge of how they planned to cast their uprising to the world—often inviting the media to planned attacks and protests. As NBC’s Tel Aviv bureau chief, Martin Fletcher recognized that “the whole uprising was media-oriented, and, without a doubt, kept going because of the media” (Bard, n.d.). It actually helped the Palestinians’ media PSYOP plan that the Israeli forces (IDF) had very little experience in pacification and crowd control. The IDF would behave in ways that were perfect for television and accentuated their Goliath persona. “Often when facing demonstrators, IDF soldiers had no riot control munitions and would feel compelled to shoot unarmed demonstrators with live fire” (Wikipedia, n.d.). It did not help Israel’s cause when Yitzhak Rabin called on the IDF to “break the bones” of the demonstrators, and in the beginning they did—under the watchful eye of the camera.
Why did this method of dissemination work so well for the Palestinians? There are many reasons such as the fact that it cost the Palestinian nothing for the coverage. Additionally, it is in circumstances like low-intensity conflict or civil disobedience such as the Intifada that media is often most powerful. As Dr. Carnes Lord (2004) observed in his essay titled “The Psychological Dimension in National Strategy,” it is these types of “situations where the political and psychological element in war is predominant that the observing audience is most susceptible to influence of the media” (p.82). Even Henry Kissinger quickly recognized the huge impact of television on the public’s opinion during the Intifada. He is reported to have told a group of American Jewish leaders, that the first step to suppressing the Palestinian insurrection was “to throw out the television” (Marshall, 1989, p. 24).
In addition to the two advantages listed above, there are three primary reasons why the Intifada leveraged the media to their advantage: the power of visual images, the behavior of the Israeli armed forces, and television served as the best medium to send the message to the target audiences of the international community and Israelis.
Power of visual images.
Arguably the most important reason television benefited the Palestinians during the Intifada was that the power of a visual image is hard to overcome. That is why the axiom, “that which is reported first, is true” is so often proven so accurate. Television audiences will often believe their eyes even if intellectually they know facts that explain the conflicting images they view on screen. As Lord (2004) explains, “The information content of TV pictures is typically low or nonexistent, and the emotions such pictures arouse are more likely to defeat than promote rational discussion” (p. 81). This tendency is so common that in the social psychology field it is titled the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE). The FAE is “The tendency to make internal attributions over external attributions in explaining the observed behavior of others” (Franzoi, 2000). Essentially, this means that observers of an event do not take into account external circumstances that may be causing a person to act a certain way. So when a television viewer sees the thirty-second image of an Israeli soldier using deadly force on a sixteen year-old who is throwing rocks, the observer is likely to make the attributions that the Israelis are cold, bloodthirsty murderers while the Palestinians are simply an oppressed people wanting their freedom and land. Attributions are made nearly instantaneously without taking into account the entire situation (often because television does not and usually cannot provide the context). In this example the television audience makes these attribution without taking into account that the eighteen year-old Israeli may have just been hit in the face with a jagged rock. It has been widely reported that oftentimes the Intifada intentionally would not provide the context—or they would provide a questionable one. For example, in 1988, the Palestinians called reporters to el-Mokassed Hospital in Jerusalem to film a dying boy who they claimed had been horribly beaten by Israeli troops. “On February 8, 1988, ABC’s Peter Jennings introduced the report by saying UN officials “say that Israelis have beaten another Palestinian to death in the territories.” NBC and CBS also gave the claims wide publicity (Bard, n.d.). Steve Emerson, a CNN correspondent, reported later that the story was not true, the child had in fact been sick for more than a year. However, the image was in the mind of the viewer and the opinion was not going to change with a verbal retraction later by the networks. Even if the networks were to show the images again, this time with the accurate story, the disturbing images would still overpower the truth.
Behavior of Israeli armed forces.
The second reason Palestinians leveraged media in the Intifada was the lesson of television has historically shown that soldiers are more likely to “behave” when they know that they are being filmed by news crews and watched by an international audience. This tendency allowed the Palestinians to revolt and obtain international exposure for their message without getting wiped out by deadly Israeli force. As Friedman (1995) observes and the Palestinians likely counted on, “They (Israeli soldiers) might have played by Hamas Rules in Beirut, but not in their own backyard surrounded by television cameras” (p. 334). An Israeli colonel confirms this assumption in a conversation with the writer, Friedman. When asked about the effect of television on his treatment of West Bankers and Gazans, the colonel states,
I used to be stationed in south Lebanon, and in south Lebanon there is nothing between you and God Almighty. The only question you ask yourself when you are going to blow up someone’s house is whether to use 50 kilos of dynamite or 25 kilos. Here is the West Bank you have to explain every move you make to ten different people (p. 444).
Similarly, an Israeli commander had a three-part standard operating procedures regarding television cameras and dealing with Palestinians. “Do not beat anyone if you see a television camera. If you are already beating someone and you see a camera, stop. If you see someone else beating someone and you see a camera, stop him” (Friedman, 1995, p. 444). The Palestinians knew they could gain international exposure through the media and that this same media would provide them a measure of security. The Palestinians also recognized that in the event that the Israeli forces did not show restraint, even with cameras presents, the Israelis would be contributing to the “bully” image. For the Palestinians, the media served as a win-win situation.
Target audience of the international community and Israelis.
The final reason the Palestinians used the media to disseminate their message to the target audience was because “If it’s Jews. It’s news.” As one Israeli general explained, “When I arrived on the scene, I discovered that there were more journalists there than soldiers” (Friedman, 1995, p. 425). Yes, there was truly an international media conglomerate covering the events of the Intifada and they reported the events. According to the Israel Government Press Office, during the first months of the Intifada, there were 700 journalists in the country in addition to the 350 permanent news organizations already stationed in Israel (Friedman, 1995). In particular look at two media outlets: the US and Israeli. In the US during the first five months of the Intifada, ABC, NBC and CBS carried 375 stories on the Intifada (Lazarus, n.d). According to a New York based media analysis firm, this “was almost 100 minutes more than the second most popular story during the same time period (Friedman, 427). This is particularly significant because 1987 was before satellite television. As a result, often it was the images captured by Western media that eventually showed up in Arab media, such as Jordanian and Syrian television channels. (El-Obeidi, 2003). Israeli television was obviously important because the Israelis were one of the Intifada’s PSYOP campaign’s three main target audiences. During this time there was only one news station in Israel, so for those Israelis not directly involved in the conflict, the images from Israeli news was a primary information source for what was happening in the Intifada. Research indicates that in 1988, Israeli news devoted between 68 and 81 percent of the broadcast to stories dealing with the Intifada (Fist, 2002). Although the Israeli news depicted Palestinians as an enemy, threatening Israeli soldiers and the nation of Israel, they still could not combat the powerful images of armed soldiers against “defenseless children.” One reason for this is that many of the Intifada images run by Israeli news were American-taped footage since US networks had over a dozen more crews covering the Intifada than did the Israelis. As a result, by the end of the first Intifada, Israeli public opinion on the solution to the Palestinian situation had split. As Friedman (1995) observed, “The presence of the foreign media really forced Israelis to look at the true brutality of their occupation” (447). This was definitely a victory for the Palestinians.
The Intifada achieved many positive outcomes for the Palestinians. The purpose of this paper has been to show the large part that psychological operations played in the success of this movement. When one analyzes the tactics of the Intifada it quickly becomes apparent that nearly everything they did was a psychological action and an act of communication. “PSYOP is the art of influencing perceptions, and thereby the will of the target audiences” (Findley, 2004, p. 52). It seems that the Palestinians learned this principle very well.
This paper has analyzed the PSYOP used by the Palestinians during the first Intifada. During the Intifada, the Palestinians targeted three different target audiences: the Palestinians themselves, the Israelis, and the international community. Additionally, the paper identified the messages and themes the Palestinians developed for each target audience. Finally, the paper investigated the means by which the Palestinians conveyed the messages and themes to the target audiences: leaflets, symbolism, and media. One Israeli commander neatly sums up the effectiveness of the Palestinians’ PSYOP campaign when he observes, “The essence of the Intifada is not in the actual level of activity but in the perception of the population . . . the sense of identity, direction and organization” (Reische, 1991, p.135).
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1 Leaflets were created and distributed by several different Palestinian groups. The United National Command (UNC) and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) leaflets were the most organized, plentiful and obeyed. For the purposes of this paper, no distinction is made among the different organizations.2 See Appendix A, TABLE 5 of Mishal & Aharoni’s book, Speaking Stones: Communiqués from the Intifada, for a summary of actions directed by UNC and Hamas leaflets.