by Daoud Kuttab
The story was totally false, but that didn’t stop the Israeli media machine from milking it all the way
The postponement of a UNESCO resolution slamming Israel for the dangers it is causing to Jerusalem’s heritage was termed as a “partial victory” for Israel.
The Israeli prime minister and the Israeli hasbara (propaganda) machine have been livid since April, when UNESCO approved a resolution that confirms the usage of the name Haram Al Sharif/Al Aqsa Mosque to refer to Islam’s third holiest shrine.
Israel is angry over the international organisation’s refusal to call the mosque area the “Temple Mount”, a reference to what most Jews believe is the former location of the Jewish Temple that historians say was destroyed in 70 AD.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee was meeting between July 10 and 20 to discuss a number of issues, including a Palestinian/Jordanian request to keep Jerusalem as one of 55 world sites that are in danger. Jordan had in 1982 added the Old City of Jerusalem to the list and the issue had to be voted on again.
Traditionally resolutions are voted on during the last session after exhaustive discussion and debate. But the UNESCO meeting in Istanbul was hurriedly cancelled four days before the vote due to the attempted coup.
According to senior Palestinian officials, efforts by Israel to thwart the vote were not going anywhere, and the issue, including a confirmation of the name of the mosque, was expected to be voted on in favour of the Arab request.
Not only was the issue of Jerusalem postponed, but all other issues that were expected to be voted on July 20 were postponed to the next meeting of the committee expected in October in Paris.
This was no Israeli victory (partial or full). The Israeli spin that it was a victory for their rejection of the Palestinian position was totally false, yet it was made and stood largely unchallenged for nearly 48 hours.
To be fair, the Arab Group at UNESCO did issue a press release following the false Israeli allegations regarding the reason for the postponement of the Jerusalem decision.
The press release, issued by Kuwait’s permanent delegate to UNESCO, failed to get much traction and was only published in a Palestinian website two days after the false credit by Israel.
No mention at all was made to it in the Israeli press, which made the initial false claim.
A Google search in the Arab and international press produced no results either, thus leaving the Israeli allegations largely unchallenged.
Even the Arab Groups’ press release did not seem to have been widely distributed despite its importance in exposing the false Israeli allegation.
There is no doubt that the Israeli spin machine, made up of politicians, propagandist and the media, is much more developed than its Palestinian or Arab media counterpart.
The Israeli occupation (which is not being recognised now by either the Republican or Democratic parties in the US) continues on all levels for nearly half a decade.
While the military side of this occupation is the most powerful part of it, it is clear that there is a political and media occupation that needs to be addressed.
A Palestinian media strategy is being designed at the Palestinian prime ministry, but a much more comprehensive strategy is needed at the level of the Palestinian presidency and further.
The level of support for the Palestinian cause internationally is overwhelming, but one gets the impression that the Palestinian leadership is unwilling or unable to tap into this large reservoir.
Some of the most active Palestinians in the diaspora have a political problem with the Ramallah leadership and, therefore, the lines of communications are dead, leaving the Israeli propaganda machine plenty of room to make up reports and claims that go unchallenged.
Social media where Palestinian voices are strong and heard are also not being used enough to help oppose and expose false Israeli claims.
The UNESCO story is a small example of a much bigger problem. The Palestinian cause is the most just cause that lacks a strong lawyer and publicist.
It is high time that the Palestinian media strategy was given serious attention by the political leadership, activists, and the supporters of Palestinians around the world.
There is enough documentation to make a strong case for Palestine. The time is ripe for a holistic strategy that includes the political leadership and all other relevant parties.