In a blind show of power and as cynical political tactic, the leaders of Israel (and behind them most of the Israeli public, I am afraid) went ahead a committed an unbelievable crime in Gaza. By now everyone knows the statistics: Over 1300 Palestinians killed, amongst them hundreds of children. Over 5000 wounded. Billions of dollars of destroyed civilian infrastructure. Untold amounts of suffering.
But in its blindness, Israel seems to have also made a big mistake. If you want to put it simply: they totally “overdid it” this time!
And it is this mistake, that Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and every concerned and decent person around the globe should exploit, to expose the crime and to help Gaza and Palestine.
The urge to take revenge for what Israel did will take violent forms that will plague this region for years. This is unfortunate and I will not concern myself with that here.
But Israel’s utterly criminal behavior presents us with a rare chance to drag it through the mud, globally and, hopefully, effectively.
Israel needs to be dragged through the mud, for sure. A global public opinion should be formed that, at least, guarantees that Israel gets more heat next time it decides to mindlessly kill children, bomb schools, hospitals and UN buildings. If we want to be more hopeful, we can dream of beginning a global movement that finally pushes for a free Palestine.
Israel should be globally branded as the new apartheid-era South Africa.
But for that to happen, we cannot go on with our current media and communication policies. These have totally failed so far.
In this post, I want to start thinking about what it will take to turn Israel’s crime in Gaza into a potent movement to limit Israel’s power and to break its monopoly of attracting sympathy where it counts.
It is time to create THE GLOBAL GAZA BRAND.
A brand for an un-ideal world: In an ideal world, the leaders of Israel should be now being arrested for war crimes and taken to the Hague to be tried.
In an ideal world, the Arab world should have been able to make a credible military threat against Israel to deter it from bombing Gaza.
But we don’t live in an ideal world.
One thing that Arabs need to understand, is that the asymmetry of military power between the Arab world is almost absolute, and that this has been the case since probably 1967. No amount of flag burning, shoe throwing and Starbucks boycotting will change that.
Palestine is NOT Vietnam and NOT Algeria. That was another time and another place.
Another thing we need to get into our heads (both over-enthusiastic young, and over-depressed old) is that we the Arab world should have no interest in entering a large-scale war with Israel, because our military, economic and, yes, CULTURAL weakness vis-a-vis the West is so great that even contemplating such a military confrontation is simply crazy.
The ultimate response to Israel’s continued aggression and Arab’s continued weakness has been the idea of the “human bomb” or the so-called “martyrdom operations”. But I think it is becoming clear that this response is neither sustainable, moral or even effective.
In short, we live in an un-ideal world and we’d better start playing a new game that WORKS.
Meet Carl, the pro-Israel guy: When we want to tell Gaza’s story to the world and win hearts and minds, we shouldn’t think of the leftists and hippies and the few intellectuals who know what’s going on in Palestine and are our friends anyway. These people are super important and we should not loose them, and they should be given every tool possible to tell the story of what happened in Gaza and what happened in Palestine.
But when we shape the story and the essence of the Gaza Brand, we should think of a really challenging audience.
Let’s imagine an ardent anti-Palestinian, pro-Israeli person. Let’s even imagine that this person, probably someone from the Western world, is also somewhat racist against Arabs. But let’s also imagine that this person still has some amount of human decency or maybe a superficial sense of a “fair fight”. Let’s call him Carl.
Let’s imagine that this person blames Hamas 100% for the war and that he is totally convinced that they have been using Gaza’s population as a human shield. Let’s also imagine that Carl is also somewhat afraid of Islamic terrorist blowing up the train he takes to work.
In other words, he is someone totally sold on Israel’s side of the story.
That’s our audience if we want to make Gaza a household name.
How should Carl perceive what Israel did over the past 3 weeks in Gaza?
What would the chances be of convincing this pro-Israeli person that Israel has committed a murderous crime of unbelievable proportions.
What is a communication strategy that can convert Carl into a friend of Gaza and Palestine! (or at least someone who can see both sides of the story).
Why “branding”: Branding is the a sustained, strategic management of a perceived identity, or reputation.
“Strategic” and “management” are the two words that have been missing from Arab vocabulary when it comes to almost every aspect of life.
And because branding cares about audiences and their perceptions, it focuses our minds on what works and what doesn’t.
Brand Gaza has to be so powerful, coherent and appealing, that even Carl has to stop and listen/look/understand/act.
It has to become so popular, all over the world, but especially in the US and Western Europe, that politicians and leaders have to take notice, or else risk looking totally stupid and out of touch in front of voters, newspaper columnists and leaders of public opinion.
Someone might ask: haven’t Palestinians suffered enough over the past 50 years? Where is the decency of the world?
Let’s just face it: the “decency of the world” is relative. Perceptions and attention are all that matters when you want to tell/sell your story. If Israel, a mighty country which has brutalized the Palestinians for so long still manages to sell its story to the world, why is it that the Palestinians are incapable of selling theirs, although they are more deserving of sympathy and help?
What the Gaza Brand CANNOT be: The creation of a sustainable core idea for telling Gaza’s story to the world, needs a thorough clean-up of the language we use to describe our tragedies. The clean-up needs to get rid of the language of exaggeration, of comparisons to past “epic” events and of generalizations, racism against jews and heroic Islamic/Arabic self-aggrandization.
In other words, it is not business as usual.
The brand cannot be the “Gaza Holocaust”: the “Holocaust” brand has already been taken by the world’s Jews. No one takes us seriously when we talk about Gaza’s Holocaust. Let’s acknowledge that suffering of the Palestinians today, although tragic and totally unacceptable, still is not directly comparable with the systematic annihilation of the Jews by the Nazi in World War II.
The brand cannot be “Gaza’s Epic, Heroic Battle of Victory”: If we keep talking about epic battles, the world might actually believe it and thus will fall into Israel’s trap of portraying its war on Palestinians as war of equals. It is NOT a war of equals and we should not claim we’re winning it.
The brand cannot be “Wipe Israel off the Map”: This sounds aggressive and, frankly, is not credible. Given that Israel actually has nuclear weapons, they can more credibly talk about wiping an Arab country off the map.
The brand cannot be “Hamas”: Political movements come and go. Gaza is not about Hamas. Gaza’s problem and Palestine’s problem was there before Hamas.
The brand cannot be about “glorifying death”: If all we’re saying is “we don’t care if we die” others will just shrug their shoulders when the bombs fall on our little concrete huts.
What the Gaza Brand SHOULD be: The brand should be about defying mindless power: it should shame Israel for inflicting violence upon a population, resulting in the shameful ratio of 100:1 (killing 100 Palestinians for every 1 Israeli killed). The brand should be about Palestine and the dream of a people of life in a free homeland. The brand should be all about Human Rights as a universal concept that Palestinians seek to attain
The brand should have Global Appeal: it cannot have global appeal while being chauvinist or aggressive. It should also be connected to the suffering of people everywhere, not just people in Palestine.
It should be about Hope: without emphasizing hope and belief in a better tomorrow, you can hardly inspire people to support you. Remember, in a few days we’ll be living in the Post-Bush, Obama era. Hope is a word that has gained new currency.
Focusing the message to tell the world what happened in Gaza might only a piece of the puzzle. But in a media saturated world, we’d better start thinking clearly about what we want to tell the world.
In the coming days and weeks, the full extent of the crime in Gaza will become more apparent. The needs of the people their are urgent. Here again, a coherent Gaza Brand, can play a role in attracting aid and support from across the world.