Israel vs Hamas…Now On Twitter

Two civilizations that write right-to-left (which I maintain is the correct way to write) fight each other in a language that goes left-to-right (which I maintain is not).

The conflict was dubbed “The First Social Media War”, precipitated by Hamas rocket attacks into Israel, as well as by Israel’s assassination of the chief of Hamas’ military wing Ahmed al-Jaabari.  While Palestinian leaders condemned the attack, Israel justified its action as one of self-defense, with Prime Minister Netanyahu claiming that a fifth of its population had been living under a constant barrage of Hamas rocket fire. Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense lasted a week, ending with a ceasefire, 158 casualties on the Palestinian side, and 6 Israeli casualties (numbers subject to updates).

While the kinetic aspect of the conflict was not significantly different from 2008 (see my book on the rise of non-kinetic warfare written aeons ago, sold on Amazon.  But why pay $13.99 plus shipping when you can download it off Air University Press for free), the key difference this time round was played out in the realm of social media, especially YouTube and Twitter.  The Israeli Defense Force fired the first virtual salvo, posting the strike on al-Jaabari’s moving car on YouTube immediately after the deed was done.  At the same time, they tweeted an ominous message to their Hamas adversaries:

 We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.

Videos put up by the IDF, Hamas and other parties started to populate YouTube from the day al-Jaabari was killed.  This, together with posts and images on Facebook and Twitter, generated much debate online.  In the days that followed, the IDF called up its entire arsenal of social media weapons; liveblogging, a Facebook page, Flickr feed, a Twitter stream, Tumblr and Instagram.  Hamas responded in kind on YouTube and Twitter.  What turned out was a full-blooded social media war taking place alongside the bombing and explosions in the physical world.  Both sides put up by-the-second updates of actions on the ground, providing their respective grisly numbers and pictures of the dead and wounded, exalted themselves, and hurled threats towards the other.  At times this degenerated into downright mudslinging that seemed less than dignified for establishment mouthpieces but at the same time not out of place in a social media environment.  A tweet by @AlqassamBrigade[1] read:

 @IDFSpokesperson Al Qassam Brigades is always ready to smash your arrogant heads.

What ensued was like nothing that has ever been witnessed before in armed conflict. It was the IDF versus Hamas on the battlefield, and @IDFSpokesperson versus @AlqassamBrigade on Twitter.  The latter conflict has continued even as a ceasefire was declared and rockets and bombs have died down.  In the days immediately following the conflict, @AlqassamBrigade was still tweeting about Hamas victory and alleged Israeli atrocities during the conflict, while @IDFSpokesperson was active with questions about why Hamas was celebrating.

[1] Al Qassam Brigades is the name of Hamas’ armed wing.

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