In 1982, shortly after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and bombardment of Beirut, the Israeli government began the “Hasbara Project,” which sought to influence public opinion in the US in ways ranging from lobbying journalists to having Israeli high school students visit their US counterparts to say how cool they were (our experience) – all with talking points designed to counter the impressions left by the destruction of Beirut and the massacres at Shabra and Shatila. Now that history is repeating itself (with Hezbollah in the PLO role) and worldwide opinion is reeling from images of dead women and children in Qana and elsewhere (“war crimes,” says Human Rights Watch), the propaganda wars are intensifying – and not just from Israel. On the internet, the big news is a piece of software called Megaphone, promoted by a website called giyus.org (“Give Israel Your United Support”). Megaphone identifies comment boards and anti-Israel articles and asks users to flood them with counterpoints (the software has also been used by opponents to find the same cyber battlefields). From both sides, as many as 10,000 government, commercial, and military websites have been hacked in cyber attacks, including NASA, Microsoft (eh… why not?), and a live hacking of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during a televised speech. Other “PSYOPS” campaigns include flooding south Lebanon with leaflets, text messages, and voice mail. Despite these efforts, however, most non-Shia Lebanese are slowly drifting towards sympathy – if not outright support – for Hezbollah’s resistance. For Muslims (at least the ones so influenced), Al Qaeda’s late show of support has done little to hide the eclipsing they have felt under Hezbollah’s persistent rocket barrages. For non-Muslims, the fierce questioning of stone-faced Israeli spokesman by increasingly incensed non-American journalists have made some observers feel they are watching “two different wars.” But, most dangerously, propaganda has veered into conspiracy as photographers in south Lebanon have been accused of complicity with Hezbollah, staging events for “shock value.” Other theories take the situation in Qana further, asserting that the entire episode was staged. Though these have been proven false by Human Rights Watch and others, they have been flouted by those trying to bolster Israel’s case in the conflict – often armed with Megaphone and an increasing sense of desperation. One proponent’s claim that a frequently published picture of a Lebanese relief worker in Qana was a “Hezbollah official” could only state that “all I have to go on is gut instinct.” In this war, as in all others, truth is often the first casualty.
Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England.