... So that You may be kept informed

MID: Israel, Hamas take Gaza war into cyberspace

By Mehdi Lebouachera
13 Jan 2009 1:12 AM

JERUSALEM, Jan 12 AFP - Israel and Hamas have taken their war into cyberspace, with the Israeli army showing strikes on "terrorists" on YouTube and the Islamists rolling out Paltube to expose "massacres" in Gaza.

With both sides restricting access to combat areas to reporters, each has sought to gain the upper hand in the battle for public opinion of a war that's taking place far from the eyes of cameras.

So while the army shows images of its Operation Cast Lead against a "terror group" on YouTube, Hamas posts pictures of the "Zionist Holocaust" directed at innocent civilians on Paltube.

On YouTube, the army's "idfnadesk" page exudes military dryness, with a short definition of the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) spokesman's unit on the left, videos neatly stacked on the right, and separate boxes for "IDF Vlog" and "Recent Activity."

"Hamas turns a Gaza neighbourhood into a warzone," says the introduction to one video.

"This map, confiscated Wednesday (Jan. 7) by IDF paratroopers operating in the north of Gaza, shows how Hamas uses an entire neighbourhood, rigging it with explosive devices and putting the entire civilian population at great risk," it says, hammering home the army's charge that the Islamists use Gaza civilians as "human shields."

Other videos echo the point.

"Precision airstrikes on Hamas terror targets," says one.

"Weapons hidden in mosque neutralised by the Israeli air force," says another.

"Israel air force precision strike on Qassam rocket launcher," says a third.

"The goal is to add a popular platform to explain the IDF position to the world and show actual footage taken in the field and the air to illustrate... the terrorist use of innocent civilians as human shields," says Ishai David, an army spokesman.

The site was launched a few days after Israel unleashed its offensive on Hamas in Gaza on December 27 and has had 1.4 million visitors since.

Meanwhile the homepage on Paltube (www.palutube.com) minces no words or images -- a red banner across the top has pictures of blood-stained faces of children about to be buried, a young man screaming to the heavens in anger, a veiled woman wailing in despair and a child crying in fear.

"The Zionist Holocaust in Gaza of the innocent people," says one picture.

Videos and inscriptions praise Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, "martyrs," "Jihad" and radical Islam.

A link offers direct access to Hamas's Al-Quds television, based in Beirut.

"The enemy will be defeated and will beat back in retreat," vows one slogan.

One video features an interview with a wounded child in Gaza.

Another shows bloodied children being whisked into an ambulance after an Israeli strike.

A third shows a Hamas member reading his testament before heading into combat.

"I am, if God wills it, the martyr Abdel Karim Said Wahba of the city of Lod, resident of the Nusseirat refugee camp" he says, standing against the green flag of Hamas and holding an anti-tank rocket and an assault rifle.

"To my father... do not be sad for me because you have sent me as an ambassador to paradise. Mother, father, direct my brothers toward the same route that I have chosen," he says.

Yet another video, posted by "al-Qanas" (sniper in Arabic), features images taken from Hamas Al-Aqsa television showing rockets being fired against Israel.

"May God protect you and bring victory," says a commentator.

The site, whose server is based in Moscow, does not say when it was launched or how many hits it has had.

By using the competing websites, Israel and Hamas are using a modern tool toward an ancient goal -- winning the propaganda war while armies are fighting, says Jerome Burdon, a sociologist at the Tel Aviv University.

"This is a phenomenon that has become fashionable with the campaign of the US president-elect Barack Obama," he says. "Everyone, including the most conservative institutions, think of YouTube."

But the results of the new fad, are limited, he says. "On both sides, it reaches people already convinced of their point of view."