Photo: Niv Calderon
Guy Bechor
Photo: Niv Calderon
Photo: AFP
Hamas gunman in Gaza - Islamic ethos stood its ground
Photo: AFP
Ben-Gurion - Leader who captivated the world
Photo: GPO

Power of symbolism

Israel can kill 1,000 terrorists but still lose the Mideastern war of symbols

But we killed more than 100 terrorists, we wonder, how come many don’t view the recent IDF operation in Gaza as a victory? We killed 100 terrorists, the IDF keeps saying, without realizing that our approach is completely different than the prevalent tactics in our region.


For us, the sanctity of life is above everything. What wouldn’t we do for one captive? Therefore, based on our criteria, 100 casualties is a terrible disaster. However, the other side doesn’t see it that way, as it is a collective society willing to sacrifice its sons for the sake of a political objective: Palestinian nationalism, political Islam, Israel hatred, or any other goal.


Late Egyptian President Sadat was willing, according to his declarations, to sacrifice a million soldiers in order to liberate the Sinai. As we recall, Palestinian leader Arafat declared that a million martyrs are marching on Jerusalem. Can you imagine an Israeli prime minister declaring that we are willing to sacrifice 100,000 IDF soldiers for the sake of the Golan, for example?


While for us the State exists for the sake of the individual, in the society facing us the individual exists for the sake of the collective. Even the mother whose son committed suicide as part of the struggle against the Jews must openly declare that she is overjoyed by his martyrdom.


In order words: Even if we kill 1,000 terrorists, the other side will still be declaring victory, as the objectives that are important to it – the political and leadership symbols and the broad political context – have not been hurt.


Symbols stronger than word 

Indeed, in symbolic terms, Hamas and its Islamic ethos stood its ground in Gaza. It controls the area, sends thousands of Israelis to bomb shelters, provokes unrest in Judea and Samaria, and Israel stopped the battle. For Hamas, this is a great achievement.


Hamas adopted the common Middle Eastern tactics, which we have failed to understand: The tactics of symbols. It declared victory in the war and initiated a march by thousands of people to celebrate and reinforce the event. The symbolism of the march created power, as it enabled millions of viewers across the world to feel that they are marching with Hamas while also feeling a sense of solidarity and closeness. Such rally creates an event of its own. Hamas put on a performance.


An important rule of thumb: Symbols, pictures, and performances will always overcome words – and we have words. A performance will always touch the emotions, and in the race between mind and emotions, emotions will always win - and Hamas knows how to do the job well. Where is our own visual performance? Where is our own march? We like to explain and to talk, but we have no symbols.


David Ben-Gurion knew how to do the job well. His very image was a symbol. His rhetoric style, his hair, his pioneer spirit, his emphasis on action, and his enthusiasm all served to convey emotions. Ben-Gurion did headstands and captivated the entire world, which admired a performance that was different and symbolic.


Today we are led by analytical statesmen. We despise emotions, and view them as a weakness, something primitive, without realizing that in our region displaying emotions, putting on a performance, a display, or a march are a great advantage. This is like a performance on television. A person can be analytical and knowledgeable, but if he fails to provide a proper show, viewers will be bored and that person will not be invited again.


Indeed, on occasion I watch Israeli ambassadors or representatives across the world engaging in tiring, boring explanations and my heart breaks.


פרסום ראשון: 03.20.08, 09:39
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