The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a mutual hostage-taking. Without lapsing into the myth of parity, it is safe to say that there is an ongoing and systematic deployment of fear and violence designed to immobilize, destroy, and control bodies on both sides. But this instrumentalization of affect has happened in very different ways. These different platforms for the production of fear are contextualized, taking into account different horizons of address–different audiences, different desires, different strategic objectives. These different horizons are displayed in this overview of the use of social media during the November Israel-Gaza war.
The Israel Defense Force’s military campaign against Gaza was supplemented by a sophisticated, pre-packaged media campaign that felt like it came out of a Madison Avenue shop. That American reference point is key to understanding the campaign’s mission. The package included English-language tweets, professionally designed, pre-fabricated Facebook memes that invited users to “Share… if you think Israel has the right to defend itself,” and carefully edited YouTube clips distributed as condensed links. Moreover, the style of English used was colloquial and compelling: “… show their faces…” “In case you missed it…” Finally, the military operations of the IDF were channeled by the media campaign into an affective frame of compassionate reserve, using terms like “pinpoint strike” and “eliminated” that glossed over the rampant civilian casualties on the ground in Gaza.
This use of the American techno-linguistic idiom exposes the target audience of the IDF’s media campaign. Israel’s right-wing government knows that their only and best chance of clinging to power is to persuade the American public that they are LIKE-US (with or without the abbreviation points), and to cement American support for “pro-Israel” policies. This quasi-racialized “us” is consolidated through the deployment of American idioms, American technology, and American affects. The campaign against Gazan civilians in 2008 and in 2012 (both during lame-duck sessions of the US government that reduced US officials’s room to maneuver in response) was designed to provoke fear among Palestinians (in Israeli policy circles, this is known as “cutting the grass“), but to blank that fearsome face behind a neutral, benevolent, and familiar mask when Israel gazed at the US and Canada watching from across the sea.
Hamas, by contrast, uses hysterical, apocalyptic language in their communications, which often fall into the genre of shrill threats. Their military operations, carried out by the fractious and difficult to-control al-Qassam Brigades, are designed to spread a web of terror across broad swathes of Israeli territory. They are comprehensive in their use of fear to control and corral Gazan civilians. On Saturday, Khaled Meshal, Hamas’s political leader, gave a speech in Gaza in front of a giant replica rocket. Hamas wears a fearsome mask, amplifying rather than disguising their brutality. Their aim is to be fear, to rally others to their cause by parading their own ruthlessness.
Hamas is especially interested in the production of the fearsome Muslim. They are one of the main engines of Islamophobia in the world, collaborators with the American Islamophobia industry in the production of racialized anti-Muslim sentiment. Part of the reason why the political landscape in the US is tilted against the Palestinian cause is that Hamas has managed to take over as the director in the drama of Gazan liberation, dictating that Muslim bodies can only play one part–a role that conflict-hungry media outlets in the US, beset by lingering racism, are only too happy to facilitate. Rather than seeking to delete narratives of Islamophobia, Hamas wants to force every Muslim in the world to wear the mask of fear.
Meanwhile, Israel has managed to cast itself in the role of the smiling friend, as LIKE-US. Israel has its own means of manufacturing fear. But unlike Hamas, which indulges in this pastime in the open, Israel skillfully masks its operations, packaging it for a western, English-speaking audience and producing a veneer of civilization. All the while, like the boxer with a clean-cut image slyly playing a referee, it murmurs bloody threats under its voice so that only its terrified neighbors can hear.
The most dangerous type of power emerges out of a finely sharpened talent for creating brutal, blood-soaked policies but masking them with a categorically alien set of affects. To persuade both sides to take off their masks of fear, to interdict the tangling force of fear, requires a rewiring–the foundation of a new affective politics. Hostage-takings come to an end through the delicate, slow, painstaking trajectory of affective de-escalation.