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Israel Announces Military Operation Against Gaza -- on Twitter (UPDATED)

BY Lisa Goldman | Wednesday, November 14 2012

Scroll down for update at the end

In what is possibly a social media precedent, the Israeli army spokesperson's office (@idfspokesperson) today announced a military action against Gaza — on Twitter.

This came shortly after the IDF announced — again on Twitter — that the Israeli Air Force had assassinated senior Hamas operative Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jaabari.

The responses came in immediately, from various sources and in many languages.

Fania Oz Salzberger (@faniaoz), a prominent academic who is the daughter of Amos Oz, one of Israel's most famous authors, tweeted.

Oz was in fact translating a tweet by Yossi Gurvitz (@ygurvitz), a prominent Israeli blogger and journalist who had just tweeted in Hebrew, "Did I understand correctly? Did the IDF just declare war on Twitter — and in English?"

Lt. Colonel Avital Leibovich (@AvitalLeibovich), the IDF spokesperson for the international media, went on Twitter to announce announce the name of the military operation — Pillar of Defense. In her tweets following the announcement, she uses the hashtag #PillarOfDefense.

But Hebrew speakers immediately noted that the Hebrew name for the operation was actually Pillar of Cloud, a name taken from the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. According to the Bible, after the ancient Hebrews escaped Pharaoh and slavery in Egypt, they were guided through the desert by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.

John Cook of Gawker caught the discrepancy between the Hebrew and English names for the military operation and wrote about it, commenting:

So that's what a Pillar of Cloud is: A worldly instantiation of an all-powerful, vengeful God seeking to demonstrate the primacy of his chosen people, to guide them in their affairs, and to confound their enemies. And that's what the people who conceived and executed this wave of strikes against Hamas officials and Gazan civilians chose to call them. If anyone was worried about the increasing religious and ethnic fanaticism of the Israeli leadership, they should still be worried. Did Israel launch this attack because there was no other rational route to maintain its security? Or was it pursuing a broader agenda rooted in ancient mysticism?

In addition to #PillarofDefense, the hashtags #GazaUnderAttack and #Gaza are being used to tag posts about the current military operation.

The Israeli Spokesperson's office has been live-blogging the military operation from the start. The IDF blog's comment system requires readers to log in via their Facebook accounts, which means they are responding using their real names. But this has not stopped people from making rather bloodcurdling comments, like the one from Phillip Eisner of Boston who suggests, "Kill them all and let's be finished with them."

IDF spokespersons Captain Barak Raz (@CaptainBarakRaz) and Major Peter Lerner (@MajPeterLerner) are tweeting updates and statements in English that support Israel's narrative, which is that the purpose of the military operation is to stop militants in the Palestinian territory from launching rockets at Israeli civilian population centers that are just across the border. Major Lerner tweeted a photo of Ahmed Jaabari that has the word "ELIMINATED" emblazoned across his chest, as though it were a "wanted" poster; and in another tweet he asserted that Ja'abari was "nothing more than a glorified terrorist".

Meanwhile, Captain Barak Raz tweeted tweeted a link to an aerial photo that purported to show a densely populated area of Gaza with a Hamas rocket launching site located right next to a mosque and a school. "What do you do [to avoid killing non-combatants]?" wonders Captain Raz, when Hamas fighters hide behind the backs of their civilians.

The IDF's social media operations extend to YouTube, where they upload clips that purport to show, in grainy black-and-white footage, the air force eliminating military targets — in the case of the clip below, the footage is said to show the "pinpoint strike" on Ahmad Jaabari.

There is also an IDF Spokesperson Unit Flickr Account , although so far only one photo of the operation in Gaza has been uploaded — the same aerial shot of the alleged rocket launcher next to a mosque that Major Lerner tweeted.

Not to be left out in the social media cold, the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's military wing, has also established a presence on Twitter. In a bizarre exchange of tweets, @alqassambrigade responded to advice from @idfspokesperson with a defiant promise that was captured in many screenshots, making it to Buzzfeed.


The Washington Post has counted up the retweets and the hashtags, and concluded that Hamas is winning the Twitter war.

As the terms “Gaza” and “Hamas” trended globally, Twitter users staked out hashtags for their respective causes. On the Israeli side: #PillarofDefense, the name of the latest military operation, which appears to have been started by the IDF account. For the Palestinians, if not necessarily for Hamas: #GazaUnderAttack, #Gazzeateşaltında (Turkish for the same) and several other foreign-language derivatives. As of 5 p.m., the IDF’s tag had received 808 mentions, while the #GazaUnderAttack derivations had around 120,000.

Given the scale of Israel’s social media operation, that’s an awfully small piece of the audience.

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