1. In May – July 2011 the State of Israel faced four propaganda displays which, in our assessment, constituted part of the broader anti-Israel delegitimization campaign. The events encompassed a variety of methods and took place on land, sea and air.
2. The events were orchestrated by anti-Israel networks and activists, from the Middle East and worldwide, that routinely participate in the delegitimization campaign against Israel. Some were local ad-hoc initiatives that arose mostly from online social networks. They aimed to bring the issue of the Palestinians refugees’ "right of return” to the forefront through large-scale protests against Israel in the PA-administered territories and along Israel’s borders with its Arab neighbors.
3. The following is a general description of the four propaganda displays (in chronological order):
a. The Nakba Day events:
1. The events took place on May 15, 2011, and were organized to mark the anniversary of Israel’s establishment, considered by Palestinians to symbolize their defeat in the 1948 War of Independence. The main idea this year was to conduct unusually massive events (in comparison with previous years) to express the Palestinian refugees’ "right of return” to Israel through rallies and propaganda demonstrations along Israel’s borders with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, and attempt a violent invasion of Israeli territory.
2. Mass demonstrations were also planned in the PA-administered territories and in other Arab or Muslim countries (Egypt). The demonstrators were mobilized mostly through social networks with the tacit approval (or even encouragement) of Syria, which considered it a means to shift attention from the popular protest against the Assad regime to Israel.
3. In practice, the focal point of the events was Majdal Shams, a Druze village in the northern Golan Heights, where Syrian security forces did not prevent rioters from approaching the border fence, after which they broke through and invaded the village. Four rioters were killed and dozens were wounded in the violent confrontation between them and IDF soldiers. On the Israeli-Lebanese border, the Lebanese army unsuccessfully tried to contain the incident. About ten rioters were killed and dozens were wounded in an attempt to invade Israeli territory. Smaller demonstrations took place in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, where the PA and Hamas made efforts to contain them and keep them from getting out of hand.
b. The Naksa Day events:
1. The events took place on June 5, 2011, marking the defeat of the Arab countries in the Six Day War in 1967. The main idea behind the events was to duplicate what was considered the success of the Nakba Day events and hold mass rallies along Israel’s borders with Arab countries to try and invade Israeli territory. Once again online social networks played a major role in mobilizing rioters and bringing them to the borders, and once again the Syrian regime allowed (and apparently also encouraged) the events on the Israeli-Syrian border.
2. In practice, the focal points of the Naksa Day events were two locations on the Golan Heights—Majdal Shams and Quneitra—where about one thousand rioters massed (mainly Syrian civilians and Palestinians residing in Syria) and attempted to invade Israeli territory. IDF forces had prepared in advance and prevented the rioters from breaking through the border. Twenty-four rioters were killed in the violent confrontation.
3. The events were not widely covered by international media. The deadly results of the clashes on the Israeli-Syrian border drew strong internal Palestinian criticism of the pro-Syrian terrorist organizations that had encouraged the incident, and violent protests broke out in Al-Yarmuk refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus. In Lebanon, however, the Lebanese army prevented the rioters from approaching the border this time. Smaller demonstrations were held in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, supervised and controlled by the PA and Hamas.
c. The international flotilla to the Gaza Strip—Freedom Fleet 2 (in late June):
1. The flotilla was organized by a coalition spearheaded by four networks taking part in the delegitimization campaign against Israel. They participated in the Mavi Marmara flotilla and, for the past year, their steering committee and nationally-based networks were involved in planning the flotilla, fundraising, enlisting activists, and purchasing vessels. One of the organizations, the Turkish IHH, withdrew from the coalition shortly before the flotilla set sail due to the Turkish government’s own political considerations. The remaining coalition members were two umbrella networks from Europe (FGM and ECESG) and an ad-hoc network from the United States called U.S. Boat to Gaza. They were joined by an Arab, radical Islamic and predominantly Jordanian group which had purchased its own ship (Noor) shortly before the flotilla’s planned date of departure. That ship did not take part in Freedom Fleet 2.
2. The organizers’ main idea was to dispatch to the Gaza Strip an upgraded flotilla which would challenge Israel and be difficult to stop, deface Israel in global public opinion, and provide political and propaganda assistance to the Hamas de facto administration in the Gaza Strip. The idea was not acted upon due to several reasons, mainly the withdrawal of Turkey and the IHH, the difficulties imposed by the Greek government on the departure of Freedom Fleet 2 vessels from its ports, and the numerous reservations about the flotilla voiced on the international scene by the UN, the United States and West European countries. Another contributing factor was Israel’s preparation for the flotilla, which proved effective and could be partially credited for its failure.
3. In practice, instead of an upgraded flotilla consisting of 15 vessels, including two large passenger ships, the organizers were planning to send ten smaller ships or yachts (of which only one set sail). One of them reached the naval blockade area on the Gaza Strip border; it was a French yacht called Dignité/Al-Karama that carried ten activists, three journalists and three crewmembers (most of them French nationals). The yacht was intercepted by the Israeli navy on July 19 without any violence and without generating the international media storm the organizers were hoping for.
d. The "fly-in”—arrival of anti-Israel activists in Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport on July 8:
1. This propaganda display was organized by several dozen groups and networks mostly from Judea and Samaria and Western countries, particularly France and the United States. Conspicuous among them were anti-Israel networks in France and the ISM group affiliated with the radical left in the United States. The main idea behind the propaganda display was to have hundreds of activists flown in to Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport on regular commercial flights. There the activists intended to conduct propaganda activities and use passive resistance against any attempts by Israel’s security forces to deport them. If an opportunity presented itself, they then intended to leave the airport to take part in a series of anti-Israel activities in Judea and Samaria or even in Israel (Bil’in-style demonstrations and protests). One of the stated purposes of the organizers was to protest the restrictions imposed by Israel on the arrival of anti-Israel activists from Ben Gurion International Airport to Judea and Samaria.
2. In practice, the State of Israel had prepared in advance for the event. By appealing to various airlines and using diplomacy, Israel was able to prevent some 350 activists from boarding flights to Israel from airports in Europe. Another 130 activists (mostly from France and Belgium) arrived in Israel, where they were detained and deported. According to Palestinian sources, several dozen Palestinians managed to reach Judea and Samaria. Apparently some of them took part in violent demonstrations near the Qalandia roadblock in northern Jerusalem and other friction points between the Palestinians and Israeli security forces. Contrary to the expectations of the organizers, the event was largely ignored by international media.
4. While markedly different, these four propaganda displays constitute, in our assessment, part of the delegitimization campaign against Israel, inspired by its successes in the Goldstone Report affair and the Mavi Marmara flotilla. Some of the events were long in the planning (it took about a year to plan and organize what was expected to be an upgraded flotilla). Other events were the result of ad-hoc initiatives undertaken in advance of important dates in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflict. In two cases (the flotilla and the fly-in) the events were orchestrated by umbrella organizations and activists taking part in the delegitimization campaign. In the two remaining cases (the Nakba and the Naksa) a major role was played by Palestinian and Arab activists who used social networks to help mobilize supporters. Their aim was to bring the methods used in the popular protests against the Arab regimes (and sometimes its slogans) into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition to these events, the networks and activists involved in the delegitimization campaign continued with their "routine” activities (defacing and boycotting Israel, prosecuting top Israeli officials, and more).1
5. The recent events vividly illustrated the ideologically heterogeneous character of the umbrella networks, groups and individual activists operating against Israel. The flotilla and the fly-in were the work of a coalition that included networks and activists affiliated with the radical left in Europe and the United States. They joined forces with Islamist elements whose part in the flotilla event became less significant after the IHH and its Turkish allies withdrew. And once again, between these two ideological extremes were NGOs, social activists and even activists of Jewish or Israeli descent. However, ideologically, the hardcore of the coalition responsible for the flotilla are activists and networks that deny the very existence of the State of Israel and support Palestinian demands in their most absolutist incarnations, including the Palestinian refugees’ "right of return”. As in the past, they were joined by those who criticize the Israeli government’s policy towards the Palestinians but do not deny its right to exist. Such cooperation between delegitimization and criticism of the policy pursued by the Israeli government was also a characteristic of prior propaganda displays including the Mavi Marmara flotilla in 2010.
6. The events were the initiative of NGOs and individual activists, which was particularly evident this time following the politically-motivated withdrawal of Turkey (and the IHH) from the flotilla’s organization. Without a state to sponsor them, the flotilla’s organizers were at a considerable disadvantage. However, in two cases (the Nakba and the Naksa) the Syrian regime allowed the events to take place on the Golan Heights border and, in our assessment, even encouraged them, engendering friction and violence. This can be contrasted with the attempts made by administrations and security forces in Lebanon, Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip to contain the incidents and keep them from getting out of hand. In our assessment, it is possible that the Iranians, who support the Syrian regime, acted behind the scenes to encourage protests on the Syrian and Lebanese borders. One such example was a visit by the Iranian ambassador in Lebanon and other Iranian officials to the demonstration site in Maroun al-Ras on Naksa Day.
7. It is our assessment that, in the organizers’ view, the results of the recent events were largely negative. On one hand, they once again demonstrated their perseverance, ability to connect and cooperate on the basis of an anti-Israel platform, and ability to mobilize and motivate anti-Israel activists from various countries across the globe to take part in a series of projects aimed against Israel. On the other hand, it became evident that there was a wide gap between the (sometimes unrealistic) plans and expectations of the delegitimizers and their ability to put their ideas into action. This was particularly true since Israel—which at times had the support and understanding of the international community—had prepared in advance to foil these ideas and learned the lessons from previous events.
8. In the recent propaganda displays there was usually a noticeable gap between intent and planning on one hand and results on the other: the planned upgraded flotilla was eventually reduced to one small yacht with a handful of French activists on board; it was intercepted by the Israeli navy without attracting media attention. The plan to motivate masses of people to invade Israeli territory through its borders and emphasize demands for the "right of return” was reduced to violent, deadly clashes between rioters on the Syrian and Lebanese borders and the IDF, with one local "success” (the invasion of Majdal Shams on Nakba day) which the organizers could not duplicate on Naksa Day. The plan to undermine the legitimacy of the blockade on the Gaza Strip and hamper the IDF’s freedom of action had the UN, the United States, and West European countries calling into question the very legitimacy of the flotilla campaign (strengthened by the publication of the Palmer Report). The goal of vilifying the State of Israel in world public opinion (particularly in Western countries) wasn’t achieved either, which was clearly demonstrated by the lack of media interest in the events—particularly the flotilla, which was supposed to serve as the leading event.
9. This begs the question of why the organizers of the events failed this time. It is our assessment that the answer can be found in a variety of reasons and factors, most important of which are:
a. The application of past lessons and proper preparation by all levels of Israel’s political and military systems. Having taken several blows in the delegitimization campaign (the Goldstone Report and the Mavi Marmara flotilla), Israel prepared in advance for the recent events. The IDF, which made preparations for the Nakba Day events, was unable to prevent the invasion of Majdal Shams. However, it learned the lessons of that incident and the scenario did not repeat itself on Naksa Day. Israel’s diplomatic and PR activity ahead of the flotilla helped prevent its departure from Greek ports and contributed towards its delegitimization in the UN and Western countries. Furthermore, we believe that the easing of the blockade on the Gaza Strip about a year ago, following the Mavi Marmara event, weakened the organizers’ claim about the purpose of the flotilla being to break the "siege”. In addition, Israel’s effective preparation for the fly-in completely disrupted its organizers’ plans.
b. Reservations voiced by the international political system about the events:
1. The Nakba Day and Naksa Day events, whose objective was basically to bring the issue of the Palestinian refugees’ "right of return” to the forefront, gained no support or interest from the international community. Apparently the international community fully understood that the aim of the events was to undermine any political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, and was well aware of the possible escalation they could precipitate (what is more, the Palestinians themselves tried to keep the events on a low profile and prevent an escalation in the PA-administered territories). The international community was also aware of the link between the popular protests in Syria and the Syrian regime’s conduct with regard to the events on the Golan Heights. The organizers of the fly-in were likewise unable to gain political or PR support from the international community, whose reaction to the events in Ben Gurion International Airport was one of relative indifference.
2. Of particular importance were the widespread objections to the flotilla voiced by the international political system. The main reason for such objections, shared by the UN, the United States and Western countries, was the desire to prevent the repeat of the deadly Mavi Marmara incident and avoid a new political deterioration, coupled with the understanding that there are proper channels of delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza Strip residents that do not involve a provocative flotilla (contributing factors were the Israeli government’s policy of easing the transfer of goods to the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian government’s decision to ease movement through the Rafah Crossing). And so, the delegitimization campaign against Israel, with the flotilla as its crown jewel, inspired by the "success” of the Mavi Marmara, boomeranged on its organizers. This has become more of an issue after the publication of the Palmer Commission report, which accepts Israel’s basic claim that the closure on the Gaza Strip is legal, discrediting the "illegal siege” narrative that constitutes a fundamental component of the flotilla and convoy campaign.
c. Misjudgment by the organizers of the delegitimization campaign, who failed to apply the lessons learned in previous events:
1. The organizers attempted to recreate the Nakba Day events, but were met with more effective Israeli preparation on Naksa Day. They attempted to recreate or even top the "success” of the Mavi Marmara flotilla; this time, however, they were met with an effective response from Israel and international reservations stemming from changes in the political map and lessons learned in the Mavi Marmara incident. Even Turkey, which had played a key role in the previous flotilla, was wise to sense the change that occurred in the international political environment and, at the last moment, reconsidered its involvement (and the involvement of the IHH) in the flotilla.
2. Without Turkish governmental support, the organizers encountered considerable difficulties raising enough funds to purchase vessels (requiring large sums of money) for an upgraded flotilla. Eventually they did purchase about ten yachts and small ships; however, without a large flagship like the Mavi Marmara, the upgraded flotilla was not as effective as the organizers hoped for. The plan to depart from Greek ports (rather than from Turkish ports) while relying on "popular pressure” exerted on the Greek government was fundamentally flawed given the Greek government’s good relations with Israel, coupled with the internal unrest prevailing in Greece at the time as a result of the economic crisis, which shifted attention away from the flotilla campaign.
d. The propaganda failure of the organizers, stemming from the lack of dramatic developments in the flotilla campaign. This time, the events planned by the organizers did not develop into a dramatic confrontation like the Mavi Marmara incident. The media preferred to cover the popular protests in Arab countries and devoted even more attention to local events in Greece in Western countries, which dominated the headlines. In addition, the international media realized the flotilla’s potential for violence and didn’t buy into its organizers’ claims that the flotilla participants were "peace activists” providing "humanitarian aid” to Gaza Strip residents. The claim about a supposed "humanitarian crisis” in the Gaza Strip didn’t generate much interest either (owing in part to an article about the real situation in the Gaza Strip published in The New York Times shortly prior to the flotilla’s departure). Consequently, the four events were largely ignored by the international media,2 deflating the delegitimizers’ plans.
10. The networks and activists taking part in the delegitimization campaign were not discouraged by their recent failures. It is our assessment that they are learning their lessons, demonstrating resolve to continue the delegitimization campaign against Israel and preparing for new propaganda displays in the second half of 2011 (in addition to the routine anti-Israel activities that take place in various countries worldwide). Huwaida Arraf, the most prominent figure in the coalition that organized the flotilla, said in an interview that the organizers are now taking their vessels out of Greece and preparing for their next strategic moves against Israel. She reiterated that the organizers are determined to keep challenging Israel as long as the "occupation”, "colonization”, and "violent suppression” of the Palestinians continue (Jadaliyya.com, July 28, 2011).
11. It is our assessment that, despite the recent failures suffered by the delegitimization campaign, conditions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on the regional scene in the next several months may lead to a resumption or even escalation of the campaign against Israel. In this context, the Palestinians’ application intent to apply to the UN, the ongoing turmoil in Arab countries, and the inflammatory rhetoric of the Turkish prime minister can be pointed out as three ensembles with the potential of pumping new energy into the anti-Israel delegitimization campaign both from the Palestinians and from the coalition of delegitimizers and critics of Israel’s policy across the globe.
13. The following are four appendices that summarize the recent events:
a. Appendix 1: The flotilla to the Gaza Strip
b. Appendix 2: Initiative to send anti-Israel activists on commercial flights to Ben Gurion International Airport and to the PA-administered territories (the fly-in)
c. Appendix 3: Nakba Day events
d. Appendix 4: Naksa Day events
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1 These activities, conducted in the first half of 2011, had little success. For example, the Israeli Apartheid Week, which took place on dozens of campuses and locations in Western countries in March, received no public or media attention. Earth Day, held on March 30, received limited coverage. Contributing factors included the "retraction” issued by Justice Goldstone in April 2011, which undermined the credibility of the Goldstone Report, and the coming publication of the Palmer Commission report (which determined that the closure imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip is legal).
2 Only Israeli media, and to a lesser extent Arab/Palestinian media, paid considerable attention to the events.