The power of images

A photo found and disseminated by the israeli army showing a toddler as a suicide bomber is fueling a media war

Images have played an important role in the current conflict between israel and the palestinians. Now the israeli army has allegedly found a photo of a baby dressed up as a suicide bomber during a raid on a home in occupied hebron. For the israeli government, this is proof of how the palestinians instill hatred of israelis in their children; for the palestinians, it is a propaganda ploy to justify israel’s militaristic actions.

As is well known, disputes are no longer won only with (military) strength, but also through images. They can be used to highlight a usually very complex situation, which is seemingly condensed into a single scene. It becomes for the viewers a kind of vicarious, therefore also emotionally charged experience, through which the entire event is then presented as through a prism. This reduction of complexity by means of convincing or seductive illustration can, of course, just as well condense a conflict situation as it distorts, falsifies and usually oversimplifies it. Impressive images stick in people’s brains, while words that may try to describe a situation somewhat objectively have a much harder time being absorbed and retained.

Because politicians and the military are aware of the power of images, there are more and more attempts to control them, for example by restricting or closing access for journalists to current conflict zones, by censoring images when possible, or by disseminating images that are favorable even for one’s own side.

When the youngest intifada began in the fall of 2000, which sharon at least helped to trigger by his visit to the temple mount, the palestinians first had the advantage (intifada in cyberspace). Around the world went the pictures of the injured and killed palestinians, but especially those of children like the 12-year-old mohammed aldura, who was shot by the israelis. When a mob in ramallah killed israeli soldiers and threw them out of the windows, while the perpetrators demonstratively showed their bloody hands, the israeli government was able to counter the terrible with the terrible (war and pictures), which is why these pictures were also presented to the world public.

Seitdem ist nicht nur viel zeit vergangen und wurde schreckliches mit schrecklichem vergolten. A discussion briefly resurfaced after the attacks of 11 september.9. Pictures of palastinians went around the world allegedly celebrating these. However, the terrorist attacks by suicide bombers became more and more massive, bringing fear and terror to israel, while israeli soldiers, tanks and targeted attacks provided retaliation again and again. This spiral of fear and revenge on both sides was revealed to distant observers through images of the bloody aftermath of the attacks and of the militaristic might of the israelis, of the tanks in the palestinian cities, culminating in the destruction wrought in jenin.

Now the israeli army is trying to exploit in the media war a photo that allegedly fell into its hands when a house in hebron was searched on tuesday. It shows a child, probably less than two years old, who has already been groomed as a suicide bomber. The child – at this age still far from any possibility of developing a hatred for a particular group of people – was obviously already draped as a future "martyr" draped in a head bandage like those worn by hamas fighters and a belt that could have been filled with explosives. For the israeli government, of course, a media trump card, after six children have already been shot by the army with the renewed invasion of palestinian towns due to the imposed curfew. During the night, the israeli army blew up the headquarters of the palestinian authority in hebron, killing 15 fatah members who were allegedly wanted for attacks and were holed up there.

Whether the picture is genuine or a propaganda image is difficult to verify. It is also not known whether the belt with the explosives is real or contains only dummies. Journalists were not allowed during the invasion and occupation of hebron, the house from which the photo came from a photo album and which is said to have belonged to a militant hamas member has since been destroyed. The soldiers had searched in the photo album for a new picture of the militant and then had stumbled upon this photo, of which, however, they themselves had only taken another picture.

In any case, david backer, a representative of ariel sharon, took the opportunity to declare it obvious that "the palestinians instill hatred of jews and israelis in their children at the earliest possible age". For dore gold, an adviser to sharon, the photo symbolizes hatred, "used by the palestinian leadership to brainwash an entire generation of palestinian children." in israel, the photo naturally arouses disgust and strong criticism, after 251 israelis have been killed and many more injured in 71 suicide bombings so far during the last 21 months. "Terror in diapers" headlined the newspaper maariv, yedoit ahronot wrote under the photo: "scary masquerade".

The israeli army also released video footage friday, including from hezbollah’s manar tv station in lebanon, showing other children, though not quite as young, decked out as suicide bombers. In recent months, not only have women and girls made themselves available as suicide bombers, but the "martyr" also becoming younger and younger. Moreover, according to recent polls, a majority of palestinians now support suicide bombings. Suicide bombers hailed as heroes and martyrs. Hamas itself recently called for young people under the age of 18 not to carry out suicide bombings, but rather to pursue their education. But then they should fight against israel.

Ghassan khatib, the palestinian minister of labor, explained that the israelis need not be shocked by the picture. While not advocating suicide bombings, he said they were a "regrettable but unavoidable consequences of israeli atrocities". It is understandable that the palestinians teach their children to hate israel – and how to act against it.

A palestinian journalist from hebron confirmed that pictures like this are not rare. Many children imitated adults and had toy masks and rifles, with which they went to demonstrations, for example: "this often happens in our society. This is a phenomenon."

The palestinian minister of information, in turn, said that the photo was a fake propaganda image: "this is cheap israeli propaganda. They use the photo to justify the israeli crimes against the palestinian people and to continue the occupation of the palestinian territories. Such photos can be easily falsified." the article in the gulf news also tends to do this.

However, the family from which the photo was taken seems to confirm its authenticity. So an uncle told british sky news that it was made during a celebration. But the costume is only one "joke" have been. He does not understand the excitement.

The interpretation of the photo was allowed to go further, in order to adapt its interpretation to the particular interests of the moment. It may be rearing that images alone do not necessarily exert power, it is the context through which they finally exert their power of persuasion and impact. Images only become real weapons in the media battle through the commentary and interpretation of the prevailing interpretation. On the other hand, striking or shocking single images, like the photo of the toddler suicide bomber, can trigger a war of interpretations, but they will also always leave a trace in the psyche of people, who already have a preconceived attitude, into which such images are inserted.

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