On July 20, the Israeli military launched “4Youth,” a video magazine aimed at young Palestinians and intended to enable Israel to engage in a direct discourse with them. Its producer, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), considers this target audience vulnerable to official and independent incitement by Palestinian media and social networks seeking to undermine any possible normalization of ties with Israel.
The three-minute video magazine, edited like a fast-paced news broadcast, is posted to COGAT’s Al-Munaseq website, Facebook page and YouTube. The COGAT unit prefers not to call the content news, stating that the clips are presented are to expose young Palestinians to a view of Israeli society with which they may not be familiar. In other words, the idea is to show Palestinians that Israelis are not the monsters they are made out to be in Palestinian media and that the reality is more complex.
The first edition consists of a report about the new hours of the Israeli-run Allenby Bridge crossing with Jordan, allowing Palestinians to leave and enter the West Bank 24 hours a day. It also includes a survey of favorite Palestinian tourist destinations and a piece about an Israeli DJ, Ran Salman, who enjoys popularity in the Arab world. Future editions will deal with a range of social, economic and cultural issues — everything but politics — that the editors think will interest the young generation of Palestinians.
The new magazine is part of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s game plan to bypass the Palestinian leadership and directly address Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The first such channels were the Al-Munaseq website, Facebook page and Twitter account. The second stage, the magazine, targets a more specific audience, the one believed to be the key to the trends sweeping Palestinian society.
Palestinian organizations are courting the younger generation to obtain their support and mobilize them for political protests and rallies as well as clashes with Israeli soldiers, such as the ones organized in recent days by Fatah to protest developments at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque. The broader context of this campaign is the power struggle within the Palestinian leadership and preparations for the succession of its 81-year-old leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
A COGAT source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that there is a wide gap between the discourse on Palestinian social media — “where the tone is violent, aggressive, inciting and inflammatory” — and the limited willingness of young Palestinians to take part in demonstrations and violent clashes with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). COGAT has concluded that while there is a guiding hand behind Palestinian social media, where the strident voices are more pronounced, and the Palestinian media often toes the line of the radical activists, most of the young are a silent, level-headed majority dubious about the true intentions of those seeking to mobilize them.
“This is the role of the young people’s magazine,” said the source, “to fill the gaping vacuum between the incitement that rules out normalization [with Israel] and calls for violence, and the situation on the ground, which is often quite different. I’m not trying to paint an idyll in the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, but the fact is that even before the launch of the video magazine, in three months the Al-Munaseq Facebook page attracted more than 190,000 followers, with comments on its content, many quite positive. That says a lot.”
The 4Youth magazine was launched just 24 hours before what the Palestinian leadership called a “critical” Friday, referring to the day for mass prayers to protest the metal detectors installed by Israel at the entrance to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, the site of Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Nonetheless, the magazine makes no mention of this current event and does not use it as a platform to urge Palestinians to stay away from it.
According to the COGAT source, the young Palestinian generation is educated, unemployed or working for low pay and frustrated. It is in no rush to accept directives. The content of the new magazine could make them think differently, or at least to suspect that political forces within the Palestinian Authority are manipulating them.
Several Israeli media initiatives by activists and civil society have targeted Palestinian youth in past years. The question now is whether the target audience will view the IDF magazine as Israeli propaganda depicting a virtual reality. According to the COGAT source, the answer is “no.” He explained, “We have set ourselves a target of providing truthful reporting. There are no manipulations, just real information.” Israeli media are considered credible, he said, as are the reports on Al-Munaseq, even though it is an outlet controlled by the army.
The source elaborated, “Proof of that can be found not just in the number of followers and clicks, which is far beyond our wildest expectations before we launched Al-Munaseq, but also in the feedback we’re getting from young Palestinians. We get many private messages from which we see that we’ve managed to convey information to them that they’re not getting from Arabic-language media and social media. Among the messages and the feedback there are also some attacking us, condemning and cursing us, but most of them are businesslike and not critical. Often you get the sense that they’re surprised that no one has told them anything about important things, such as high-tech initiatives for young Palestinians and calls for cooperation or various openings of crossings and easing of restrictions.”
Unlike in the past, when more encounters took place between Israelis and Palestinians (even during the second intifada, 2000-2005), which were sometimes successful in breaking down walls of suspicion and demonization, today’s young Palestinian generation rarely gets a chance to see Israelis other than armed soldiers. There is no certainty that COGAT’s efforts will change the entire picture, but the magazine appears to be an important tool to show that in between the darkening clouds covering the region, there are also other hues.