Toni O'Loughlin
The Guardian
December 28, 2008 - 1:00am

Israel has mounted a public relations campaign to convince international hearts and minds that Hamas is to blame for the death and destruction they are seeing on their television screens.

Stung by the wave of international criticism earlier this year when Israel invaded Gaza to stop militants firing rockets, in an operation dwarfed by its current attack, Israel decided to go on the offensive.

"In the past our prime minister received phone calls from high-ranking officials and politicians. When he said, 'Surely you understand about the rocket fire', they said, 'What are you talking about?'" foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

So, while the military marshalled its forces, the foreign ministry honed its message and amassed its staff, ready for Saturday's attack.

Israeli diplomats were recalled from holidays and ordered back to work and in the rocket-bombarded southern Israeli town of Sderot, on Gaza's northern perimeter, it opened a multilingual media centre to brief foreign journalists.

Then when the time came, the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, reportedly picked up the phone, dialing Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana along with the foreign ministers of Russia, China, France and Germany.

Yesterday she also briefed two buses of up to 80 international representatives and dignitaries in the Sderot media centre.

"We thought it was essential to show the context in which Israel's decisions are being made and that there is a sequence of events," Palmor said.

For Israel, the chain of events leading up to this attack begins not with its occupation of Palestinian territory in 1967, which is the Palestinian view.

Instead it begins three years ago with its decision to withdraw its military barracks and civilian settlements from inside Gaza.

"We could start in 1948 [with the partitioning of historical Palestine to create Israel] but if we want to limit ourselves to the current situation, I would begin with the pull-out of 2005," Palmor said.

Palestinian militants claimed the evacuation was a victory due to their rocket-launching campaign and continued firing rockets on to Israeli southern towns.

Having built a wall around Gaza before disengagement, Israel then imposed a progressively tighter blockade, by barring Gazan labourers from entering Israel in late 2005, then by banning Gazan commercial trade in 2006 and finally in mid-2007 by squeezing humanitarian aid.

Asked whether the campaign was working, Palmor said it was too early to tell.

Still, as the attack was beginning yesterday on , the message, whether due to Israel's campaign or not, was being publicly repeated around the world.

Rice blamed Hamas "for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence" while the Palestinian Authorityís President, Mahmoud Abbas, said the attack could have been avoided.

"We have warned of this grave danger and said that we should remove all the pretexts used by Israel," Abbas said yesterday as the attack on Gaza continued.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017