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Draft: February 2003

DRAFT -- book chapter
Report on the Conflict and War in Palestine
Editor: Ignacio Alvarez-Ossorio (Universidad de Alicante, Spain)

A Tale of Two Intifadas:
A Communication Analysis of the Rise and Fall of the Palestinian Image

R.S. Zaharna, Ed.D.
American University

Introducion . . .

 It has been said that a people who are not in control of their image are not in control of their destiny. While such a statement could apply to numerous people around the world and throughout history, it is particularly relevant to the Palestinian image and political repercussions of the 1987 and 2000 “Intifada.”

In December 1987, the Palestinians launched what they called an Intifada, a popular uprising for independence. The Intifada captured the attention of the international media, helped transform the Palestinian image and generated unprecedented international support for the Palestinians(Cohen and Wolfsfeld, 1993; Freeman, 1991; Peretz, 1990; Schiff and Ya’ari, 1989).  In less than one year, the United States reversed its long-standing policy and opened dialogue with the Palestinian leadership. Analysts credit the first Intifada as the critical step that led to direct talks between the Palestinians and Israelis, and the start of the Oslo peace process (Christison, 1999; JMCC, 1991; Lenderman, 1992).

In contrast, the Intifada that began in September 2000 has produced opposite results.  In less than two years, the Palestinian Intifada has become synonymous with Palestinian violence, and after September 11, Palestinian terrorism.  The Palestinian image has declined dramatically, and with it, much international support.  The peace process has collapsed, much of the Palestinian infrastructure has been destroyed and the Palestinian leadership has been discredited. Today, the Palestinian people are simultaneously teetering on the edge of a humanitarian crisis (FAO, 2002) and an internal civil war (Telhami, 2001; Zaharna, 2001).

 The dramatic change of events for the Palestinians is as much about communication as it is about the political and military dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In the 1987 Intifada the Palestinians were able to use a powerful message to shape a new a positive image of themselves as a people and use that image to advance their political goals. In contrast, the 2000 Intifada, Palestinians struggled to communicate their message, were eclipsed by the force of the Israeli communication initiatives. The loss of international support has made the Palestinians vulnerability particularly acute.

 This paper examines the role of communication during the 1987 Palestinian Intifada and the 2000 Intifada. As always in communication analysis, intervening external forces can dramatically shape the intended message in unintended ways. This analysis highlights some of those unexpected forces and media principles that shaped the Palestinian image.

For text, please contact zaharna@american.edu