In the past seven years, four ‘ceasefires’ have been foisted upon the State of Israel in its four military operations in Gaza, since Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza strip in August 2005. Nothing substantive has resulted from these accommodations.

Now, during Operation Protective Edge, Israel has already agreed to four more one-sided ‘ceasefires’. These decisions were intended to garner international support for the State’s management of Hamas-controlled Gaza.

A modern and technologically advanced state such as Israel cannot resolve a battle campaign against terrorist organizations like Hamas that use their civilian populations as human shields. In each instance of this kind of warfare, international coverage spotlights the images of death, destruction and devastation. Only when it bleeds it leads runs as the media mantra and Hamas is exceptionally adept at exploiting this principle. The more casualties, the better it looks in the eye of camera, and Hamas-controlled Gaza is granted the global legitimacy that pressures Israel to agree to yet another ‘ceasefire’.

Winning their ‘media battle’, terrorist organizations are granted their financial prize from the international community. After Operation ‘Cast Lead’ in January 2009, the Norwegian governmental fundraiser at “Sh’aarm Ha’shech” in Egypt raised 5.2 billion dollars to rebuild Gaza. Seventy countries participated, with 900 million dollars coming from the US alone.

Israel today understands where all the money went: to build an ‘underground terror state’. One thousand three hundred and seventy tunnels have been built since 2007, at a cost of 1.25 billion dollars. Two hospitals, 20 schools, three towers for refugee camps and three malls could have been constructed with the same funds.

It will not be possible to create a media balance until the State of Israel reflects the potential of developing the foundation of ‘Citizen Diplomacy’. With no effective media balance it is not possible to determine the battle field and more than that, the State of Israel is forced to fold for yet another fabricated ‘ceasefire’ until the next round of military confrontation, which threatens more and more cities and Israeli populations.

As the director of the Sderot Media Center (SMC) for the past seven years, I have seen the effectiveness of presenting the human face of the conflict before the international community. Daily life on the Gaza border is a highly unique reality. Sderot and the western Negev of Israel is the sole region in the entire world in which a civilian population has been targeted by thousands of rockets fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza, for 14 years. Every single person in this region has been proximate to rocket explosions. Demonstrating the personal experiences and the daily routine in this ‘rocket reality’ and the coping of populations under constant rocket fire and threat are the ‘Citizens’ Diplomacy’ tools we have to present the ‘Israeli perspective’ on the Gaza border to the international community. A full seven years ago, we turned the ’15 seconds to run for your life’ into a concept. Only now, it seems, have high officials in Israel adopted this concept.

The SMC’s message during relatively quiet periods is to focus on the resilience of the residents on the Gaza border. That is, no matter the threat, people will always do their best to go on with their daily lives and perhaps to actually relocate to this region. This is the choice of life before those who choose to perpetuate suffering and glorify death.

‘The human face behind the headlines’ is a unique concept that the Sderot Media Center developed and used to balance the images of destruction and devastation from Gaza, by exposing to the public domain the unique individual and collective human story. It is impossible to wholly discount and refute personal experiences. This crosses the boundaries of diplomatic, government, official and authorization. Illustrating the human cost of the psychological terrorism associated with rockets and missiles transforms the image of the ‘aggressor’ to the ‘victim,’ and is a vital tool in combating radical Islamic terror against civilian populations.

Sderot has become an international symbol. Hundreds of millions of people around the globe have been exposed to Sderot in the international media, tens of thousands of visitors each year during ‘ceasefire’ periods of time (even though rocket continued to be fired during these times). Top world political leaders visit Sderot, such as President Obama during the presidential election in July 2008. Indeed, in every talk Obama gives to US Jewish communities, he mentions his visit to Sderot.

Israel in the past several years has developed its capabilities in defense. The ‘Iron dome’ batteries protect central cities in Israel, and the State has invested billions of shekels in bomb shelters in the Western Negev, along with disseminating the Home Front Command’s emergency regulations to the Israeli public.

Why, then, does Israel enter into a ‘ceasefire’ when the heart of its country remains under Iranian missile threat from Hamas-controlled Gaza?

In my opinion, it is because there is no proper Israeli strategy for a citizens’ PR offensive. The world did not hear the emergency reality from up to seventy percent of the Israeli population under missile fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza. A comprehensive system for Israelis to visually document and report military situations would have transformed that situation.

Israel’s ‘citizens diplomacy’ is a tool that can back up its leadership, Israeli and world public opinion, and the IDF as the military moves closer to achieving its goals.

Would Israel consider a ‘ceasefire’ if there existed tens of thousands of self- documented short, dramatic videos taken by residents of Israel, running for their lives with every siren, being shared through a developed social media system that reaches the world in a matter of seconds?

Can Israel risk IDF soldiers in Gaza going deep into civilian populated areas along with terror targets and terrorists, including hospitals and schools where long-range missiles are hidden, and not have ‘civilian diplomacy’ material backup?

The Government and the IDF cannot do their own PR. Slogans are great, and graphic design clarifies messages, but what army in the free world has its own PR?

From the world’s point of view- no injuries, no harm done. Nothing is really going on and it seems as if these missiles are incapable of inflicting real damage. While Israel, in response, pounds Gaza with everything it’s got.

Sounds familiar? For the past decade this was the news broadcast in Israel, almost every other day, and in particular during ceasefires. “One rocket exploding near Sderot, no casualties no harm done… and now to the weather report.”

Overnight, the Sderot rocket reality became a near-universal living reality for Israeli citizens. In this Wonderland, even when there are no casualties, nothing is as it seems. The next confrontation is just around the corner. We have what it takes to make a difference by using our own smartphones and documenting emergency moments in Israel.

In my nearly eight years in Sderot as the director of the Sderot Media Center, I have seen the power of a human story being branded into an international symbol. Self-documenting live emergency situations brings real hope for the region. Most important, we thereby encourage our government and the IDF to continue to protect our people.

Noam Bedein is a photojournalist, lecturer and founder/director of Sderot Media Center . He has conducted briefings and tours for government officials, diplomats, foreign press, and students from around the world. Recently he produced a short documentary for the US Embassy- ‘Standing Resilient in Israel’

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Noam Bedein is a director of the Sderot Media Center. It is a media advocacy center which portrays the human face of Sderot and southern Israel under siege, to the international media and public. Noam, a native of Tzfat, grew up in Efrat, Israel. After finishing the Beit El Yeshiva High School, Noam learned at a pre-Army training program in the Jordan Valley and then served for three years as an IDF sergeant for an artillery scout unit along the Lebanese border. After the army, Noam served as an emissary for The Jewish Agency in Boston, Massachusetts and then traveled for a year in the Far East. Upon his return to Israel, Noam relocated to Sderot and pioneered the “Sderot Media Center for the Western Negev Ltd", which has spawned the Sderot Media Center. In this position, Noam is a photojournalist, lecturer and gives briefings to foreign government officials, embassies, foreign press and student groups from around the world.


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