Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, was commissioned by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy to analyze one of the Arab-Israeli conflict's most important dimensions—the battle for public opinion via the media. The author does a fine but limited job of analyzing the media's integral role on the "battlefield," for he focuses mainly on the media image that the Israelis can directly affect. On those media aspects controlled by others, Muravchik's depiction of the "media battleground" remains incomplete.

Thus, he pays too little attention to one of the most prominent media events—the death of Muhammad al-Dura, a twelve-year-old Palestinian boy shot and killed during an exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen on September 30, 2000. Dura's death was not just sensationalized to make Israel look bad but was staged by the Palestinians. As Nahum Shahaf, a physicist and engineer who had worked with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) revealed, "The entire goal of the exercise was to manufacture a child martyr in correct anticipation of the damage this would do to Israel in the eyes of the world—especially the Islamic world."[1]

For many years, Israel's stance regarding the foreign press was to win the real war on the ground and deal with the media later. However, argues Muravchik, in the Internet age, this policy is fatal to Israel's public image. No one else is more keenly aware of this fact than the Palestinians who, in contrast to the Israelis, have mounted impressive efforts to obtain favorable media coverage in the United States and Europe.

For example, note how the media paid more attention to Israel's response to the October 12, 2000 lynching of two Israeli reservists in Ramallah (bombing the now-empty police station where the lynching took place) than to the actual murders. Moreover, media leaders, such as Peter Jennings of ABC News, went out of their way to portray the events as simply "another day of violence," thereby soft-peddling the negative Palestinian image arising from the murder of the reservists by a frenzied Palestinian mob. "Balance" permitted the media to ensure that the Palestinians not lose their aura of victimhood.

The Israel Defense Forces in 2002 appointed Ruth Yaron as spokesperson and hoped that, because she came from outside the military and had long experience dealing with the media, she would improve the IDF's image in the eyes of the world. That, however, was not to be because the IDF structure did not enable her to change the system by making it more open to the media.

[1] James Fallows, "Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura?" The Atlantic Online, June 2003.