Register now to download posters, and share your thoughts.
Your password should be more than 6 carcters.
I agree to the terms of use
Fill all required fields
Messages From the Enemy: A Semiotic Analysis
Douaa Sheet and Rania Mneimneh
Signs of Conflict 2012*


War, however defined, is essentially a manifestation of power. Weak nations do not declare wars; it is the powerful ones that are in a position to entertain the choice. Powerful nations have the political affiliations, military capacity, and the financial stamina to declare war--it is what renders them powerful. Yet, is this formula--the weak, the strong, and the scenario most likely to rule--relevant at all fronts of the relationship between the warring parties?


On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah, a Lebanese armed resistance party, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. On July 13 Israel declared war on Lebanon. Throughout the course of the 33 day war, thousands of aerial leaflets were disseminated in an attempt to influence Lebanese sentiment and hopefully behavior--a classic psychological operation. PSYOP, or psychological operation, is defined by William Daugherty as "the planned use of propaganda and other actions designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes and behavior of enemy, neutral, and friendly foreign groups in such a way as to support the accomplishment of national aims and objectives."[1] In other words, it is an attempt at communication in the hope of persuasion.


How is the power balance reallocated when the encounter is of a discursive nature? Would it still present a "survival of the fittest" scenario? What is the new scenario and what are its respective character roles? If not power, then what are the new deciding factors that emerge to rule this scenario?


The following case-study approach attempts to further investigate the relationship between a communicator, a receiver, and the communicated in a war situation. The measure to which people are receiving the leaflets' predetermined meanings versus the measure to which people are engaging and contributing to the process of determining those meanings­­ is under question. The objective of deciphering the level of participation of each party aims at understanding the politics of the new scenario. It is my belief that what was being attempted through those leaflets was not communication, but an extension of a discourse of occupation. On discursive territory, however, the means and channels of occupation change. The unfolding of a clearer understanding of the relation between the two discourses is attempted through a semiotic analysis of the disseminated leaflets.



Communication Model


Before we embark on our examination of those leaflets, however, a basic review of the communication process and its roots within a social environment is in order. It is through a clearer understanding of the claimed objective that those leaflets will be better addressed.


Charles Cooley defined communication as "the mechanism through which human relations exist and develop-all the symbols of the mind, together with the means of conveying them through space and preserving them in time."[2]


This process comprises the entire spectrum of human expression, be it speech, body language, writing, performing, or sketching. As a social being, man develops patterns that eventually grow into habits of response or articulation. These patterns are experienced and learnt within a social complex, thus the implication of a gesture or a verbal expression will be shared amongst that complex. These shared implications will accumulate into a set of conventions, or a language, that gives these signs meaning. Having such a shared network of referents is what eventually allows for communication.


The first point to derive from this understanding of the communication process is that when I do examine those leaflets I will be doing this using my own acquired system of referents. Any reader will come to a message with their own set of codes that they will use to decode the text. Their interpretation, therefore, will be based on their familiarity with the codes and their own respective referents.


Finally, contrary to the very definition of PSYOP, communication is not a one-way process. The communicator can encode and the receiver will decode, each employing their own set of referents. The communicator is not in control of what the receiver will read into the message. The likeliness of a match between the encoded and the decoded is contingent upon an overlap in the respective set of referents. It is through this model that acknowledges both ends of the process-- the encoder and the decoder-- as well as the context from which each derives their meanings, that we will now turn to exploring those leaflets.



The Medium


Manner of Dissemination

The discovery of the leaflets is an experience I recall with ease:

You hear a very loud sound, almost an explosion, but not quite. It is way too close for any reassurance though, so you run out to find out for yourself. It is a huge box of paper, leaflets. This is the first informative signifier in your interaction with that message: Invasion, a message that is literally thrown at you. You're hesitant about touching the leaflets since "you don't know what they may have sprayed them with." "I heard that it was a handshake that started Yaser Arafat's slow death. They just expose you to material that weakens you slowly but to the same effect (lmashru' howwe howwe)." "Maybe this box will explode, only in five minutes, which is enough time for a sufficient number of people to have gathered around. You know how they love massacres (gharamon el majazer)." This was the frame of mind approaching the leaflets.


The source is one of the key factors that inform the overall impression decoded by the receiver. The characteristics of the source are very important to the receiver's understanding of the message. These characteristics may not necessarily be possessed by the source, but will nevertheless be attributed to it by the receiver. Israel, for a Lebanese, is a symbol with characteristics. Having originated from Israel, the leaflet has already acquired a load of meaning before the receiver has so much as glanced at it. This meaning is informed by previous knowledge, observation, or experience--what we have been referring to as referents. Literally dropping those leaflets on people's heads is a first signifier that confirms their prior experience of Israel as an invader.


Choice of Medium

Now we move to the second signifier: the choice of medium. A leaflet is one medium commonly employed in PSYOPs. This seemingly benign choice of medium, however, does not parallel the authority and aggression of the way those leaflets were dropped. Unlike a newspaper clipping that is intended to provide factual information to the public and that doesn't seek a response in return, a leaflet is a medium that addresses the receiver at a one-on-one level. Your interaction with the leaflet is of a more personal nature; it doesn't overwhelm you with multiple pages, but rather it garners the illusion that you are in control. A leaflet doesn't command attention, it invites it.


For the number of us who ventured to check out the leaflets, the choice of medium presented the first variation from our prior experience of Israel. The age group was young enough not to have witnessed previous PSYOP IDF operations in Lebanon. An intrusive loudspeaker would have fit in smoothly. But a leaflet didn't overlap with our image and understanding of the violent Israeli discourse. In this case, the choice of medium inadvertently provoked the receivers'suspicions. It presented a characteristic that was alien to our understanding and perception of Israel. The choice of medium thus is a first example of the inevitable confrontation inherent to the decoding process: Lebanese youth's image of Israel which they had acquired through their own experiences--versus the image seemingly aimed for by those leaflets.


In addition, this variation provides insight into the encoding process at the Israeli front. The Israeli PSYOP team has a research division whose sole responsibility is to gather information about the receiver[3] Thus it is that division's job to construct an image of the Lebanese discourse that will serve as a guidebook to the operation. This is an acknowledgment of how far removed the two discourses are. One inevitable aspect to this data collection is that it is read and filtered through the Israeli lens. The information may be collected through observation (possibly even field study), but their meaning will be decoded in relation to Israeli referents. On this front as well, two images are being negotiated: The Israeli of the Lebanese versus the Lebanese of himself. Thus, we find ourselves facing the same dilemma only this time it is from the opposite side; characteristics that may not necessarily be possessed by the receiver, will nevertheless be attributed to it by the source. Whether actually representative of the receivers or not, these are the characteristics envisioned by the PSYOP team. Consequently these are the characteristics that will guide the team's approach.


Comprehensively, we have an intended message that is several degrees removed from the decoded one. A diversion into two parallel yet separate tracks seems like a possible result. Going through the leaflets, we will attempt at mapping the negotiation between the two fronts, the intended and the decoced, with particular emphasis on instances where they are no longer so discernibly separate.



The Intended Message


The content matter-- the visual style language, intended audience, and themes-- is naturally central to the track this message will take, as well as the reaction it is most likely to elicit. The intended message amounts to a selection of the points at which the warring discourses will meet. Examining each of those points of encounter will eventually make way for a better understanding overall relationship between the two.


Visual Style

Text is evidently the dominant choice of communication in the leaflets. Illustration is secondary. The direct nature of the speech used here leaves little room for interpretation. Images, in comparison, are not as concrete, particularly when the images are illustrations as opposed to photographs. The Israeli PSYOP team, however, finds a way to make sure the illustrations leave no room for such possibilities.


First, the illustrations are iconic; evil is represented by a snake (fig. 1), manipulation is represented by puppet handles (fig. 2), Lebanon is represented by the cedar tree, the central element on the national flag (figs. 3, 4, 5, 7), hiding/cowardice is represented by crouching behind a shield (fig. 8), etc. The demarcation of meaning however doesn't rest at that. Whenever an illustration is used it is always juxtaposed with text, further securing the schematic function of the illustration style. However, the image/text relationship is redundant. In other words, the text functions as a caption, rarely adding meaning but rather reinforcing what would have been as clear through a stand-alone illustration (figs. 3, 4, 9, 10, 11). In several cases (figs. 1 and 9), (figs. 2 and 12), (figs. 5 and 8), a stand-alone illustration was disseminated only after leaflets of the same illustration, juxtaposed with text, preceded it.


A psychological operation will employ all means available to control what the receiver will read into the message. After all, this is not an open experiment inviting the variation of meanings that could be decoded in the process. Particularly in a war situation--clarity of the message is a pillar objective.


In the interest of highlighting characteristics of the Israeli discourse, this choice resonates as an attempt at control, a reiteration of a discourse of domination. The illustrations do not invite the receiver to participate. His contribution is not acknowledged as inherent to the process. His attendance is limited to that of the subject matter. In the unavoidable decoding process, this summons up a position a Lebanese is all too familiar with: powerlessness. The Israeli imperative of ensuring clarity of the message consequently places the receiver up against a completely locked-up narrative, where he or she is the subject, but is not invited or really able to contribute to that narrative. In comparison, Israel is free to have a view on the war, transform that view into concrete expression, state it as the only narrative of the war, and in the process annihilates the possibility of participation of the receiver via response, difference, or commentary.


Consequently, this approach of demarcating and besieging a territory from all possible angles until only one scenario is viable-- inviting or acknowledging no other--accentuates the uneven relationship of the two discourses. Moreover, the scenario proposed by the leaflets doesn't seem to disengage from the one on the battlefield. Even though the leaflets attempt to talk to the Lebanese audience, the discursive approach comes out just as domineering and annihilating. The domination discourse does not reside only on the battlefield; it is the same one that informs the approach to these leaflets. In the process, an awareness of disproportionality is summoned to further delineate the leaflets as a confrontation between two distinct discourses.



The power disequilibrium allowing for the expansion of Israel's discourse of domination, however, stumbles upon not only the evoked guard of the receiver, but also its own shortcomings in conjuring an image of the receiver that doesn't betray the taint of its own authorship. As we go further with these leaflets, the dissimilarity between the two perceptions of the receiver- the Israeli's and one's own- becomes more and more pronounced.


Communication employing the target's native language is a common PSYOP policy. It secures access to all factions within the audience. In addition, it demonstrates the communicator's permeation of yet another area related to the receiver; it is further affirmation of an absolute hold over the situation. Language, however, is a complex, multidimensional nexus that extends beyond dictionary provisions.


The overall language, except for minor mistakes, is indeed correct. It could have come right out of a professional Arabic daily. But the discourse of domination doesn't stop at the dictionary level of communication, which would have secured the translation of the basic idea. The Israeli PSYOP team insists on claiming a mastery of the language: a familiarity with its innuendos, idioms, and particularities. It chooses to convey this by flooding the text with Arabic sayings, song lyrics, literature excerpts whenever possible. In figure 13, for example, the following points are stated:


Hezbollah are terror­ists.

Hezbollah are ruining Lebanon's chance of a better future.

Hezbollah is an entity separate from Lebanon.

Israel, because of Hezbollah's lack of discipline, are forced to operate in

Lebanon for the period they see fit.

Evacuate places where Hezbollah operates for your own safety.

This war is not against you, Lebanese, it is against Hezbollah.


In the closing sentence, a common Arabic expression "sayf thu haddayn" is used in reference to "the continuation of Hezbollah's terrorist acts". It is the Arabic equivalent of the English expression: double-edged sword. This expression is usually used in reference to a course of action that could lead to two opposite or conflicting consequences. Also, it is usually used to outline a choice before it is taken, to imply the risk entailed. Making the decision to engage in war would be an example: it could allow for achieving an objective, yet it inescapably entails numerous losses. In line with the first part of the message and the Israeli discourse prevalent throughout the leaflets, the inevitable consequence to the continuation of Hezbollah's "terrorist acts" would be harmful to both Lebanese and the Israeli people. Thus within such a discourse, the expression doesn't make sense; otherwise it would acknowledge a positive side to the continuation of Hezbollah's "terrorist acts", which is not likely considering the first part of the message as well the messages in all the other leaflets--our most proximate reference to determine communicative purpose. Unless they used "sayf thu haddayn" to imply that the acts lead to consequences that concern two different parties--the people and the country--versus two different results. The reader is left to speculate on both the intended meaning and the communicator's claim to a command of the language.


In another leaflet (fig. 14), an excerpt from a classic Lebanese love song is used. The song is about a lover who takes the singer on a fantastic dreamy journey with his eloquent words, then leaves her with nothing but those words. In the leaflet, the reference is to the deception of the leader; that his speech is just as empty. The big title-- deceptive speech-- may be analogous. However, the use of this song in a message from an enemy to refer to this specific leader, who is incidentally also a religious figure--i.e. impossibly alien to the art scene, particularly the romantic one-- is, for lack of a better word, hilarious. The two worlds simply don't marry. Here is the dichotomy: PSYOP is importing the literal meaning but not the world this excerpt carries.


Instead of reinforcing an image of Israel as possessing a comprehensive grasp of the receiver's position, these inserts betray Israel as overwhelmed with the gaps in its perception of that receiver. Most of the inserts seem to fall short from capturing the intended analogy or idea. What we are presented with is a collage of fragments collected from different referents. They are fragments because their connotative meaning surpasses the one intended. These excerpts are presented in isolation of their original context, and thus do not fully impart the connotations that go beyond the literal meaning. As for the references, they seem to belong to a different audience. In some leaflets the expressions or excerpts borrowed are not even Lebanese. Some are Egyptian (fig. 15), some are Arabic classics (fig. 7) neither of which is part of a Lebanese's everyday dialect. "Kalila wa Dumna", for example, is a major component of Arabic literary heritage, yet the language builds on stereotypical animal characteristics to convey a moral--certainly not the immediate referent for present-day language. Pondering Israel's image of the receiver, we meet a PSYOP team addressing their own construct, which probably holds much better within its own discourse than it does on the Lebanese front.


The Intended Audience

One of the most important factors in persuasive communication is the congruence in the image the communicator has of the receiver, and the receiver's of oneself. This is particularly relevant when the receiver is the subject of that message. An investigation of the portrayed image of the intended audience will allow us some insight into the measure of that overlap.


Every leaflet begins with a very clear indicator of the intended audience: headlined, centered, and underlined. This is clearly part of the strategy to make the leaflets as "confusion-free" as possible. What is interesting about those headlines is the blunt distinction proposed: "To Lebanese Citizens" and "To Hezbollah's Militia".


The perpetual political conflict in Lebanon is no secret. Different parties seek antagonistic roles for Lebanon in the region, and struggle to hegemonize their vision and gain power. Hezbollah's role, specifically, and its influence on the country is one of the most controversial issues in relation to that vision. The above distinction builds on an internal conflict, which the receiver recognizes. Presented in those leaflets, however, that image seems foreign.


What is presented seems more like a really broad and unclear portrayal of that image. The big lines stand out while all the complex details are washed out. A totally new scenario is created in which the population is divided into two clear categories: Lebanese versus Hezbollah, the two entities being mutually exclusive. From a bird's eye (i.e. Israeli) view, Hezbollah are the black dots and Lebanese citizens are the white. Israel only wants to obliterate the black. The white dots only need stay away from the black clusters. This distinction branches out into a series of even more severe poles: terrorists versus civilians, Hezbollah versus a possibility of peace, Hezbollah versus a future for Lebanon, Nasrallah versus the state. For someone who likes to think of themselves as Lebanese, and who makes small talk with Hezbollah figures in the elevator--along with their wife, their daughter, their sons, their daughter's fiancé -- this polarity is a bit staggering.


Poles are unavoidably abstractive. Abstraction, by definition, is "the process of considering something independently of its associates, attributes, or concrete accompaniments." It is a process that entails selection of what is important over what is detail. It also entails elimination of that detail. In the end, we are left with pieces that are re-presented, but that bear a new relation defined by the abstractor. Thus, those pieces are no longer what they were. Their definition is now informed by the new composition. Characteristics of this composition may not overlap with the Lebanese understanding, but they do overlap with our experience of the Israeli vision.


When the receiver confronts an image of themselves that is unrecognizable, alienation is the most likely result. This distance between the two discourses is stretched further through yet another characteristic of that discourse. This campaign against the evil, the terrorist, and the hindrance to peace was the title of Israel's mission in Lebanon. Incidentally, the same title justified missions in other parts of the world. Thus, the Israeli ideology does come across an overlap, yet not with the Lebanese one, but with the Lebanese experience of the American one.



The themes invoked bring forth the most critical confrontation between the two discourses. The choices related to the approach--medium, language, audience--may have set the general atmosphere, confirmed or challenged an earlier perception of the enemy, but it is the themes that will present new material to the relationship. So far, everything has been decoded in reference to images constructed through a past experience. Deconstructing the themes presents material to either render this a new experience or reiterate earlier ones.


Annihilating the Leader:

The attack on Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's Secretary General, is one of the most prevalent themes throughout the leaflets. PSYOP seems to be well aware of the centrality of the "Za'eem", or the leader, within the Lebanese social structure. Discrediting the Za'eem would therefore be a strategic step towards diffusing the party. This objective is attempted through varied imagery.


The images serve to challenge the prevailing symbol of Nasrallah by constructing a new one. The characteristics of that construction flow lucidly through the iconic illustrations. The following is a list of those characteristics:


  • Snake eating Beirut: evil, the cause of Beirut's ruin (fig. 1)
  • Snake hiding in underground caves while sending innocents to fight its battles: coward, cause of innocents' death, cause of nation's ruin (fig. 10)
  • Serpent dancing to the hypnotizing rhythm of foreign influence: no conviction of his own, a follower, promoting other countries' interests under the cover of Lebanon's (fig. 3)
  • Coward, arrogant, the cause of Lebanese people's suffering (fig. 16)
  • Puppet, subservient to foreign commands, sending out rockets: a tool (fig. 2)
  • The cause of Lebanon's turmoil and decadence (fig. 12)
  • Dragging Lebanon on a path that leads to its ruin, despite being aware of where the path leads (fig. 4)
  • Using innocent civilians as cover: coward (fig. 5), (fig. 8)
  • Boastful of unfounded capabilities: liar, deceptive (fig. 17)
  • Unqualified and unreliable to make precise decisions, liar (fig. 11)
  • Of despicable intentions (fig. 19)
  • Coward hiding underground (fig. 20)
  • Abandoner of his people, escaper (fig. 21)
  • Gang leader, gambling with Lebanon's future (fig. 22)
  • Responsible for the choice that brought on Lebanon's ruin when he was aware of a way to avoid this destruction (fig. 23)
  • Untrustworthy, makes promises that he never carries through (fig. 14)
  • Hiding under Lebanon's cover: bringing on Lebanon's ruin (fig. 6)
  • Scorpion, killing is his nature (fig. 7)


At a first level of denotation, this is the leading narrative: "Nasrallah is an agent working for Syrian and Iranian interests. The destruction of Lebanon is a price he is happy to pay. His speech has no value. He is a coward who is using the country and its citizens as a shield to protect himself. Killing is in his nature, he will never stop."


The mission to demote Nasrallah is also attempted through indirect methods--indexical signifiers. Nasrallah comes right off the pages through the black and white ink wash, illustrations being the major component within the composition. The illustration style is that of comic books. This style allows for flexibility in construction and deconstruction of the character in various situations. It also allows for highlighting selected features of the character and subduing others. Emphasis was given to: thick eyebrows, glasses, voluminous belly, heavy beard, and a very bulky religious costume specific to Shiites. The overall effect is a very harsh, strictly religious presence, almost a threatening one.


The medium also allows for varying representations that range from imposing to hilarious. Nasrallah morphs form a huge threatening cobra on the verge of swallowing Beirut (fig. 1) to a demure brainless-looking puppet bending to foreign commands (fig. 2). This irregularity in character sustains the effect of unpredictability and untrustworthiness that is being constructed.


We have just covered what we believe the sender tried to communicate, what we believe is built on referents that are universal enough avoid the need for improvisation. In the one-way communication model hoped for by the communicator, the process is now complete.


However, these meanings will not exist statically in isolation. They will invoke different connotative extensions particular to the discourse in which they were presented. The decoding process will be informed by the receiving discourse's social values, political ideologies, religious intricacies, historical experience, national objectives--the entire ideological complex. In this case, they will be read in relation to the Lebanese discourse.


The leader, in Lebanon, is not identified by individualistic thought, achievement, or vision. He is not subject to sustained reevaluation of performance, deference to state interests, consistency in principle, or transparency in motivation and speech. A different model informs leadership, or za'ame, in Lebanon. Most often a leader is identified through religious, historical, or geographic background--an identity by association. That association is progressively established and transmitted from generation to generation. Thus, for example, upon the death of a leader, this loyalty and devotion is transferred to the heir. The leader's individual endeavors or characteristics are commendable supplements, possibly distinctive, but they are not central to what he stands for. In the Lebanese model, the constitutional body overrides the individual. This model thus informs a particular za'eem-follower association. An attack on the za'eem and whatever characteristics those leaflets choose to defame cannot be confined to him. The attack, in a Lebanese context, inherently encompasses the body that he represents: his religion, his social values, his geographic backdrop, his alliances-- it is an attack on the people those leaflets address. This is an example where the vulnerable points have been detected successfully, but in which the execution and delivery exposed them to divergent readings and understandings.


Another aspect inherent to the definition of a leader is incited through the choice of illustration style. An illustration style is usually selected for ability to best portray the intended feel or image--a functional aspect. In Lebanon however, particularly in the case of Nasrallah, other factors need be considered. Nasrallah is a political figure but also a religious one. Within a Lebanese discourse, representing him in caricature would be the equivalent of desecration. Religious figures are not to be reduced to the common political satire- it is practically forbidden. Introducing these leaflets on Lebanese ground is thus a violation of that sacredness. Again, the insult is not limited to Nasrallah, it is an insult to the religion and all those who identify with the faith.



Vilifying the leader, the most prevalent theme running through the leaflets, introduces several examples to substantiate the claims made. War, death, and destruction--characteristics of the lived reality--are appropriated towards that purpose.


The reminder that the city is heading towards ruin, that it is swamped with death, and that any hope of salvation is being destroyed by Nasrallah and his "gang" is everywhere in the leaflets. An enumeration of deaths is the exclusive theme in several of them (figs. 18, 24, 25). The leaflets introduce names to add an effect of authenticity and to turn an intangible atmosphere of death into a concrete quantification of loss. In the process, death presents another point of confrontation where the meanings don't seem to intersect.


Death, in Hezbollah's discourse, is not equivalent to loss. The above equation, presented as an established premise, is in this case a point of divergence. A person's understanding of a particular symbol is the set of emotions, beliefs, and responses stimulated by that symbol. Within Hezbollah's repertoire, life on earth is time they need to endure, but the "real thing" awaits them after their death. The more they adhere to religious and moral principles, the better life they will have after their death. Martyrdom, or death in the name of a religious call, is the ultimate sacrifice. It is the noblest stepping-stone from this intermediate stage into the true destination. Death in battle is thus an aspiration.


Not only is death a coveted end, it is something Hezbollah take pride in. Hiding the true number of deaths, an accusation the leaflets try to substantiate, doesn't concur with Hezbollah's ideology. Photographs of Hezbollah's martyrs are framed and raised on pillars to be seen by all. Martyrs, in Hezbollah's ideology, are to be showcased not hidden. This is an area where the experiences and consequently the meanings invoked simply don't overlap. Thus, death presents us with another point of divergence between the two discourses.



The Israeli and Lebanese discourses may be significantly different from one another, but classifying them as mutually exclusive would certainly be too extreme. In Israel's claim to indomitable power we finally arrive at an overlap between the two. Ironically, the experience that informs that overlap is war.


The following is a selection of the claims made to that end:


"We all know from the experience of the last couple of days the tremendous power of the State of Israel and its readiness to use that power against terrorist members whenever it chooses" (fig. 15)


"Hasan what are you afraid of? ...You have escaped to your cave and left your members scared and exposed in front of the preponderant power of Israel." (fig. 16)


"Israel will continue to use all its power to strike Hezbollah and to bring back peace to the area." (fig. 12)


"You know very well that the reassuring words of your leaders are not sufficient for a resilient standing against highly trained soldiers that fight to protect their homeland, their people and their home... Run as far as you can and save yourselves." (fig. 17)


"Hasan promised you that Israel is a spider web, then he was hit by a web of steel." (fig. 11)


"Hasan... was surprised by the harsh war that fell on him and his party and by the persistence of the Israeli Defense Army and the State of Israel... He but discovered that the fire of the Israeli Defense Force was much stronger than he had anticipated."(fig. 19)


"...This is why the Israeli Defense Force will continue to work for as long as possible with all their strength to cleanse South Lebanon of rocket and terrorist bases ...the operations in Marun A-Ras, Bent Jbeil, and al-Tibe are merely examples of that..." (fig. 20)


"...Know, you are incapable of running from our long hand and we will reach you everywhere you run whether over or underground..." (fig. 21)


The claim to power is glaringly stated. It is an established premise built upon to argue other constructs such as Nasrallah's miscalculations, or the inevitable capture of Hezbollah's members, or the obvious repercussions to the future of Lebanon if that power is further defied or challenged.


In addition to the direct statements, these claims are further reinforced through implied, indexical methods: the very way the leaflets are disseminated, the authoritative language, and the consistent signature. All the leaflets are signed with a clear source: The State of Israel. Lebanon has yet to join the Arab states that have acknowledged the legitimacy of the state. Israel is obviously aware of that demurral. The survival of that state over the years, however, is continuous proof of one characteristic: its power. Thus, that signature is not simply for identification purposes, it is a reminder and demonstration of that characteristic.


What is interesting about this element of the intended message is that, unlike "the leader" or "death" themes, there was no need to supplant it with supporting evidence. The power claim wasn't accompanied by graphic illustrations of Israel's weaponry or a list of previous battlefield achievements; there seemed to be no need. Those claims built on an already normalized discourse of power. In comparison to the rest of the themes, this theme is not being introduced, it is being recalled.


Israel's power is not a new factor in the Lebanese discourse. Lebanon and Israel have been at war for decades. Lebanon has experienced Israel's power on a multitude of occasions. Consequently, power is a characteristic that Lebanese citizens readily attribute to Israel. It is a key referent invoked in relation to a Lebanese's perception of Israel. On the other hand, power is a characteristic Israel identifies with. The signifiers discussed above, the direct and the implied, reveal as much. This is where we finally come across an overlap in experience. Looking at Israel, both encoder and decoder refer to a common referent. The overlap in experience allows for an overlap in referents and consequently an overlap in meaning. This is a case where the message of power was encoded with one set of referents, and was decoded using the same source of referents, which allowed for by the overlap in the experience. Thus when Israel sent messages informing citizens of "Hezbollah areas" to evacuate, it was counting on previous experience to sustain its threat. The citizens, referring to the same experience, didn't hesitate. The areas were evacuated in a matter of hours.


The power theme differs from the other themes in yet another aspect. So far, the other themes either communicated something pertaining to the receiver or broached a subject related to the war reality. Power, however, is a theme that communicates a characteristic of the communicator. This is a case where an overlap in experience is much more likely to arise. The receiver would decode that image through his or her own set of referents--the only set he or she knows. This set of referents comes from whatever experiences the receiver has had with the subject, which in this case happens to be the communicator. Accordingly, it is a case where the referents for both discourses originate from the same place. While this doesn't necessarily imply an overlap in experience--because each party may have interpreted the same occurrences differently-- this is not an issue with power. In the sense relevant here, power is a tangible, self-evident characteristic; whoever has demonstrated more destructive abilities is the more powerful. It invokes no need for further interpretation. It is this aspect of the characteristic that allows the experience to evoke the same inference on both fronts.





Psychological operations, by definition, attempt a breach of the enemy discourse to permeate it with their own, in the hope of validating and consequently prompting a proposed line of action. Through our examination, however, the encoded message came up against various points of divergence that may have drawn it away from the one-way track hoped for by the encoder. All the choices made, ranging from the medium to themes broached, presented such confrontational points. The likeliness of an overlap in meaning grows when encoder and decoder are referring to a shared set of referents or experiences. When this is not the case, the meanings invoked cannot be fully anticipated and secured by the encoder.


As I attempted mapping the trajectory of the decoding process, the track was persistently steered by factors that revolved around the receiver. His own referential network--language, music, literature, history, political formulation, and social codes--is what guided the reading. Conversely, the disproportional power relation binding the two fronts that was present and informed the entire reading was demoted to a characteristic with an informative function as opposed to a swaying authority. The encoded leaflet thus invades the receiver's physical space only to await acknowledgement, within the receiver's referential system. That message materializes within the receiver's discursive scope only after he or she has engaged a reading of it.


As the reader embarks on the decoding process, the encoded message faces two possibilities: It will either pose no challenge to the reader's already established meanings and slip in smoothly reiterating prior experiences, or it will present a confrontation that will summon the current network of referents and stimulate an adjustment to allow for the message's subjugation. Either way, the message will ultimately be subsumed under the reader's discourse. As it pertains to our case study, I believe confrontation is the only condition that could have induced engagement on the part of the receiver. If no confrontation had been invoked, this message would have been all too readily subsumed into the existent set of referents, leaving or provoking nothing new. Confrontation is informative; these leaflets forced the receiver to revisit the relational complex of his or her networks and readapt it to allow for this new information. Confrontation is new information.


This informative update on the reader's front may not be the one intended by the encoder, however. For instance, while the Israeli PSYOP team raved about Nasrallah's deceit and the numerous deaths on the Hezbollah front, the update assimilated by the reader may have been Israel's misconception of the Lebanese za'ame mechanisms, the presumed thorough surveillance of the country's political affairs, or the overlap with an American rhetoric. Particularly in a case where the receiver encounters an image of his or her self that is not recognizable as their own, a divergence of the encoding and the decoding processes into two nonintersecting monologues is the most likely outcome. While the confrontation will allow for the possibility of new assimilations, they may not coincide with those intended by the encoder.


In the next encounter, however, the assimilated update will no longer be within the realm of newly acquired knowledge, but a reference that will be summoned to guide the respective reading invoked; it is the mechanism through which a discourse develops. The two discourses that have informed the encoding and decoding processes are not static entities; they exist and evolve in relation to other constructs. The encounter we have examined is, therefore, only one informative collision, within a continuous chain, in a discourse's inherent evolutionary process. It is only through the interaction of those discourses that any change in meaning is likely to arise.



Translation of Leaflets


Figure 8: To all citizens of villages south of the Litani River. Due to the terror activities being carried out against the State of Israel from within your villages and homes, the IDF was forced to respond immediately against these activities, even within your villages. For your safety!!! You are ordered to evacuate your villages immediately and move North of the Litani River. The State of Israel.


Figure 12: To Lebanese inhabitants: Till when? Till when will you be a subservient tool in the hands of Syria and Iran? Till when will Hezbollah, the Fifth Column, continue to put your future and safety in danger? Hezbollah and its leader are harming peace and the prosperity of Lebanon that was accomplished only after a great effort. Israel will continue to use all of its power to strike Hezbollah and to bring peace back to the area. The State of Israel.


Figure 13: To Lebanese Inhabitants: Due to the terrorist activities carried out by Hezbollah which destroy the effort to find a brighter future for Lebanon, the Israeli Army will continue its work within Lebanon for as long as it deems fit to protect the citizens of the State of Israel. For your own safety and because we do not wish to cause any more non-accomplice civilian deaths, you are advised to avoid all places frequented by Hezbollah. You should know that the continuation of terrorist activities against the State of Israel will be considered a double-edged sword for you and Lebanon. The State of Israel.


Figure 14: Deceptive Speech. Hezbollah's path is what destroyed Lebanon. "He builds me a castle of illusions, where I only live for a few moments, then I come back to my table with nothing...but words."


Figure 15: To Lebanese Inhabitants: Hezbollah declared war on Israel. We all know from the experience of the last coupld of days the tremendous power of the State of Israel and its readiness to use that power against terrorist members whenever it chooses. Citizens of Lebanon: The saying goes: "He who sleeps in a cemetery is bound to have nihghtmares." Israel is a powerful nation and determined to do whatever necessary to ensure the safety of its citizens!!! The State of Israel.


Figure 16: Hassan, what are you afraid of? You are afraid of appearing in public and you broadcast recorded speeches. You have escaped to your cave and left your members scared and exposed in front of the preponderant power of Israel. You carry out the orders of your masters and you break your promises to the people of Lebanon causing them a painful reawakening. Till when will the people of Lebanon keep paying for your cowardice and arrogance?


Figure 17: To Hezbollah militia members: Do you really think that the battlefield looks like the propaganda clips on al-Manar TV, that you can sprint in the blink of an eye up the highest hills? Did you believe your leaders, who told you that those facing you are nothing but spider webs easily torn down by you? They have lied to you all those years and they are lying to you now. You know very well that you were sent like sheep to be butchered, lacking military training and without proper combat gear. You know very well that the reassuring words of your leaders are not sufficient for a resilient standing against highly trained soldiers that fight to protect their homeland, their people and their home. You are nothing but mercenaries, and the Lebanese people do not support you. Run as far away as you can and save yourselves.


Figure 18: [Quoting Hassan Nasrallah] "On our part we don't have any dead or wounded." [nine headstones with the names of dead Hezbollah fighters]. This is only a partial list! He continues to deceive you.


Figure 19: To the Citizens of Lebanon: Hassan promised you that Israel would be a "spider web," and then was surprised when he collided with the state of Israel and its army to find it was a "web of steel." Hassan promised you that Israel would be afraid to retaliate for the breach of it's sovereignty but was surprised by the harsh war that fell on him and his party and by the persistence of the Israeli Defense Army and the State of Israel. Citizens of Lebanon, Hassan ignited the fire like a child playing with matches, and thought that he would achieve his goals and his ignoble master's goals, but discovered that the fire of the Israeli Defense Force was much stronger than he had anticipated. Hassan continues to play his game and continues to destroy Lebanon. Will he understand that he is wrong and consequently put an end to your suffering and destruction? The State of Israel.


Figure 20: A Call for Hezbollah members to leave their weapons and stop the confrontations and surrender. The Israeli Defense Force is insistent and determined to eliminate the rocket threat and prevent terrorist acts launched from Lebanon towards the state of Israel. This is why the Israeli Defense Force will continue to work for as long as possible with all their strength to cleanse South Lebanon of rocket and terrorist bases. The Israeli Defense Force's operations in Marun A-Ras, Bint Jbeil and al-Tibe are merely examples of what the IDF can do. Hezbollah Members in the South: Your respectable leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is protected in an underground cave with his family and friends. Some people say that he ran far, far away to a territory where the sound of artillery has not been heard, while you bleed and fight for him against the Lebanese national interest. We are inviting you wherever you are in Tiba Rab Thalathin Markaban to stop for one minute and think for whose interest you are fighting? To reach the correct answer and drop your weapons and immediately stop fighting the Israeli Defense Force and return immediately to your homes and families safe and unharmed while you still can. Hezbollah Members: Your lives are precious and more valuable than the "goal" you're dying for and the Iranian agent. They are dear and precious in the eyes and hearts of your mothers and children, so safeguard your lives for their sake and for their future.


Figure 21: To Hezbollah members: Israeli Defense Forces worked courageously and strongly against the hideouts of your gang in Baalbeck last night. Know, you are incapable of running from our long hand and we will reach you everywhere you run whether over or underground. Your leaders have abandoned you and fled after sending you to death for the sake of foreign interests. You have only one alternative: SURRENDER! The State of Israel.


Figure 22: To Citizens of Beirut: Due to the continued unchecked launching of rockets by the terrorist Hezbollah gang towards the state of Israel, and the gang leader's statements that continue to gamble with Lebanon's future - the Israel Defense Force intends to widen its activities in Beirut. Residents of Haret Hreik, Beer al-Abed, Hay Madi and al-Rweis: For your safety!You must evacuate these suburbs immediately as well as every place in which Hezbolloh or their accomplices reside and conduct their terrorist acts. Know! The expansion of terrorist operations by Hezbollah will lead to a painful and harsh response, and the results will be harsh not only for Hassan's gang and its criminals. The State of Israel.


Figure 23: To Lebanese Citizens: For what reason has Hassan attacked the State of Israel? Is it to free Lebanese detainees from Israeli prisons? Hassan could have released them a long time ago through negotiation without bringing destruction to Lebanon. Hassan has embarked on a dangerous adventure and returned with nothing. Hassan is playing with fire and now Lebanon is burning. Hassan has gambled with your future and now you are paying the price. The State of Israel.


Figures 24 and 25: Nasrallah is cheating you and hiding from you the great losses in the ranks of Hebollah members. The following is a list of some names of thosekilled whom Nasrallah has abandoned and denied their deaths. [List of the names]





* This essay was originally written for the Signs of Conflict course at the American University of Beirut in the Spring semester of 2007.


[1] William E. Daugherty, A Psychological Warfare Casebook (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1958).


[2] Charles H. Cooley, "The Significance of Communication," in On Self and Social Organization, ed. Charles H. Cooley and Hans-Joachim Schubert (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 100.


[3] Herbert A. Friedman, "Israeli Propaganda Raids On Lebanon." April 20, 2007,





Cooley, Charles H. "The Significance of Communication." In On Self and Social Organization, edited by Charles H. Cooley and Hans-Joachim Schubert, 100-109. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.


Daugherty, William E. A Psychological Warfare Casebook. Baltimore: Published for Operations Research Office, Johns Hopkins University by Johns Hopkins, 1958.


Evamy, Michael. World without Words. London: Laurence King, 2003.


Friedman, Herbert A. "Israeli Propaganda Raids on Lebanon." April 20, 2007.


Hall, Stuart. "The Work of Representation." Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage in Association with the Open University, 1997. 15-41.


Jowett, Garth, and Victoria O'Donnell. Propaganda and Persuasion. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1999.


McLaurin, R.D. Military Propaganda: Psychological Warfare and Operations. New York: Praeger, 1982.


Sois Belle et Vote: A Failed Reconciliation of Beauty and Politics
In April 2009, the Free Patriotic Movement issued the campaign "Sois Belle et Vote", as part of its broader electoral campaign under the title of "Change and Reform". read more
By Anetta Bou Saleh
Signs of Conflict 2012*
Tariq al Jdide: Alternative Model of Political Propaganda
The 2009 elections in Lebanon created a platform for the creation of countless political campaigns. The conflict between the different political parties shifted from physical confrontations to a visual battle of billboards. The discourse of each political party was made apparent through these political campaigns as each one of them strived to consolidate their ideology. Tayyar El Mustaqbal (Future Movement) is a telling example since it is a relatively new political party and is now striving to define and propagate its ideals. read more
By Marwa Boukarim and Marwan Kaabour
Signs of Conflict 2012*
Behind the Billboard: History Revived
The return of the Lebanese Forces (LF) to national politics in 2005 was approached on the basis of reconciliation, representing a notable shift in the party's political discourse. LF's posters from 2005 up until the elections in 2009 relied heavily on the “us versus them” antagonistic relation, and are similar to strategies used by the party during the Lebanese civil war. read more
By Karim Farah
Signs of Conflict 2012*
Off The Wall
By Zeina Maasri

Foreword by Fawwaz Traboulsi

204 pages (including 64 colored)

Visual Culture in the Modern Middle East
By Christiane Gruber and Sune Haugbolle (editors)
376 pages, 22 color illus., 79 b&w illus.
Image Politics in the Middle East
By Lina Khatib

288 pages

Arabic Graffiti
By Pascal Zoghbi and Stone aka Don Karl (eds.)
200 full color pages
Ambiguities of Domination
By Lisa Wedeen

251 pages | 9 halftones, 19 line drawings