Palestinian Hamas activists take part in a training camp

AROUND the time of the Palestinian intifada in 2000, an Israeli official underlined the importance of good press: engaging in a successful PR campaign is part of winning the conflict, he said.

Since then, the Israeli authorities have worked on the basis that negative media is as great a threat to its dominance as any armed group or uprising. For Israel, there most certainly is such a thing as bad press.

Attributed to Alon Pinkas, an Israeli PR coordinator in New York, the observation is now a central tenet in the country's approach to pursuing the hearts and minds of those who would label Israel a brutal occupying force. This is a country hell-bent on imposing its might through the world of spin and PR and it has firmly established the mechanisms necessary to do so.

Influencing a pro-Israeli media in the US has never been very challenging; in most cases , the mainstream press enthusiastically beats the drum of Israel. For Maggy Zangar, a journalism lecturer at the American University in Cairo, the bias of American coverage is obvious.

In a recent article entitled 'Israel's Propaganda Mach­ine', for the Albion Monitor, a website concerned with reporting stories overlooked by the mainstream press, she points out what this bias means in reality.

"Palestinian children are shot by well-equipped Israeli soldiers; Palestinian leaders are systematically assassinated; Palestinian houses, orchards and fields are bulldozed by Israelis; and Palestinian cities are surrounded by Israeli military checkpoints that block even food and medical supplies. There is simply no comparison between the daily brutality Palestinians endure and the near-normal daily life experience of Israelis."

And yet, say Zangar and many media observers and critics, little of this is reported on the US media. Where US journalists concentrate on attacks on Israeli communities, much of the European coverage tends towards the devastation inflicted on Palestinians.

In 2006, two Jordan-based producers for Fox News resigned, citing the station's inability to be objective. "Not only are you an instrument of the Bush White House and Israeli propaganda, you are a warmonger with no sense of decency nor professionalism," they wrote in their resignation letter.

In the 2004 documentary, Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: US Media and the Israeli Palestinian Conflict, Professor Robert Jensen noted: "Israel is really fighting a war on two fronts. The first is the military campaign being waged in the occupied territories… The second is a PR campaign being waged in the US through the American media to ensure continued support for Israel's occupation."

The same film suggested that the roots of Israel's obsession with self-promotion can be traced back to 1982 when, during the invasion of Lebanon, the massacre of refugees led to worldwide condemnation.

Consequently, the government established the Hasbara Project in 1983 with the express aim of pushing pro-Israeli sentiment in the US. Diplomats were trained in the disciplines of PR and communications.

"For example," Professor Jensen said, "they trained press officers in Israeli consulates in the US to ensure that American journalists would write stories favourable to Israel."

There are other obstacles and filters skewing fair reporting. These are usually described as the business or political interests of those who own the media and what their best interests are in reflecting current affairs.

Then there is the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), often referred to as the most powerful foreign lobby in Washington and one whose interests and opinions are made crystal clear.

Following the commando raids on the flotilla last week, the AIPAC website showed pictures of an assortment of weapons found on the boat with the headline, 'Radical Hamas Supporters Beat, Stab Israeli Soldiers'. Fox News reported a connection between the flotilla and al-Qaeda, although none existed.

Ireland and Europe are not necessarily free of subjectivity either. According to Raymond Deane, a founding member of the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), the government makes noises about atrocities but continues indirectly to support Israel internationally.

"Essentially they [PR staff] are hired by the Israeli state to spread mendacious versions of reality that are unfortunately snapped up by a great many media outlets without being questioned," he said.

"It penetrates European media coverage quite a bit and there is also the fact that these people [Israelis] are linguistically gifted and people have a sense of affinity with these characters. A spokesperson for the Palestinians isn't as good and they are seen as being scruffy. They are 'them' where as the Israelis are seen to be 'us'. They wear suits and they speak well."