Media are Hamas’s main strategic weapons, says visiting US historian

Expert who famously coined the phrase “Pallywood” to describe Palestinian obfuscation and lying in reporting news, weighs in on Hamas tactics in latest war.

August 28, 2014 05:48
2 minute read.
Abu Ubaida

Abu Ubaida, the spokesman for Hamas's military wing the Al-Qassam Brigades. (photo credit: HAMAS AL-AQSA TV)


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Western news organizations have failed to see and understand Hamas’s media strategy as part of a long global jihad war, argued historian Dr. Richard Landes.

In a talk in Jerusalem on Tuesday at the Israel Center, Dr. Richard Landes, the director and co-founder of the Center of Millennial Studies at Boston University, said that “global jihad is waging a cognitive war against the West because they cannot win on the battlefield.”

He traced the “long war” to the recruitment strategies of Osama bin Laden and Hamas in the time of the second intifada.

The conflicts against Hamas and other jihadi organizations help to explain the asymmetrical approach of jihadi organizations, he said.

Landes, who famously coined the phrase “Pallywood” to describe Palestinian obfuscation and outright lying in reporting news events, laid out a comprehensive framework to understand how Hamas’s narrative took over the public sphere.

He defined a three-prong strategy used by Hamas to control public discourse: “Arouse protest in the West to stop Israel; feed Lawfare (law warfare) attacks that severely restrict Israel’s use of weapons; demonize and delegitimize Israel in the world community [with events such as] Israel Apartheid Week and BDS.”

The main seeds of slanted reporting and the long-war strategy against Israel originated in the 2000 Muhammad al-Dura affair. During the second intifada in Gaza, the French journalist Charles Enderlin alleged, without observing the incident, that Israel subjected a 12-year-old Palestinian, Muhammad al-Dura, to targeted weapons fire that killed him.

Landes, who has written extensively on Dura, presented evidence at the talk that the affair falls under the rubric of “Pallywood” – a staged death to provoke international outrage at Israel.

Landes stressed that “intimidation [of journalists] is the huge story” coming out of Operation Protective Edge.

In August, the Foreign Press Association severely criticized Hamas for intimidation of journalists in Gaza. The FPA statement unleashed a series of defensive statements from journalists who rejected Hamas intimidation, according to Landes.

He cited statements from Jodi Rudoren of The New York Times, saying “Every reporter I’ve met who was in Gaza during war says this Israeli/now FPA narrative of Hamas harassment is nonsense.”

A second example was from CNN’s Karl Penhaul, who said that “the mere suggestion that we [journalists] would show dead, wounded and dying to make headlines is obscene… there are no Hamas instructions on what to and not to report.”

Landes sees a brand of advocacy journalism unfolding in the Israel- Palestinian conflict. He cited a BBC reporter who announced in 2001 at a Hamas rally, “We journalists stand shoulder to shoulder with you in your struggle against Israel.”

For Landes, the unintended consequences of Hamas’s war strategy and its connection to global jihad is “lethal journalism“ and the blood libel that Israel targets Palestinian children.

He sees hardcore anti-Israel rhetoric and reports bleeding into outrage on the streets of Europe, with chants of “Death to Jews” and violence against Jews.

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