Another Public Relations failure?

Whatever its actions, Hamas is tolerated and its actions justified because its weaker and represents the repressed.

West Bank protests in Ramallah 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
West Bank protests in Ramallah 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
On the eve of Operation Pillar of Defense, I addressed a question to a friend with whom I was discussing the unfolding events in Gaza. My friend, a 2 meter plus German gentleman, was asked how he would respond if a woman with my build—at 165 cms and 50 kilos lighter, I am considerably weaker – started throwing punches at him? Before he could answer, I also told him to assume we weren't friends. In fact, I told him to imagine that we were arch enemies, that I had consistently expressed my desire to kill him, his family, and those that had the same religious affiliation, and that had the power roles been reversed I would have done just that? He jokingly responded: "I am not bigger and stronger than you. You could easily drink me under the table."
As simple as that metaphorical representation of the Israel/Hamas situation is, it more or less encapsulates the dynamics of the conflict. And as insincere as my friend's response was to the question, it also ironically represents the global manner with which ongoing conflicts between Hamas and Israel have been addressed. Namely, the conflict between Hamas and Israel has become such an emotionally polarized debate, that as soon as hostilities commence, supporters on either side of the divide immediately assume their positions, and the propaganda flame is set alight. Soon, the very reason for why the conflict began (namely, self-defense) is forgotten, and a usually militarily victorious Israel is left lying in the ashes of a lost propaganda war.
It's a bit like the movie “Chucky,” the talking doll turned evil through a voodoo ritual. In the movie, the doll goes around wreaking havoc and is evil incarnate, but many of the antagonists are unable to believe this because after all, he's only a doll. He's defenseless, weak, and for the most part inanimate unless you somehow activate an in-built talking mechanism.
It is precisely this mentality that governs the manner in which the Israel/Hamas conflict is viewed by many. The weak/strong dichotomy. The undemocratic/democratic dichotomy. It doesn’t matter how many punches Hamas throws, how many rockets it fires, and whether it follows any of the standard laws of armed conflict at all. Whatever its actions, Hamas is tolerated and its actions justified because its weaker and represents the repressed. Hamas is the victim. Sound familiar? Hamas is Chucky, whose evil most of the world doesn't see and tends to tolerate because Chucky is just a talking, “Good Guy” doll.
And Hamas is really good at talking. Since its inception, the group has championed a narrative of victimization couched in a theme of Islamic resistance. This so-called narrative of perpetual Palestinian victimhood has been effectively bought into by not only Palestinians but global bystanders also. As a result, Hamas has never had to be held accountable for its actions. What is more important is that this narrative of victimhood, propagated by Hamas and buttressed by various International institutions and other states, has effectively prevented Palestinians and fellow Arabs from taking an active role in setting right the grievances and ills that have befallen them as a result of Hamas' warmongering.
Instead, Hamas has been selling the perception of itself as the vanguard of a Gazan “resistance” against Israel that, contrary to what is made legal and illegal to its opponents, can employ whichever tactics it deems necessary to achieve its political objectives; many of which are downright utopian in their demands. The fact that most of the Muslim world's leading Islamic institutions have pinned Israel as a religiously sanctioned target for Islamic Jihad has also not helped the prospect of a peaceful resolution with Israel. Alas, Israel must shoulder the responsibilities of being a democratic state and roll with the punches on its own.
Yet "One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist" - or so the proverb goes, right? Wrong. Because even if one is so inclined to view the intentional, indiscriminate targeting of civilians as a legitimate tactic when power asymmetries exist, one would hold certain expectations of the relationship between the “freedom” fighters and those they claim to be freeing. For example, Hamas claims to be defending Palestinians from injustices inflicted upon them by the Israeli state, with one of the most frequent criticisms being the treatment of Palestinian detainees by Israel. However, a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report documents the gross injustices and various abuses that Palestinian prisoners suffer at the hands of Hamas. Similarly, no one seems to be concerned about the cost of Hamas' ongoing militancy against both the State of Israel and the Fatah-ruled West Bank at the expense of increasingly impoverished Gazans.
It is precisely the inherent hypocrisies and failures of Hamas' agenda as a feasible political solution that should mark the cornerstone of Israel's long-term media efforts in this - and future - conflicts with Gaza. Not only has Hamas displayed mediocre militant competencies, it has also failed on the domestic front, and the shortcomings of its fanatical, losing strategy should be amplified alongside the gross injustices it committed in Operation Pillar of Defense. A more active public relations campaign, one that joins with the relevant international institutions is needed, if Israel is not to find itself in another Goldstone debacle in the future. The writer is a researcher in the field of terrorism studies, specializing in Islamic terrorism.