Hamas' image problem

Hamas' image problem
Comment: As international agencies report on the war on Gaza, the false equivalence given to the violence of Israel and Hamas corrupts how the group is seen around the world.
4 min read
24 Jul, 2015
Hamas is seen purely as an armed 'terrorist' organisation by many in the West [Anadolu]

Hamas has launched a new English language website, the Islamic Resistance Movement's latest attempt to improve and modernise its image.

Historically, perceptions of Hamas in the West have been a hindrance to the group's attempts to join the international political mainstream and play a decisive role in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The new website comes on the back of two recent blows to Hamas' image. Already widely seen as a "terrorist" group in the West, the UN Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict accuses Gaza's de facto government of war crimes.

Specifically, the investigators expressed "serious concerns with regard to the inherently indiscriminate nature of most of the projectiles directed towards Israel by these groups and to the targeting of Israeli civilians, which violate international law and may amount to a war crime".

The context and nuances of these allegations are found in the report: that Israel deliberately placed military targets close to its own civilians; that the stated strategy of the Qassam Brigades - Hamas' armed wing - was to focus on military targets and avoid civilians; that, with access to more sophisticated weapons, it is possible that none of the Palestinians' alleged crimes would have been committed.

     Israel's victims were mainly civilians, while the victims of the Palestinian resistance were mainly soldiers.

Israel's victims, meanwhile, were mainly civilians, while the victims of the Palestinian resistance were mainly soldiers.

But, in the heat of the public relations war, it is the headlines that count, not the detail.

The report is written in such a way that the myth of equivalence between Hamas and Israel can be maintained. And with that, Western governments, led by the US, can continue to ignore Hamas' potential role in resolving the conflict.

The UN report compounded the damage caused by a recent Amnesty International report, Strangling Necks, which detailed 17 summary, extrajudicial executions of alleged collaborators with the Israelis in Gaza.

As the allegation is that these acts were carried out under the cover of last year's Israel-Gaza war, they amount to accusations of war crimes.

Amnesty alleges that the killings, along with abductions, torture and assault of political rivals, took place with impunity.

It was another setback for Hamas' image among Western political elites. While few appeared to take seriously Binyamin Netanyahu's comparison of Hamas with the so-called Islamic State group last year, Hamas remains largely off-limits when it comes to political debate on resolving the Middle East conflict.

And despite its moves to join the political mainstream in resolving the problems of Palestine, violence continues to define Hamas' image in the West.

     Despite its moves to join the political mainstream... violence continues to define Hamas' image in the West

The Palestinians can choose between two broad approaches in seeking to end Israel's occupation.

One is the negotiations option, favoured by Fatah, which has dominated the Palestinian Authority. This approach has so far proved ineffective and, worse, has been used as a cover for Israel to tighten its grip.

The other option available is armed resistance, which Hamas favours. The movement keeps its resistance operations confined to the land of historic Palestine and avoids entanglement in regional political matters and conflicts.

This policy of non-interference has been increasingly accompanied with adoption of non-violent tactics and a consistent, publicly stated willingness to compromise with Israel to secure peace and justice.

Despite these facts, the UN and Amnesty reports have further damaged Hamas. Western policy makers will need to have the vision to look beyond this negative media and public image if they are serious about working for an end to the conflict, which can only come about through securing justice for the Palestinians.

Tom Charles is a London-based writer, editor and literary agent. He previously worked in the UK parliament, including as a lobbyist for Palestinian rights. He has also contributed to Jadaliyya and the Journal of Palestinian Refugee Studies.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.