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Inside the Hamas media operation Israel is losing the propaganda war

All art is propaganda. (Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

All art is propaganda. (Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


December 15, 2023   6 mins

As well as an atrocity, the October 7 massacre was a media sensation. With the use of $150 GoPros strapped to its terrorist foot soldiers, Hamas thrust its obscenities into almost every news channel, paper and feed in the world. If you wanted to understand the democratisation of broadcasting through a single event, this was it.

In the Israel-Palestine conflict, the disequilibrium of military power is such that the battlefield outcome is predetermined: Israel cannot lose; Hamas cannot win. Beyond a single surprise attack, Hamas cannot fill screens with mass Israeli dead and force Israel to stop. Instead, it proffers its own dead to the world to make global condemnation force Israel to stop.

At the centre of Hamas’s media operation sits Al-Aqsa (literally “furthest mosque”), the name of Hamas’s TV channel, radio station and social media channels (though the latter have mostly been banned). Funded by Hamas’s general budget — which comes from siphoning off aid that comes into the Strip, foreign countries such as Iran and Qatar, and its own tax collecting — it began broadcasting in Gaza in 2006 after Hamas came to power. By the time the terrorist group launched its October 7 attack, Al-Aqsa’s various channels were broadcasting everything from news and drama to children’s entertainment. From its inception, however, all of the network’s content has been informed by a two-pronged strategy.

The first concerns indoctrination in the service of resistance, and has a particular focus on inculcating antisemitism and anti-Israeli activity into children. An instructive example is Tomorrow’s Pioneers, which features Farfour the Mouse, a costumed character with a high-pitched voice who bounds about squeaking joyously, simulating firing AK-47s and throwing hand grenades. “You and I are laying the foundation for a world led by Islamists,” he tells his young viewers. “We will return the Islamic community to its former greatness, and liberate Jerusalem, God willing, liberate Iraq, God willing, and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers.” In 2007, Farfour’s story arc sadly ended with him being beaten to death by an Israeli interrogator. It was, the show’s producer said, intended to usher in a new direction for the programme.

Al Aqsa has featured a series of music videos aimed at radicalising children. In one, a four-year-old girl is seen singing to her “mother”, identified as “mother Reem” (an apparent reference to Hamas’s first female suicide bomber Reem Riyashi). Later in the video, the woman blows herself up, killing four Israeli soldiers. After her mother carries out the attack, the little girl holds an explosive and sings to the camera: “I am following Mommy in her steps.”

In 2009, Al-Aqsa published Hamas’s first feature-length film, which celebrated the life and death of an Al-Qassam Brigade militant from the first intifada. The movie encouraged “mosque youth” to act as informants for Hamas-controlled intelligence organisations. Another video segment carried an interview with a son of Umm Nidal, a Gazan whose four sons became suicide bombers. “I ask all Muslim sisters, mothers and daughters and sisters, that the Al Aqsa expects us, the next generation, to fall into line for it, God Willing and Exalted,” he says. “Do not withhold from us the commanders, do not withhold from us the soldiers, and do not withhold from us lovers of martyrdom.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, in 2016, the US State Department named Fathi Hamad, Al-Aqsa TV’s founder and director, a “Specially Designated Terrorist” because the station’s continual airing of “programs designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers”.

The second prong of Hamas’s media strategy centres on its role as a competent governing force in Gaza, highlighting the various state functions it claims to fulfil. Popular programmes include EayanA alaAldifa (Eyes on the West Bank), which is concerned with the issues of people in West Bank, Ashab al-ard (Landowners), which deals with problems of ordinary Gazans, and Nafidhat Al-khayr (The Goodness Way), which highlights the humanitarian issues and support given by Hamas to families in need.

In recent years, this emphasis has gradually bled over onto its social media channels; a study of Hamas’s X account from 2015 to 2018 found that the group mostly posted about “its internal governance and foreign policy, with the smallest focus on resistance”. And just as on television, all this output is tightly controlled. In 2014, Hamas Interior Ministry offered guidelines to “social media activists” via a video from its official website. “Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine,” it ordered.  “Before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank, don’t forget to always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza.”

It continued: “Begin [your reports of] news of resistance actions with the phrase ‘In response to the cruel Israeli attack”, and conclude with the phrase ‘This many people have been martyred since Israel launched its aggression against Gaza’. Be sure to always perpetuate the principle of ‘the role of the occupation is attack’, and we in Palestine are fulfilling [the role of] the reaction.”

Yet as with so much in the region, this all changed on October 7. That day, Al-Aqsa broadcast footage of burning cars in Israeli towns alongside a video of a group of young Israeli men with arms tied behind their backs. “This picture is your picture, this night is your night, this flood is your flood, and this blessed action is for all of you,” the anchor declared triumphantly. The programme then cut to a message from the deputy chief of Hamas’s political bureau Saleh al-Arouri, who called for an uprising in the West Bank: “[The IDF] won’t be able to attend to confrontations on other fronts,” he promised.

More broadly, though, October 7 represented the moment Hamas’s emphasis shifted from legacy to social media — and, critically, when the main driver of output switched from Hamas itself to its armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades. “Since October 7, the group’s media operations are unsurprisingly dominated by the Al-Qassam Brigades’ media and its spokesman, Abu Obayda,” Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, Fellow of the Middle East Forum, tells me. “This reflects the reality of the war in which it is Hamas’s operatives in Gaza who primarily control the narrative and not its political leaders in exile in Qatar and elsewhere. And, it is, after all, the group’s status as a military ‘resistance’ force that matters most to supporters around the world and observers more generally.”

As far as social media campaigns go, it has undoubtedly been a success. In the days following Hamas’s attack, the group’s Telegram channel tripled in followers, from 340,000 to 1.3 million followers. Prior to the massacre, its average post received 25,000-30,000 views, a figure which increased tenfold to more than 300,000. Similarly, Al-Qassam Brigades’ account grew from 205,000 subscribers on 7 October to 619,000 on 12 October. Both accounts remain active, though they are barred in certain regions, such as the EU, UK, US and Israel.

Also noticeable was the style of their content. In late October, I attended an IDF screening of footage from Hamas’s attack. What struck me was the video-game-like nature of the violence; terrorists ran around shooting civilians as if they were in Grand Theft Auto. In the weeks since, the first-person has remained their favoured style, with much of Al-Qassam’s content designed to portray its troops as elite soldiers.

If this all seems crude, its impact cannot be discounted. On 13 October, Hamas released a video on Telegram that purported to show its terrorists soothing a crying baby; another fighter bandages the foot of an Israeli toddler. This type of footage may not have much purchase in the West, but more than 1.4 million watched it on Al-Jazeera’s Facebook page for Egypt. Former advisor to Palestinian Authority, Ghaith al-Omari, said the videos had convinced many in the Arab world that, unlike Isis, Hamas “are humane and respect Islamic laws of War”.

Such widespread dissemination follows a simple but effective structure. Content begins at the primary level: from official Hamas and Al-Qassam Brigades’ channels and accounts. It then travels to unofficial accounts and supporters (though these are also increasingly becoming banned as social media companies crack down). These accounts typically reshare official content but also generate their own material. Examples include the Gaza Now Facebook account (which had 4.9 million followers before being banned) and Instagram’s @eye.on.palestine (which has 9.6 million and can still be accessed in certain countries).

The third level consists of a range of informal pro-Palestinian groups and channels, including those set up by influencers. This is arguably the most effective level of dissemination as it uses ordinary people — seemingly unaffiliated to Hamas – to tell “authentic” stories of suffering. What emerges is often described as the “true” picture or story from Gaza and is coupled with the popular hashtags — #IsraeliCrimes, #AlAqsa, #FreePalestine, #StandWithPalestine — that allow this sort of content to go globally viral.=

If Israel is overwhelmingly dominant on the ground, it is hopefully outmatched by Hamas and its supporters online. #freepalestine is found on 39 times more Facebook posts than #standwithisrael. On Instagram, pro-Palestinian hashtags are found on 26 times more posts than pro-Israel ones.

This is war fought on two planes; and if Israel is doing its best to level Hamas in Gaza, it is losing badly across the world online. The irony, of course, is that nowhere is Hamas clearer about who it is and what it wants than in its output. As an IDF official told me recently: “if Western audiences actually listened to the interviews given by Hamas officials, the Israeli media effort could just shut down. Hamas makes the case for Israel’s war against them better than any Israeli official ever could.”


David Patrikarakos is UnHerd‘s foreign correspondent. His latest book is War in 140 characters: how social media is reshaping conflict in the 21st century. (Hachette)

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David Mayes
David Mayes
7 months ago

Hama’s most powerful media war weapon is the fifth column of receptive Western media amplifiers of their information stream.

Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
7 months ago
Reply to  David Mayes

Immigraton has consequences, David.
The Hamas propaganda is not that subtle. If you scratch below the surface, it boils down to we are muslims, and we are more numerous than jews.

Last edited 7 months ago by Emmanuel MARTIN
harry storm
harry storm
7 months ago

Yes they are 100x more numerous, but for 75 years at least, quality has been winning over quantity.

Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
7 months ago
Reply to  harry storm

So far, so good.But I am fearfull about the future.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
7 months ago
Reply to  David Mayes

Plus mosque networks and Friday sermons…

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
7 months ago

Al Aqsa has featured a series of music videos aimed at radicalising children. In one, a four-year-old girl is seen singing to her “mother”, identified as “mother Reem” (an apparent reference to Hamas’s first female suicide bomber Reem Riyashi). Later in the video, the woman blows herself up, killing four Israeli soldiers. After her mother carries out the attack, the little girl holds an explosive and sings to the camera: “I am following Mommy in her steps.”
We’ve reached peak postmodernism–Hamas is somehow both the greatest parody of terrorist groups ever, and one played horribly, horribly straight.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
7 months ago

It sure puts the “religion of peace” in proper perspective.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
7 months ago

Hamas cartoons equally as violent as Tom and Jerry

Christopher
Christopher
5 months ago

Maybe see the difference in the message? Or put the blunt down.

Kathleen Burnett
Kathleen Burnett
7 months ago

Activists in the West are already in a strange mental state; it’s not classic insanity, more an addiction that has them in its grip. They become social diodes, allowing the free passage of dogma which comforts them, but denying entry to ideas which would cure their addiction. Hamas have them as puppets.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
7 months ago

Lurve the ‘social diodes’. What a brilliant analogy. Not sure that I agree with what you say.
To me, these things are much simpler and they boil down to old vs young. Reminds me of the US in about 1970 when the older people supported the war and the young didn’t. In Europe in 1968 all of the young people were marching around waving the little Red Book.
Young people will always take the opposite side to that of the establishment. Try telling an 18-year-old about ‘common sense’; the point being that common sense develops with age.
IMO if the establishment (newspapers and TV) ignored the trans movement it would just die a death. By constantly presenting the views of the old people, as on this site, we are just fanning the flames.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
7 months ago

I don’t think you are reading the Arab world. They work differently to the west.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
7 months ago

So we enter the “I’m right and you’re wrong.” argument. In 1968 there were riots in France when young people walked around with Mao’s Red Book, trying to bring down the government – and they almost did.
My point is not Arab vs Israeli. I am talking about the article, about the media struggle, about winning over young minds. From my experience, young minds reject the view of the establishment.
So, if our establishment favour one side the young people favour another. This has gone on for the whole of history but more striking now because of the internet.

SIMON WOLF
SIMON WOLF
7 months ago

In the 1960’s & 1970’s there was a clear Generational Gap that does not exist today.The values between the war generation and the baby boomers were very different.It began to change when the baby boomers became parents and their children adopted their parents entitlement altitudes.The War Generation regarded their children and grand children as selfish and spoilt.Todays young are embracing Anti-Israeli altitudes because the Western leftwing educational and cultural establishment is overwhelming Pro-Palestinian (note 3000 UK media figures signed the SteveCoogan Pro-Palestinian petition 2 days after oct 7 without any comdemnation of Hamas atrocities) and that liberal-left wing establishment have made it fashionable to be Anti-Israeli.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
7 months ago

Cheering on the slaughter of Jewish people goes way beyond simple intergenerational conflict. We in the West are sleepwalking our way into World War III.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
7 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

That’s if we don’t perish from cultural suicide first.

harry storm
harry storm
7 months ago

Suckers, more like.

Rachel Taylor
Rachel Taylor
7 months ago

This is an uncannily accurate description of Al-Jazeera reporting, down to the exact phrasing of their descriptions.

Last edited 7 months ago by Rachel Taylor
Fred Oldfield
Fred Oldfield
7 months ago

The main thing is that Israel is winning the actual war and seems intent on ignoring the weeping and wailing from western media outlets..

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
7 months ago
Reply to  Fred Oldfield

Long may they resist the emotional blackmail from the western media and Hamas apologists such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Susan Matthews
Susan Matthews
7 months ago
Reply to  Fred Oldfield

It’s not a war because Gaza doesn’t have an army. It’s slaughter funded by massive US military support. Israel has dropped munitions with greater destructive force than Hiroshima, it has killed more children than all wars worldwide since 2019. No wonder the majority of people worldwide and the overwhelming majority of countries support a ceasefire and side with Palestine

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
7 months ago
Reply to  Susan Matthews

What is Hamas? You remember that group; it’s the one that perpetrated the October 7 atrocity. And Hamas retains hostages. Well, at least the ones who are still alive. It is an ongoing curiosity that much is asked of Israel while nothing is expected of the Arabs, and the latter seldom disappoints.

harry storm
harry storm
7 months ago
Reply to  Susan Matthews

Oh, since 2019???? (bet something bad happened in 2018.) And to this idjit, it’s precisely because Hamas doesn’t field an army even though it has 30K fighters but knows it can’t even touch israel militarily thatit resorts to the barbarity and chickensh*t tactics that expose its own citizens to death by aerial bombing. Hamas leaders have been quoted as rationalizing why the tunnels and food are for their fighters and not for their own citizenry, saying it’s up to Israel and UN to protect civilians. They’ve been quoted as saying they will repeat oct. 7 again and again. All that is needed for the conflict to end is for Hamas to surrender and release the hostages. Your sort always leaves out that part. As for all the countries supporting “Palestine,” who cares? Many are dictatorships, and most are scared to death of their Muslim populations or minorities. Sensible people with a moral compass stand with Israel.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
7 months ago
Reply to  Susan Matthews

Palestinians need to be disabused of the notion that Israel will cease to exist.
The only way to do that is to punish them so severely that they give up.

Paul Wilson
Paul Wilson
7 months ago

In addition to indiscriminte & endless bombing, and starvation, the IDF is wantonly using white phosphorous on a defenceless population … is that not punishment enough?

harry storm
harry storm
7 months ago
Reply to  Paul Wilson

You don’t even have to read this agitprop to know what it says. blah blah indiscriminate (it isn’t) blah blah endless (want it to end? release hostages and surrender) blah blah white phosphorous (wrong war, your sort always trots that one out). And no, it’s not. Not until they’re gone.

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
6 months ago
Reply to  harry storm

Your’e a total as*hole Harry, grow up or join the Hitl*r youth!

Christopher
Christopher
5 months ago
Reply to  Susan Matthews

Gaza will lack an army of terrorists soon enough.

Friedrich Tellberg
Friedrich Tellberg
7 months ago

Thank you for this report. I agree that Hamas media should not be censored, but distributed freely with subtitling. This would be far more convincing. I have seen a couple of sequences of interviews and did not need any further comment on their intentions. But I did not know that the indoctrination of their own people went that far on such a huge scale.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
7 months ago

Perhaps people will begin questioning the veracity of the “religion of peace”.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
7 months ago

Is there a single place that has been made better by the introduction of Islam? None in the West and it’s hard to see how the predominantly Muslim areas have benefited but they’re not my concern. To the article, the Hamas media operation has received a lot of help from Western press people, who are eager to push the oppressor/oppressed narrative.
In some circles, you wonder if October 7 ever happened. We can debate if the Israeli counter has been over the top, and it might be worth considering what happens if a cease fire is declared. This began during a cease fire. Has Hamas experienced a come-to-Allah moment in which it has decided to love fellow Muslims more than it hates the Jews? I don’t see much pondering of that, just incessant calls for this to stop as if that alone is a solution.

james elliott
james elliott
7 months ago

It seems beyond doubt that if every single Palestinian were struck from the face of the Earth by a vengeful God tomorrow, the world would be a notably better place.

Paul Wilson
Paul Wilson
7 months ago
Reply to  james elliott

I despair that this despicable comment has two likes. Unherd’s readership are consumed with a righteous hatred. Can you not see that you are the other side of the violent ideology you are complaining about?

McExpat M
McExpat M
7 months ago
Reply to  Paul Wilson

Sadly, the only thing these violent Islamists understand IS violence and a show of extreme force.They are resolute in their aims and are remorseless in their goal of cleaning the earth of infidels. Starting first with the Jews of course. This hatred knows no bounds. I would be much, much more despairing of knowing that this worldview resides in the minds of millions of Muslims.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago
Reply to  McExpat M

And in many many more millions it doesn’t. Your bigoted and racist views know no bounds.

McExpat M
McExpat M
6 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

How us pointing out the sad truth racist? I’m sure the millions of Muslims who see their religion hijacked by these maniacs feel exactly the same way. Such unintelligent analysis, as usual, by someone who thinks they know the meaning of racism. Progressives have made the word utterly meaningless.

Carl Valentine
Carl Valentine
6 months ago
Reply to  McExpat M

wow you are so bigotted, glad you are an expat!

harry storm
harry storm
7 months ago
Reply to  Paul Wilson

Hand-wringing par excellence. The Lord of the Wrings.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago
Reply to  Paul Wilson

100% correct. This person is no better morally than the savages who committed the atrocities on October 7th.

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
7 months ago

“If Israel is overwhelmingly dominant on the ground, it is hopefully outmatched by Hamas and its supporters online.”
I found myself somewhat perplexed by the use of the word ‘hopefully’ here. Hopefully this is the older usage, signifying what Hamas supporters hope rather than what the author does.

Last edited 7 months ago by Russell Sharpe
El Uro
El Uro
7 months ago
Reply to  Russell Sharpe

No. Don’t reassure yourself. The author simply let it slip, revealing his secret hopes. Happens

harry storm
harry storm
7 months ago
Reply to  Russell Sharpe

I think he meant “hopelessly outmatched,” which is true, unfortunately. However, they aren’t outmatched where it counts. In the real world.

Mike K
Mike K
7 months ago

Wrong. It is the flabby, decadent, childless West that is losing the propaganda war.

harry storm
harry storm
7 months ago

The only reason this “crude” propaganda works is because the audience that buys into it is also crude. As for the lefties who buy it, they’re ideologically blinded by Israel/Western hate, so they’ll buy anything along those lines.

harry storm
harry storm
7 months ago

If I have to choose between losing the propaganda war and the real one, I’ll choose the former every time.

Mrs R
Mrs R
7 months ago

“The movie encouraged “mosque youth” to act as informants for Hamas-controlled intelligence organisations”
Unbelievably the term ‘terrorist’ seems to have been glamorised . I suggest that those who seek to indoctrinate youth so as to recruit them to their vile causes are called out for what they are: fascists.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
7 months ago

If Farfour the Mouse is beaten to death by Isreali intelligence in a cartoon this is because artimitates life. In real life this is the reality as today’s beating by IDF, and hospitalisation, of a Turkish journalist testifies. Also reflect on the death of 34 journalists and 145 UN observers. It’s a bit rich complaining about Hamas manipulation of media when Isreal, in true fascist style, in fact the first rule of fascism, to control the narrative and control the media. Hence no foreign independent reports from Gaza, unlike for example, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq. Another completely one sided column from Unherd. Can’t wait to unsubscribe when contract allows. By the way Hamas, like IDF and Isreali govt, are despicable, blood thirsty, hate filled human beings.

D Walsh
D Walsh
7 months ago

This article is hilarious

If only Israel had some help from the media LOL

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
7 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

What are you insinuating?

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
7 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

You know – media, Jewish ownership of media. Some things never go out of style.

harry storm
harry storm
7 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

No you would be hilariously funny if your views weren’t so tragic and stupid.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
7 months ago

Israel’s right-wing government is now an anti-propagand machine and if that doesn’t sound right, it’s because that means they seem to function entirely without propaganda.
This is not only refreshing but entirely necessary in the face of a strategy of ethnic cleansing to clear out Gaza and concentrate the main Arab reservation in today’s West Bank. The least said about this one-state process the better as its taking place!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
7 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Huh? Had to wade through the word salad because it knocked me back on my heels.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
7 months ago

It is quite amazing that more people don’t realize that Jews are not the only members of the infidel class. They will be coming for you and me next, regardless of how many choruses of “Kumbaya” we sing.

Rick Frazier
Rick Frazier
7 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Radical Islamists want to chop our heads off. Moderate Islamists want radical Islamists to chop our heads off.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
7 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Long may they continue to resist the emotional blackmail coming from the western media.

harry storm
harry storm
7 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Agitprop talking points. Stupid beyond words. And full of projection. This is precisely what Hamas and the PA want to do to Israel. Fortunately, they don’t have the means.

Chris Whybrow
Chris Whybrow
7 months ago

Oh, I wonder if there is something the IDF might have done since the October 7th terrorist attack that might have made the western public less sympathetic to them? Hmm… What could it possibly be?

Benjamin Dyke
Benjamin Dyke
7 months ago
Reply to  Chris Whybrow

You’ve just neatly proved how the Hamas propaganda works…keep it up! You think Israel should have just sent thousands of soldiers to their death to defeat Hamas? Their first obligation is to their own citizens.

harry storm
harry storm
7 months ago
Reply to  Chris Whybrow

Fighting back.