Three weeks after the beginning of the mass demonstrations along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which are being held as part of the so-called "March of Return," Hamas is trying to intimidate journalists into covering the events in a way that distorts the truth and reality.
Hamas, one of several Palestinian groups responsible for the anti-Israel demonstrations, does not want the world to see pictures of Palestinians throwing stones, firebombs and explosive devices at Israeli soldiers.
Hamas does not want journalists to use the words "clashes" and "confrontations" when reporting about the demonstrations.
Hamas does not want journalists to report the fact that some of the demonstrators killed during the "March of Return" were actually members of its armed group, Izaddin Al-Qassam.
In other words, Hamas wants journalists to report as if they were working for its propaganda machine. Any journalist who dares to challenge the Hamas narrative is denounced as a "traitor" and punished.
To ensure that Palestinian journalists comply with its wishes, Hamas's "Press Office" earlier this week issued directives to reporters as to how they should cover the "March of Return."
The first order that Hamas requires the journalists to obey is to refrain from focusing on the actions of individuals participating in the demonstrations.
This means that a photographer who sees a Palestinian protester engaged in violence, such as hurling a stone, firebomb or explosive device at Israeli troops, should look the other way. Why? Because, according to Hamas, such pictures refute its claim that the "March of Return" is a "peaceful and nonviolent uprising by unarmed civilians."
Hamas, according to its "Press Office," also instructed Palestinian journalists to stop using the words "clashes" and "confrontations" in their stories about the demonstrations. These words, Hamas argues, create the impression that the Palestinian demonstrators are engaged in violence. The pictures and videos from the scenes of the demonstrations, of course, depict just that.
Several videos even show masked Palestinian demonstrators trying to destroy the security fence and barbed wires along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. This is part of the plan of the organizers of the "March of Return" to infiltrate the border and flood Israel with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
Palestinian journalists, in the words of Hamas's "Press Office," are to portray the events at the border with Israel as "an assault by the occupation army and its snipers on a peaceful and nonviolent civilian uprising." Hamas wants journalists to show only one side of the story by solely focusing on Israel's response to the violent demonstrations. The violence that triggered the response is, for Hamas, inadmissible evidence.
Pictured: Palestinians in Gaza attempt to break through a section of the border fence with Israel, under cover of a smokescreen, March 30, 2018. (Image source: Ateya Bahar video screenshot).
In line with Hamas's own fictitious narrative about its bloody behavior, it wants the coverage of the "March of Return" to be along the lines of "it all started when Israel fired back." Nothing new here: this is exactly the tactic Hamas has used during its previous wars with Israel. Hamas has never allowed journalists to show its members in the process of firing rockets at Israel. The only stories journalists were allowed to report where those of Palestinian casualties resulting from Israeli military strikes against people launching the rocket attacks from schools and populated areas of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas's "Press Office" additionally warned Palestinian journalists against quoting or relying on Israeli media in their reporting about the events in the Gaza Strip. This means that the journalists are not allowed to inform the Palestinian public of what Israel is saying about the "March of Return," especially concerning violent attacks on Israeli soldiers.
In this regard, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), a body dominated by Hamas's rivals in Fatah, seems fully to agree with Hamas. In a statement published in Ramallah, the PJS accused Israeli journalists of being "complicit in crimes and killings." It also claimed that Israeli journalists were part of the Israeli army's propaganda machine.
Such incitement against Israeli journalists should be taken with utmost seriousness. It endangers the lives of reporters who cover Palestinian issues and often travel to Palestinian cities and villages.
Hamas's incitement against Israeli journalists is predictable. But when the incitement originates from a Fatah-affiliated institution in the West Bank, and controlled by President Mahmoud Abbas's loyalists, it gives pause. Isn't Fatah supposed to be the "moderate" Palestinian faction that ostensibly believes in the two-state solution and peace with Israel? Isn't Mahmoud Abbas supposed to be the "moderate" and "pragmatic" Palestinian leader with whom Israel is supposed to make peace? Aren't Fatah and Abbas receiving financial aid from the US and EU because of their presumed support for a peace process with Israel? Why should the Americans and Europeans be supporting a Palestinian faction whose journalists openly incite against their Israeli colleagues?
The incitement by Fatah and Hamas is an attempt to intimidate and silence not only Palestinian journalists, but their Israeli colleagues as well. It is an attempt to force Israeli journalists to toe the line and endorse the Hamas and Fatah narrative not only regarding the "March of Return," but also the entire Palestinian cause. Apparently in agreement with Hamas and Fatah, international human rights organizations and advocates of free media around the world do not seem bothered at all by the life-threatening attacks on Israeli journalists.
Finally, the Hamas "Press Office" instructed Palestinian journalists to focus on the "humanization" of the stories of the Palestinians who are killed or injured during the mass demonstrations. The journalists are required to highlight the "various personal and social aspects" of the Palestinian victims. Translation: If the "victim" is a Hamas terrorist, the journalists are to avoid mentioning that and instead report about his having been a beloved husband, father, and community member.
Again, this is part of Hamas's effort to lie to the world and present the Palestinians killed and injured during the riots as unarmed innocent civilians. The truth, however, is that Hamas has sent hundreds of its militiamen to take part in the demonstrations disguised as civilians.
Since the Palestinian journalists covering the "March of Return" are unlikely to ignore Hamas's new instructions, this will affect the reporting of the international media. Most international media outlets and correspondents employ Palestinian producers and translators and "fixers" to assist in covering Palestinian issues.
A Palestinian journalist who is afraid to defy the Hamas instructions will not tell his employers everything he sees and hears. Some of the Palestinian journalists will also be doing that of their own volition and not necessarily out of fear of Hamas or any other Palestinian group. These journalists see themselves as foot soldiers of the "revolution" and are convinced that their loyalty should be, first and foremost, to their people and cause. And the truth? Well, the truth finishes last.
The 'March of Return" is scheduled to continue until May 15, the Gregorian date for Israel Independence Day. More protests are planned along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel in the coming weeks. The Palestinians say that the real goal of the protests is to achieve the "right of return," by which they would return to "all of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River."
The planned demonstrations will parallel those which took place the past three weeks. Those demonstrations, too, will involve Palestinians throwing rocks, firebombs and explosive devices at Israeli soldiers. Those demonstrations, too, will see Palestinians chanting slogans calling for the annihilation of Israel and see Hamas terrorists dressed in civilian clothes participating in the "peaceful" demonstrations.
Given the threats made by Hamas and Fatah, the question is: Will we see all these things, or will the cover-up continue? And, will the international media allow itself to be used as a platform for disseminating Hamas's lies? The Hamas "Press Office," for its part, is working overtime to cover the ravenous wolf in sheep's clothing.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.