On November 11, there was a ‘botched’ Israeli special forces raid near Khan Yunis in Gaza. We cannot know exactly what the mission intended, but Nour Baraka, a regional commander of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (military wing of Hamas) was one of those killed in the exchange of fire. Following the Israeli operation, Hamas fired over 460 rockets at Israel in twenty-five hours.
When situations such as this arise, the Hamas propaganda machine moves from ‘normal mode’ to ‘overdrive’. Hamas have a firm control over the Gaza Strip and it would be logical to assume that includes a grip over the messages that escape from it.
When the news first broke, rumours began to fly about kidnapped Israeli soldiers, there were Hamas statements and images of Israeli army helicopters arriving at an Israeli hospital. It took about two-three hours for the story to settle. These two posts were made within a few minutes of each other. Al-Jazeera posted on 11 Nov at 22:30, Robert Inlakesh beat them by twelve minutes, posting at 22:18. Both these screenshots were taken within an hour of the post being made.
The Inlakesh video spread at twice the rate of the Al-Jazeera one. That ratio continued and eventually the Inlakesh ‘exposure’ was shared over 1100 times. Al Jazeera barely made it past 500. Inlakesh had 214 shares in fifty-five minutes.
This isn’t about Inlakesh (who is not in Gaza), but the issue of his Gaza post highlights a key problem. Conspiracy news travels fast, lightning fast. As anti-Israel activists create internet bubbles around themselves, the notion of media conspiracy is often high on the agenda. Main news organisations are ignored and then ‘banned from sight’ as attention. Even more ‘friendly’ sources such as Al Jazeera are spurned in favour of those who tell the ‘real news’. People like Inlakesh.
The Gaza propaganda highway
In 2016, Journalist Mohammed Othman wrote a few ‘probing articles‘ and was arrested by Hamas. He had his laptops and mobile phones seized, and claims he was beaten by Hamas security forces. In 2015, twenty-one people were arrested in Gaza over articles they had written (see more examples). The notion that Hamas do not have a stranglehold over news transmitted to the west is absurd. Most international news outlets rely on local correspondents, in Gaza that means ‘reporters’ and ‘photographers’ with homes and families in Gaza, all vulnerable to Hamas pressure, intimidation and violence.
Yet the mainstream media is still only one outlet Hamas can use to deliver its messaging. Social media is another. This isn’t a difficult logical exercise. If Hamas won’t permit criticism in print, then the popular social media accounts pushing news from Gaza are almost certainly within their remit. Why would they ignore the global audience social media activists give them? Whilst mainstream media may seek to partially clarify the reports they are given, on social media there is no such filter.
Propaganda can be driven directly from Hamas HQ to anti-Israel Facebook groups in a matter of minutes. If you then place this ability next to the issue of anti-Israel activists ignoring the output of mainstream media, it means that anti-Israel activism is receiving and distributing raw Hamas propaganda almost by default.
The events in Gaza and the personal touch.
The post above was made after a building was destroyed by the IDF in November. Notice how Aludaini claims it is her son’s Kindergarten. This is an important element of the message. It is often personal. This image, or versions of it, went viral. The second image, the ‘after’ picture, sometimes differed:
Mohammad Smiry explicitly calls the pile of rubble in the second image the ‘after shot’. Then there is this:
The main problem is that the first two posts show the building completely destroyed. Yet the third post places the Kindergarten in the building *next to the one that was destroyed*. Yet the children, who have clearly been set up for a camera shoot, don’t seem to be in the same kindergarten as the impressive one in the first two images. The kindergarten story has tens of thousands of shares and retweets. Mohammad Smiry who claimed the devastated building was the ‘after-shot’, has 219k followers alone.
The news also made CNN, where ‘Senior Correspondent’ Arwa Damon is left as little more than a Hamas Propaganda outlet, when yet another child, five-year-old Nada, wants to go back and see the damage. The footage in the CNN video casts real doubt over the authenticity of the original kindergarten image. Even the NYT pushes the Muhammad Smiry angle and suggests the kindergarten was inside the building that was targeted:The truth doesn’t matter here. Hamas propagandists want to use imagery to tell you that a stunning kindergarten full of children is now a pile of rubble. A retraction or edit is irrelevant now. The message has been delivered.
The building with stories and the building with none
Another story went viral. From the same building as the kindergarten. The story of the wedding dress. This is the earliest post on the story I could find:
This story is perfect. A love story between a Syrian refugee and a Palestinian from Gaza. Fadi al-Ghazali (Fade Mohammed on Facebook) and Yara al-Zoubi. They fell in love online years ago. Yara even survived a Syrian chemical weapons attack in her home town of Khan Sheikhoun. This building was damaged five days before the wedding. This from the victim:
‘Everything we needed was ready (the bedroom, the house, the wedding dress, etc) and we were only waiting for my birthday to be the luckiest couple people to ever walk this earth. However, in the last 24 hours, the dream was shattered by an Israeli strike that raided our house and caused a major destruction to it. The windows were broken and splintered, the wedding dress was torn-apart and ragged.’
Walid Mahmoud seems to have been the second ‘journalist’ to find his way to the wedding dress. He also went on to contribute to the Al-Jazeera article:
I have no idea how much of this is true and how much is staged, but that isn’t what this is about. This is about packaging, messaging and delivery:
Walid Mahmoud has 19,000 followers on Facebook:
He has another Facebook page followed by 24,900 people. As I reported a few weeks ago, Walid managed a Facebook page called ‘we support Jeremy Corbyn’ with over seventy thousand followers. I asked the question at the time – why are Hamas propagandists running Jeremy Corbyn Facebook pages?
What is clearly missing from events that night are stories from the devastated building itself. Not the one next to it. Coincidentally, all the stories that went viral are from next door. Like a magicians trick, these stories are deceptive. It does suggest that whatever was inside the building that was actually destroyed, had nothing to do with kindergartens or people getting married.
Two viral photos
Here is another Wafa Aludaini report. Aludaini’s profile suggests she is an activist with the International Solidarity Movement and a Manager at the 16th October Group, which seems to deal with presenting the Gazan case to western media.
This time Wafa is posting about Israel bombing the ‘University College of Applied Science‘. Her post has 2199 shares. If the images are real, then it is clearly blast damage from a nearby explosion rather than a direct hit. Every report on this event has these same two images (the photographer took a third grainy image that was seldom used). No other photographer seems to have bothered to go and take another shot. No student seems to have bothered to upload photos of damage to their university. We have no way of knowing if it is real or not. Given the minor structural damage it could even have been self inflicted (rocket fire going astray). There is no confirmation of this from official sources, nor from mainstream media. The university Flikr feed continued uninterrupted, and hosts images taken just a day after it was ‘bombed’:
However, with no filter in place, Hamas PR spreads straight from Hamas HQ to Glasgow University:
The students of Glasgow University Palestine Society simply pushed the unfiltered message to influence UK students to support BDS. It gets worse. Within an hour, this is how it was being reported by a Professor at the University of Johannesburg:
An unverified strike that caused some external damage has suddenly become an attack on ‘every university, cultural center, power grid, hospital, school and water treatment facility‘ in Gaza. Those lies from an academic who teaches students. He is clearly receiving the propaganda fix, undiluted, and directly into his bloodstream.
Mohammed Matter (Abu Yazan) has 124,756 followers on Facebook:
Matter pushes the drumbeat of media blackout that is swiftly shared amongst activists:
See the call? Instructions that the media is not to be believed. That you can only hear the truth from these accounts in Gaza. It is a constant drumbeat. Accounts such as Matter push straightforward propaganda almost 24/7:
Despite his own protestations, there is little doubt that Matter is little more than a Hamas mouthpiece. Take this nonsensical post from 2014:
The post above should send alarm bells to anyone who uses Matter as a source. It is either the work of an official Hamas mouthpiece or one of the world’s biggest fools. It has him meeting a high profile Hamas leader, criticising Hamas ‘like no one has ever done’, ‘convincing’ the leader he was right and leaves him showing off that he is still alive. Talk about a childish. It insults the intelligence of anyone reading it. And whenever Matter posts, the constant ‘Hamas’ drumbeat of global media conspiracy is present:
This is another of Matter’s recent posts (these people are prolific, you never have to go far back):
It can be used as a classic example. Hundreds of these types of images are shared weekly. It is CCTV footage of a violent assault. There are no names provided and no links to official sources. It seems to have taken place at an Israeli gas station on 8th Dec. The story being sold is that the ‘Zionists’ found out the man was a ‘Palestinian’, and being the wild racists that they are, promptly beat him to a pulp.
Yet we have no idea what the truth is here. I would imagine that had a bunch of Israelis found a Palestinian and beat him to a pulp in Tel Aviv, then Ha’aretz would have been delighted to tell the world. I searched elsewhere but could not find the truth behind this anywhere. But this is what they do. They take violent images, create a story around it so it portrays Israelis as being animals – and then push it into the veins of anti-Israel activists in the west.
Given the timestamps of those who posted the video, Mohammed Matter seems to have ‘broken’ the story. This is the way it was told to people in the UK:
These images go viral. They are unchecked and unsourced. And it is foolish to underestimate the reach of these people. This simple image was shared 2.4k times:
The names under these images, those liking and sharing the posts, are activists across the globe. People like Matter, who project themselves as truth-tellers and survivors of a brutal onslaught, are then welcomed as heroes wherever they go. Mohammed Matter is on his way to Germany. Where people will swallow anything he says:
Lots of reciprocal love
The Gazan PR teams work on building the relationship. When an action is taken by an anti-Israel group, they are soon met by a thankful response:
You can find hundreds of such messages online:
And there are scores of these activists. Haitham Khatib has 24,456 followers:
And his post warning of ‘tanks’ heading ‘towards the border’ and ‘unprotected civilians’ is shared 411 times.
Look at this next post by Aed Mohammed. Asking for donations:
The human face, everywhere you look, and the aims of Mohammed’s charity appears to have nothing to do with the scene in the video he is using as a catch for his own cause. Earlier I mentioned Walid Mahmoud, the Journalist running the Jeremy Corbyn support group. Walid has managed dozens of funding campaigns which have taken £10,000s. Nobody is suggesting that every cause is bogus or that there is not a need for assistance, but there is clearly an issue of money entering Gaza to people who are pushing raw Hamas propaganda. Does anyone know if they money is going where it is supposed to go?
Too many to count
There are scores of these activist reporters. They post exclusively (or almost) in English. There is nothing in their timeline outside of activism. Their messages are always so similar. Messages of resistance:
Images that suggest Israelis kill civilians at will:
Scores of people in Gaza work on this propaganda production line. This industry of hate continues without pause. Conditioned to ignore all mainstream media, there is an unfiltered line between the propaganda message coming from Gaza and anti-Israel activists. It is a constant drumbeat, providing a perpetual infusion that dehumanises Israelis. Truth does not matter in this void because nobody is checking. There are no moderating influences and the messages cross continents in seconds.
A package of distortion and lies. A gift from Hamas HQ to the anti-Israel activist. A gift of poison.
This article written by David Collier was first posted at his amazing website Beyond the Great Divide. Please check it out and support his incredible work.