Friday, January 20, 2006
Hamas Terrorists get an Image Makeover
"Hamas is paying a spin doctor $180,000 to persuade Europeans and Americans that it is not a group of religious fanatics who relish suicide bombings and hate Jews. The organisation has hired a media consultant, Nashat Aqtash, to improve its image at home and abroad because it expects to emerge from next week's Palestinian general election as a major political force, and wants recognition and acceptance by the US and EU.
"Hamas has an image problem. The Israelis were able to create a very bad image of the Palestinians in general and particularly Muslims and Hamas. My contract is to project the right image," said Mr Aqtash, who also teaches media at Birzeit University in Ramallah.
Mr Aqtash, who describes himself as opposed to violence and "believing in the Gandhi route", has advised Hamas leaders to change their image by explaining that they do not hate Israelis because they are Jews.
"Hamas does not believe in terrorism or killing civilians. But Ariel Sharon pressed buttons to make people angry. Sometimes we are innocent enough to react in a way that the Israelis use the reaction against us," he said.
Next week Mr Aqtash says he will address the former US president Jimmy Carter and former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, and other prominent foreigners monitoring the election. But he admits he and his small team working from an office in Ramallah have their work cut out. Hamas is responsible for scores of suicide bombings, killing and maiming hundreds of civilians (many of them children), although not for yesterday's attack in Tel Aviv.
Hamas's founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and it wants to impose an Islamic state on all Palestinian territory.
Mr Aqtash, who says he is not a member of Hamas and does not know where it got the money to pay him but frequently refers to the group as "we", says he has told the leadership it has to change its rhetoric. He says Hamas has not helped itself by celebrating suicide bombings; he advises against celebration. And he has told Hamas leaders not to talk about destroying Israel.
Mr Aqtash has also advised Hamas leaders to emphasise that they are not anti-semitic or against Israelis because they are Jews. Hamas has taken the message on board. In an interview earlier this week, Muhammad Abu Tir, who is second on the Hamas election list, twice (and unprompted) offered an assurance that he is not a Jew hater.
"Loving others is part of our religion. We are not against Jews as Jews, we are against oppression," he said.
Mr Aqtash also told Mr Abu Tir to rid himself of a red beard, coloured by henna, because it makes people laugh."
"Former US president Jimmy Carter expressed optimism Friday over Hamas's participation in next week's Palestinian parliamentary elections.
Carter told CNN in an interview that although Hamas were "so-called terrorists," so far "there have been no complaints of corruption against [their] elected officials." He conceded that "there is an element within Hamas who deny Israel's right to exist,"
Sources: Jerusalem Post and The Guardian