Joseph Braude, President of the Center for Peace Communications (CPC), spoke to a March 13th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about the center's innovative project, which provides a secure outlet for current Gaza Strip residents to speak "candidly" about their lives under Hamas rule. The following is a summary of his comments:
CPC's Whispered in Gaza project is a series of twenty-five video interviews with Palestinian Arabs, translated into seven languages, who speak openly and without fear of Hamas retaliation, secure in the knowledge that their identities and voices remain anonymous via "video animation." This novel approach that brings to light their "riveting and harrowing" testimonies, viewed millions of times across the region and the West, is proving successful in breaking Hamas's "communications blockade." Previously, any attempt by journalists to challenge the terror group's "narrative dominance within the region" resulted in threats or deportation. As a result, not only has Hamas's brutal suppression of Gaza's civilians gone largely unreported, but the group has also controlled "the story of Gaza and broader Israeli-Palestinian issues" through propaganda broadcasts from its bully pulpit.
Hamas's corrosive impact on civil society is seen in the imposition of the terror group's extremist ideology and in its vilification of any suggestion by Gazans who, out of either pragmatism or ideology, envision a more "conciliatory relationship" with Israel. Hamas's narrative sells because it hides behind the false "veneer of Gazan solidarity," enabling its "information monopoly" to project "the impression that Hamas and the people of Gaza are one." When echoed by Western media, this tactic "fuels the campaign to delegitimize Israel." Lost in the "imbalanced debate" is how to change the future of Gaza and its people for the better.
Thus, in 2022, CPC connected with Gazan residents to embolden those Gazans opposed to Hamas and bring balance to the West's view of Hamas's governance. The videos, released over the course of three weeks, represent only a fraction of the thousand Gazans who took to the streets in 2019 to protest "demonstrate against Hamas," thereby "braving gunfire and prisons." The Whispered in Gaza videos, distributed to large media outlets, including Saudi Arabia's flagship news outlet Al Arabiya, "went viral." The realities of Gaza triggered responses on both sides of the Atlantic as well as in Latin America and Iran. Within Gaza, approximately 750,000 people viewed the videos. Viewers who consider themselves pro-Palestinian face the dilemma of either supporting Hamas or supporting the Gazans who are suffering under its oppression.
Last week, the Islamic Fatwa Council (IFC), "a trans-sectarian body of senior Shiite, Sunni and Sufi clerics headquartered in Iraq," issued an "unprecedented" fatwa declaring Hamas illegitimate and "un-Islamic." In January, an IFC delegation met in Mecca with the head of the Muslim World League, Muhammad al-Issa. The meeting is a further indication of the "internal process" in the Muslim world in which "internal opposition to Hamas is empowered." It also helps to change the "frenzied polemics about Gaza in the West" and challenges journalists and others who exploit Hamas propaganda to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Jewish state.
Whispered in Gaza penetrates the "rejectionist dominance" permeating the public discourse of "seventy years of brainwashing and indoctrination" Changing the narrative for the better in today's environment can be transformative and can occur through "social media ... traditional approaches of engaging legacy outlets ... as well as institutions of spiritual and moral authority" in order to empower the voiceless. "Discourse is a crucial component of political change, which isn't going to happen though military intervention alone."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.