In the past, whenever there was violence between Israel and the Palestinians or other Arab groups, the Arab media have generally been pretty uniform and predictable in denouncing whatever Israel is doing as an evil crime, and defending whatever the side fighting with Israel is doing as completely justifiable, even heroic.
This seems to be changing in the current Gaza conflict. Throughout the recent Israel-Hamas escalation, many in the Arab media have harshly criticised Hamas and offered sensible analysis on why their tactics and strategy are disastrous for the Palestinian people. Much of the disapproval of Hamas is over what has been viewed as its intransigence and unwillingness to sign a ceasefire approved by the Arab League – causing unnecessary conflict and unintended civilian casualties. Others have pointed out the hypocrisy of Hamas leaders living lavishly abroad while bringing suffering upon the people of Gaza. Some commentators have even made the rational plea that peace must be made with Israel in order to ensure a brighter future for the Palestinian people.
Criticism of Hamas has been particularly strong in Egypt where many TV analysts have denounced the group. Many in Egypt view Hamas as a Muslim Brotherhood linked terrorist group and a threat to Egyptian sovereignty and security, and have attacked the luxurious lifestyle of Hamas leaders.
Thus, Egyptian show host Khaled Salah, said (Al-Nahar TV, July 9, 2014):
“We want to stand by [the Palestinians]… The position of our Foreign Ministry is very clear in favor of convening the U.N. Security Council in order to discuss the Israeli aggression against our people in Gaza. Our people there are one thing, and the Hamas movement is another.
But our people in Gaza must come to the realisation that such idiotic decision-making pertaining to religion and politics forces the Gaza Strip and its people, as well as the entire Arab Nation in its entirety, to pay a very steep price in fragmentation, in humiliation, in martyrs and, unfortunately, in blood – shed in vein, with no prospects for victory.”
Similarly, Egyptian talk show host Maher Shahin said (Al-Tahrir TV, July 12, 2014):
“Just like we died in the past in defence of the Palestinian cause, we are ready to die today in defence of the Palestinian cause – but we are not ready to die in defence of Hamas. Not a single drop of blood will be shed… Sorry, a drop of blood is too precious… We are not prepared to sacrifice even a single hair from the eyebrow of an Egyptian soldier or civilian, for the sake of Hamas and all the people who wage Jihad, while indulging themselves in all kinds of dishes at the swimming pool…
We are afflicted with a bunch of people who pretend to be Muslims, but do not understand anything, or else, they think people are stupid. They goad people into fighting, terrorism, and violence, under the pretext of “Jihad,” while they themselves sit at a hotel, a swimming pool, or a nudist beach, eating a variety of dishes, marrying four wives, and driving the latest model luxury cars.”
The print media has not been much friendlier, especially in Persian Gulf states. Writing in Kuwait’s Arab Times, Editor-in-Chief Ahmad Al-Jarallah criticised Hamas’ rejection of a ceasefire and the illusion that its goals can be achieved by violence. He went so far as to call Hamas the “fifth column between the Israelis and Palestinians.” He concludes his article saying:
“Do [Hamas] think they will be able to defeat Israel – call it occupier, controlling regime or whatever – with their primitive weapons? Whether we like it or not, Israel is there. No solution will go through without Israel being part of it.
Therefore, it is up to the Palestinians to get rid of their illusions and sincerely try to contemplate the benefits brought forth by Egypt’s initiative, instead of waiting for instructions from Khaled Al-Mish’al who is residing in Qatar where he enjoys all kinds of good meals and engages in all types of sports activities in a bid to reduce his weight and his potbelly, while scores of children are being killed in Gaza.”
Also questioning Hamas’ irresponsible governance and the hypocrisy of its leaders living lavishly while the people of Gaza are left without protection, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim of arabnews.com wrote:
“. . . why [was] Hamas successful in spreading a sophisticated network of tunnels and fail to build simple bomb shelters if they knew there would be armed conflicts? Is Hamas willing to sacrifice Palestinians to get more Arab and foreign financial aid . . . Hamas leaders are jet setters. They travel high class, stay at the best hotels and eat the best food but their people are not paid their salaries on time and what is worse is that they are always under constant pressure from Hamas rule and the Israeli missiles. And Hamas did not even think of building bomb shelters. So, is Hamas looking for more innocent Palestinian casualties to gain more sympathy from the outside world?”
Similarly criticising the use of Palestinian blood for financial gain was Dr, Azeem Ibrahim, who wrote in Al-Arabiya English, another Saudi-owned publication:
“[Hamas’] hope is likely to be that this [war] will lead to significant sympathy around the Muslim world, particularly in the month of Ramadan. This will see money pouring into the various global charities of Hamas, from a wide variety of sources. The idea seems to be that this might rescue Hamas financially, and save them from their ideological extinction too. Many observers have now looked at this situation and the question must be asked: what is the purpose of Hamas firing so many rockets into Israel? The perverse reality seems to be that Hamas expects the typical Israeli overreaction, and is baiting for it, with no further strategic aims.”
Perhaps the most insightful article was a July 12 piece in the London based paper Al-Hayat where Saudi writer and intellectual ‘Abdallah Hamid Al-Din argued that Palestinians will achieve a better life not through armed resistance and violence but instead must make peace with Israel. He stated:
“We must acknowledge that Israel cannot be defeated by force today, and for the foreseeable future . . . The only way to stop Israel is peace. There are some people who don’t understand that peace, too, is something you must struggle for with all your might . . . Therefore it is necessary to persist with efforts to impose peace. No other option exists. True resistance is resistance to illusions and false hopes, and no longer leaning on the past in building the future. Real resistance is to silently endure the handshake of your enemy so as to enable your people to learn and to live…”
Meanwhile, Khaled Abu Toameh reports on how many Palestinians have commented in the press on feeling betrayed by the Arab world, recognising that there is little support for Hamas’ war there.