Hamas Releases Video Touting Economic Progress In Gaza
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Americans aren't the only ones voting this fall. Municipal elections are scheduled for early October in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Hamas runs Gaza. The group is considered a terrorist group by Israel and the United States. Hamas supporters put together a video touting the party's economic achievements, but it has not received the response they had hoped for, as NPR's Nick Schifrin discovered in Gaza City.
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NICK SCHIFRIN, BYLINE: It's a slick two and a half minute video full of dance music, fast cuts and drone footage. It makes Gaza look, well, really nice. The video features fancy housing developments, modern hospitals, beautiful beach sunsets and a paved six-lane beach-side road. That's where I met the director, who spoke through an interpreter.
Why do you use this street for your video?
AYMAN: (Through interpreter) Before 2006, it was old and bumpy. And we put it in the video to show the achievements of the government.
SCHIFRIN: The director's name is Ayman. He asked us not to use his last name because he doesn't want Israel associating him with Hamas. He says, in the video, he channeled what an American ad director would do.
AYMAN: (Through interpreter) All the candidates in the municipal elections in this state will do their best to shed light on the achievements they've done. So this is the same thing here.
SCHIFRIN: But the video sparked an online backlash. Palestinians mocked its hashtag #thankyouHamas and posted their own videos thanking Hamas for high unemployment, poverty and for three wars since the group was elected in 2007. Some of those videos were created by Hamas' political opponents. But the critics are also the very voters that Hamas is trying to reach.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Arabic).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Arabic).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Arabic).
SCHIFRIN: Twenty-three-year-old Mohamed Moghany and his cousins are sitting by the side of the road surrounded by a field of trash and unreconstructed buildings. We are in Shuja'iyya, one of the neighborhoods most devastated by the 2014 war. They say the video does not reflect reality.
MOHAMED MOGHANY: (Through interpreter) It's not where we live. It's not Gaza. This is Gaza - destroyed buildings, destroyed streets, reconstruction not happening two years after the war. The Gaza government takes care only of their members.
SCHIFRIN: In the past, Hamas has jailed people for talking like this. But Moghany doesn't care.
MOGHANY: (Through interpreter) We're just sitting on the street doing nothing because we're not part of the local authority - the government. If we were part of them we'd have had, like, jobs or doing things.
SCHIFRIN: Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasem blames Israel for creating all of Gaza's problems and for encouraging bad publicity.
HAZEM QASEM: (Through interpreter) Those who criticize Hamas are either part of the opposition or they're affected by the Israeli media blaming Hamas for all their suffering.
SCHIFRIN: But Gaza political science professor Mkhaimar Abusada says the frustration is real and runs deep.
MKHAIMAR ABUSADA: After 10 years of Hamas control of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians in Gaza are exhausted and fed up with Hamas.
SCHIFRIN: Abusada says Gazans feel free to be more vocal because of the level of frustration, greater access to social media and because they hear complaints about Hamas from within the group itself. He fears the crescendo of criticism makes conflict with Israel more likely because Hamas could provoke a war to divert attention away from internal problems.
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SCHIFRIN: As for Ayman, the video's director, I asked him whether he'd be willing to be hired by Hamas' rivals to make another video. He said he couldn't make another one because, he said, there are no more nice parts of Gaza left to film. Nick Schifrin, NPR News, Gaza City.
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