Journalists Take Hamas-led Tour of Gaza Strip

July 31st, 2007 3:37 PM

It seems that Hamas leaders feel that they are getting a bad rap from their bloody takeover of the Gaza strip. In an effort to blunt the perceived negative publicity from the factional infighting the militants put together an air conditioned bus tour for international journalists. The militants hope that the publicity stunt will help journalists set the record straight with the conclusion that the takeover has made the strip a safer place for all.

Hamas took two busloads of foreign journalists on an air conditioned tour of Gaza on Monday - including a stop in a refugee camp where the deposed prime minister waved from his balcony and a prison visit hosted by one of Hamas' most powerful military men.

Hamas officials said they were worried about the negative publicity they have received since taking over Gaza in June. (src. International Herald Tribune)

As expected, the Associated Press came to Hamas's rescue in a follow up report that reads as if Hamas had written the article themselves. (h/t Jodi at Webloggin)

The tour was colorful and revealing - a glimpse into how the Islamic militants see themselves and want to be seen. There were eight stops.

It certainly was revealing. Less so for the intended glimpse into the "safe, clean and green" version of the new Hamas leadership and more so for exposing the willingness of writers in the mainstream media to distribute the message of Islamic militants without so much as an insightful question that would question the terrorists claims.

Everything in the report, from the choice of soft phrases, like "hosted" when referring to the prison visit, to the parade like connotations of deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh waving cheerfully from his balcony is meant to paint a picture of a misunderstood group of militants.

Each of the eight stops are reported with a nicely choreographed message, one that almost leaves the reader yearning for more of this good time tour.

The first stop is the home of former PM Ismail Haniyeh.

Haniyeh lives among the people in the Shati refugee camp on the Gaza City beach. Dressed in a suit and tie on a hot summer day, Haniyeh suddenly appeared on his balcony and waved to the reporters.

Other stops included the National Security headquarters where reporters were told that they have an "obligation to to tell the world the truth about Hamas."

Abu Obeida said Hamas respects human rights and holds no political prisoners - denying claims by local human rights workers that at least nine Fatah loyalists have been killed and more than 20 others arrested since Hamas' takeover. "We are working according to the law," Abu Obeida said before taking journalists to a jail in the same compound. Prisoners prayed and cooked and answered journalists' questions, with many saying their conditions had improved since Hamas took power. "I can open the refrigerator" to show how nice the food is, said 46-year-old inmate Menahed Ehlayel. No one on the tour, in the jail or anywhere else, said anything negative about Hamas, which much of the world has branded a terrorist organization.

Much of the world, yes. But apparently not AP writer Steven Gutkin.

My favorite stop on the tour is where the Hamas guides bring the reporters by a picture of Arafat and Bill Clinton that is displayed in a bedroom at the Presidential guest house. This is the gift that keeps on giving.

The tour ends with a speech by Haniyeh. Note that the AP reporter has fully taken up the cause by now with the proclamation that the security situation has improved since the Hamas takeover.

The tour ended with a speech by Haniyeh at an upscale Gaza City hotel. To get there, the buses drove along the beach, where thousands of Gazans have been flocking since Hamas' takeover improved the internal security situation in Gaza. Veiled women sat waist-deep in the ocean with their children as Hamas security forces guarded the beach. Haniyeh described how Hamas' takeover had ended factional fighting and the murderous chaos that had taken over Gaza's streets. Father Musallam sat next to Haniyeh, who began his speech by saying Christians were "a very important part of our people."

They even managed to find a priest who was willing to sit there and pose for the speech as if he had any choice. Gutkin did note earlier that the same priest had offered up no critism of Hamas despite the objections of a Hamas militant. That sounds about right.

Both the tour and the AP report leave me wondering. I guess I need to understand a little more about that improved security situation. Wasn't the deterioration of the security situation exacerbated by Hamas militants when they decided to oppose Fatah and members of the Palestinian Authority in the first place? Isn't the AP writer's proclamation analogous to saying that a bomb is safer now that it has already blown up?

I also wonder about the many places that Hamas didn't include on the air conditioned Gaza Golden Mile tour. Perhaps they could have stopped by the spot where the 27 Palestinians were killed along with a U.N. relief worker, or perhpas the places of protest where Hamas gunmen shot live ammo into the crowd, killing two. Do those places count?

Now that Hamas has completed their takeover of the Gaza Strip I guess it's time to start smoothing things over with some well orchestrated AP articles. Forget that Hamas says it will destroy Israel, that's a problem for future reports. For now the MSM will crank up the AC and travel down the path most traveled.

Terry Trippany is the Editor at Webloggin