This is a cross-post from Just Journalism.
A prominent Hamas politician yesterday called on Palestinians to organise themselves with the specific aim of kidnapping Israeli soldiers. According to the Palestinian news source Ma’an:
‘Hamas lawmaker Ahmad Bahar on Sunday urged Palestinian factions to form militant groups with the aim of capturing Israeli soldiers.’
The article continues to describe how Bahar, a ‘deputized Palestinian Legislative Council speaker’, argued that ‘kidnapping soldiers would pressure Israeli authorities to release Palestinian political prisoners.’
The declaration of support by a senior Hamas figure for a policy of hostage-taking contradicts much of the recent British media coverage of the Islamist group. Following Thursday’s murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, the pro-Palestinian activist who was apparently killed by Salafi fundamentalists in Gaza, there was a slew of reporting that sought to contrast Hamas’ alleged pragmatism with the extremism of these smaller groups.
As Just Journalism noted at the time, Hamas’ long-term support for the policy of kidnapping was ignored in Friday’s coverage of Arrigoni’s death, with none of the initial coverage mentioning that Hamas has held Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in captivity in Gaza for the last four and half years. This was particularly noteworthy since some articles presented Hamas as having gone out of its way to ensure the safety of foreigners. The BBC’s Jon Donnison, for example, stated that ‘Hamas had been credited with eliminating the threat of kidnapping in Gaza until [Arrigoni’s] abduction’, while the Financial Times’ Tobias Buck wrote that:
‘[Arrigoni’s] was the first abduction of a foreigner in Gaza since the high-profile kidnapping of Alan Johnston, a BBC journalist, four years ago. Mr Johnston was released shortly after Hamas took control of the strip in June 2007, and Gaza has been widely regarded as a safe destination for foreign journalists, aid workers and diplomats since then.’
Later coverage echoed this theme, downplaying Hamas’s extremism and history of violence (including its recent attacks on foreign journalists) in comparison with other Gaza-based radical Islamists who see the group as too moderate. Most explicit was The Guardian’s Conal Urquhart, who argued that, contrary to public perceptions, Hamas had become ‘more mainstream’ since 2007. In the first version of ‘Palestinians rally to mourn kidnapped Italian activist murdered by extremists’, published Friday afternoon, he wrote:
‘Hamas is widely perceived around the world as a radical Islamic group but since it participated in elections and took control in Gaza, it has become more mainstream.’