For the past 8 years, the Gaza strip has existed as an island entire onto itself. Physically it is cut off from the rest of the world by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade. Politically it is isolated from the West Bank as it is ruled by the Hamas Party and not the PLO. Diplomatically it is almost non-existent as few nations recognize Hamas’ rule over the Gaza strip. Thus, PLO and Palestinian Authority officials speak on behalf of Gaza and represent Gaza in international forums even though Gaza is not under their rule.
However, Hamas does represent Gaza on social media. In fact, the Hamas group operates an impressive social media apparatus consisting of Twitter channels, Facebook pages and YouTube channel. Some of these social media accounts are managed by Hamas’ political wing. Others are operated by its military wing and are thus often shut down by social media companies.
Through social media, the political wing of Hamas has been able to construct and image, or Selfie, of the Gaza strip. Over the past three years, Gaza’s Selfie has been one of a desolate island abandoned by the world and hope. Most of Hamas’ social media content depicts the day to day ramifications of Israel’s military siege including lack of education, lack of quality medical care, lack of infrastructure such as electricity and roads, lack of employment opportunities and, most importantly, lack of personal security given frequent Israeli military operation in the Gaza strip.
The components of Hamas’ Selfie of Gaza may be seen in the tweets below published over the last year.
However, in recent weeks a new Selfie of Gaza has emerged on social media, one that depicts it as hustling bustling metropolitan filled with new shopping centers, parks and roads. Additionally, Gaza is now being branded online as a sea side resort town filled with white beaches, pristine boulevards and high-rise buildings.
This new Selfie is constructed through a series of videos recently published by the Hamas group on YouTube. However, these video are meant for domestic audiences rather than international ones. In October, Hamas and the PLO will compete over the voices of Palestinian voters in the first open elections in years. Hamas is attempting to increase its power by winning control over towns and cities in the West Bank. The PLO, is attempting to regain control of Gaza city. As part of its new political campaign, Hamas has released a series of images and videos all bearing the Arabic hashtag “Thank you Hamas” and all depicting the transformation Gaza has undergone under the group’s rule.
Two of Hamas’ new videos can be seen below.
But in the age of social media, what begins as a domestic campaign soon has international ramifications. Once Hamas launched its new campaign, the Israeli government was quick to respond stating that these videos debunk Hamas’ claims of an Israeli siege and occupation. For instance, Ofir Gendelman, the Israeli Prime Minister’s spokesperson for the Arab Media, published the Tweet shown below.
Gendelman’s Tweet were soon re-tweeted by the Israeli foreign ministry and Israel’s embassy in Washington DC.
In addition, the Tweet was also visible on the Twitter channel of Israel’s embassies to Germany, France and other capitals.
Finally, Hamas’ video also found its way to the social media channels of pro-Israel lobby groups such as the American Stand with US organization that partakes in Israeli public diplomacy efforts.
Through its digital diplomacy apparatus, Israel was able to re-appropriate Hamas’ videos and depiction of Gaza and use Gaza’s new Selfie as a public diplomacy asset. While the actual impact of Israel’s social media attack on Hamas is unclear, it does demonstrate the manner in which the national and international have become blurred in the age of posts, Tweets and digital diplomacy.
This post demonstrates that Hamas’ domestic video campaign soon become and international poking stick through which Israeli diplomats, ministries and lobby organizations attempted to undermine Hamas’ characterization of life in Gaza. Yet it may also suggest that in the age of digital media, separating between the domestic and international sphere is becoming increasingly more complicated. As such, one may no longer be able to target one national image, or Selfie, at local audiences and another at international ones.