The Change of War Character in the Middle East – Part one: Do you condemn Hamas?

Rasha Qandeel Co-founder and Editor-in-chief

I have witnessed throughout my 25-year career in different roles as a BBC lead presenter, journalism lecturer, reporter, senior fellow and International Relations academic that the challenged standards of liberty, human rights and international law were not alien on the day Hamas started striking on October 7th 2023. The Western double standards we saw in practice were immense. The confused moral compass since October 7th,  reinforced the conclusion reached by collective awareness since the Ukraine war began. Those liberal progressive human rights rules and codes are not for everyone. 

 In this series of three articles, I look into the character of the current war in Gaza in terms of narratives, coercion, the rules of engagement or the lack of, and how this shapes the character of war in the Middle East. Hamas is a classic case study of new wars, of how to shift war dynamics and the balance of power using self-arrogated coercion. Simultaneously Israel delegates coercion to its apparatus desiring to wipe Hamas off the face of the earth or so it claims. Three phases of analysis must be applied: First I will look into the moral dilemma of denouncing Hamas as a main player from the Western perspective, and then I will define boundaries between Hamas as a non-state actor claiming coercion and Israel as well as the PLO. In the second article, I will study the innovative tactics Hamas has developed over two decades as the sole ruler of the Gaza Strip as a means of national liberation from the Israeli long occupation. Finally, I will conclude by discussing how these factors correlatively changed the character of war in the Middle East.

Do you condemn Hamas?

For weeks since October 7th 2023, the knock-down question was the kickstart of every single interview on the most prestigious, rigid and veteran screens of Western media institutions: Do you condemn Hamas?! The consistency of asking the question once and again as if commentators and stakeholders were at a confessional was appalling. The audience no longer understood, and neither did we as fellow journalists working in the Middle East for decades why this question keeps being repeated. Suspicious as it is, the biased narrative extended to Arabic-speaking media and Westernised media organisations in the Middle East region.

The dilemma of collective Western conscious and unconscious bias has materialised since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. All ethics were at stake. The Western liberal values fell off the pedestals and the bias against Russia empowered the sense of righteousness for many Western organisations and individuals, media included. Stepping in aggressively, the most prestigious media institutions were and still are completely and openly biased against Russia. We saw and heard one, and one only narrative. It seemed then that the right stance was to support Ukraine and back it unconditionally. It seemed that the right thing to do was to cultivate Russia from all aspects of “modern” civilisation; be it a chess championship, the most handsome cat contest or pulling out of major gas deals with Russia. Western media, of course, was the propaganda machine for all parties including Russia trying to portray their bias as “strong” journalism and THE truthful narrative.

And then something important happened. Sherine Abu Aqla; the veteran Al-Jazeera Palestinian reporter in Jerusalem was assassinated on May 11th 2022. The whole set of chic rigid guidelines of Western media suddenly came right back alive to function fully. Newsrooms went back to impartiality, objectivity and the two-sided stories’ rule!  Israel was not named as the killer and the Israeli attack on her funeral was called “clashes”; exactly as “settlements” were called “homes” and Palestinians used to “lose their lives” while Israelis “get killed” and many other contradictions went on and on for decades. Business as usual. But this time was different. This time it did not pass. The results were catastrophic. 

Another year passed and October 7th happened. The collusion of the integrity of the Western media was severely bruised already. This time we almost heard the heavy fist of white supremacy crushing any hypothesis or null hypothesis of Palestinians’ rights to exist, return or even stay where they are in Gaza. Any attempt to mention their struggle for national liberation was lobbied against as anti-Semitic. Journalists, public employees and international institutions personnel were sent to disciplinarians for a post here or a like there on social media that might show sympathy with the Palestinians in Gaza. It went out of hand.

Changing the narrative

Global citizens were sitting there scratching their heads in front of the screens watching a genocide identified by top UN officials committed in Gaza, alarmed by the 180 degrees of difference in media narrative compared to Ukraine. The condemnation of Hamas leads in principle to strip the movement of its official name “The Islamic Resistance Movement of Hamas”, even though the IDF is being called The Israeli Defence Forces despite tens of years of Palestinian condemnation of the name and its connotation which – in their view –  is by default biased.  A few days past October 7th,  the target audience was liberated from the polarised long-standing narratives imposed by very clever zionist and right-wing, neoliberal lobbies for decades. Twisted myths of the two-state solution and the must to denounce violence by all Palestinian factions and many more “only ifs” wrapped in chic frames, seem scruffy and dull now, pretty much as those myths created and fed by colonial powers in their pretext to impose interference in the form of “protection of” or ‘’guarding” their interests in their long-standing old colonies.

Demos taking to the streets in the very same Western capitals where those media institutions function forcefully corrected the position of the mainstream media. It was not long till those spontaneous demonstrations, student progressive movements, international activists, human rights watchdogs, and of course, the BDS movement broke the Western media machine with all its stability and the massive funding behind them, using social media to publish and document all the unimaginable atrocities committed by the Israeli forces in Gaza and the occupied territories in the West Bank, without any restrictive limits of editorial or journalistic standards, sometimes even without ethical filtering. Horrific videos mounting to war crimes flooded our phones. Many in the Middle Eastern region responded proactively to vast calls to boycott Israel in every possible aspect. Untraditional media representing citizen journalists and activists named and shamed those Western organisations in complicity with the genocide in Gaza fair and square. The mass anger shook not only the Western media but also other international organisations to the core. Lurking back to the guidelines paradigm, many previously respected organisations diverted slightly tilting towards the code of conduct they were rigid about before the war in Ukraine, playing all games of subtlety to retain excellence, but it was too little too late. Slogans such as impartiality, balance, objectivity, and honesty were no longer to be claimed.

March 2024

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