Veteran journalist and documentary maker Martin Himel has made a documentary on how Hamas intimidates journalists and controls everything they report, tolerating only the most flattering view of the terrorist organization and the most damaging take on Israel.

After years of watching reporters toe the Hamas line, Mr. Himel is fighting back with his documentary, Eyeless in Gaza, showing the extent to which journalists are cowed and intimidated by the Hamas regime.

The stories are staggering.

Armed Hamas fighters burst into the AP’s bureau in Gaza and threatened the staff over less-than-flattering photos they had published.

Former AP journalist Matti Friedman recalls in the film how armed Hamas fighters burst into the AP’s bureau in Gaza and threatened the staff over less-than-flattering photos they had published. The intimidation worked; later on, those same journalists’ very lives were endangered when Hamas launched a rocket from right beside their office, yet they chose not to report this major news story at all.

Cameramen from foreign news agencies recall standing outside Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, along with Hamas minders, during Gaza’s short, bloody war with Israel in 2014. Whenever civilian casualties were brought to the hospital, the cameramen were allowed to film these victims, producing heart-rending coverage of women and children injured by war. When Hamas fighters were brought to the hospital, however, Hamas officials warned journalists to turn off their cameras. The journalists dutifully complied, sending a distorted version of the conflict around the world: their coverage made it seems as if only women and children were being targeted by Israeli fighters and there were no Hamas fighters at all.

RTV reporter Harry Fear explains that after he tweeted that Hamas had fired rockets from Gaza into Israel, he was immediately expelled from Gaza by Hamas. Mr. Fear insists his experience is far from unique. “I don’t think there is any correspondent who covered (the 2014 Gaza War) who didn’t see war crimes committed by Palestinian militant groups.” Yet few, if any, of these, are reported.

When Palestinian journalists anger Hamas, the penalties can be even more deadly. Ayman al-Aloul recalls how after he wrote a blog post that Hamas perceived as critical and was arrested and tortured. Held for several days, he was forced to spend days in very painful positions, sitting in an impossibly small chair. “He had the absolute wits scared out of him,” Mr. Himel says. “Hamas wanted to scare him.” Since his torture, Mr. al-Aloul has told colleagues he’s more cautious in what he writes.

Israel is unfairly cast as an aggressor, with little or no context.

The result is that in much international reporting, Israel is unfairly cast as an aggressor, with little or no context. Matti Friedman characterizes the coverage of Israel and Gaza as “a morality play starring a familiar villain,” and that villain is Israel.

In an interview, Mr. Himel says that the constant drumbeat of negative reporting casts Israel as the aggressor and whitewashes Hamas’ crimes. “Journalists fall victim to something I call ‘groupthink,’” Himel explains. “It isn’t a malicious attempt to lie or distort the truth, but there is a strong herd instinct of what is allowable and what is not.”

Mr. Himel maintains that foreign journalists get it wrong, portraying Hamas’ ceaseless conflict with Israel as a mere dispute over land. Mr. Himel believes that Hamas’ dispute with Israel stems from intense hatred of Jews and Israel, and thus has no easy political solution. “This is basically a religious war from Hamas’ view, something editors don’t want to say.” Instead of reporting on Hamas as a Jew-hating violent group, foreign journalists often soften their coverage, making Hamas seem much more moderate than it really is.

Mr. Himel wants to expose the group’s radical fundamentalism, a side he finds is not adequately shown in foreign news reports. Some of the footage he was able to procure is shocking, showing an intense anti-Semitism among Hamas officials.

One Hamas legislator was recorded calling Jews evil and claiming that Jews are allied with the devil. Another Hamas minister was caught on camera claiming that Jews engineered the Holocaust themselves as part of a nefarious plot to gain a homeland in Israel.  

“If we labelled Hamas overtly as a racist, fanatic, anti-Semitic militia, the coverage would be very different.”

In a quiet moment when he apparently didn’t realize that his words would be broadcast, Hamas spokesman Sami Abo Zohari talked informally with Mr. Himel’s Palestinian camera crew. During the 2014 Gaza War, Mr. Abo Zohari told them, Israel dropped leaflets before military strikes, warning civilians of an impending rocket attack and urging them to leave the area so that Israeli planes could destroy Hamas rocket launchers without civilian casualties. “Hamas asked people to stay in their homes,” Abu Zohari confided, guaranteeing lots of casualties - and more negative press for Israel.

There are some courageous journalists who have agreed to go on record about their experiences are help expose Hamas’ extremism and intimidation. Robert Magid, who collaborated on Eyeless in Gaza, explains, “The media is being played by Hamas like a violin. Hamas is using the Palestinian people as human shields because the more innocent Palestinians die, the worse Israel looks.” Some journalists are now fighting back, sharing their experiences of Hamas as a radical Islamist organization.

“This is not about blockades. It’s not about reaching a land for peace deal,” Himel cautions. He hopes audiences will realize that Hamas behaves more like ISIS than a responsible political organization capable of seeking a peace settlement with Israel. “If we labelled Hamas overtly as a racist, fanatic, anti-Semitic militia,” notes Himel, “the coverage would be very different.”

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