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September 25, 2017

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Hamas media war targets Israelis, Palestinians

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories--The music video opens with Palestinian Hamas fighters in fatigues building, transporting and then firing rockets at Israel — but the triumphant lyrics are being sung in Hebrew, not Arabic.

"We prepare a generation of warriors who cling to death like the enemy clings to life," the words run, with Arabic subtitles.

"A (nation) state of weakness and illusion can't hold out during wars," it continues, referring to Israel.

"They fall apart like spider webs when they meet knights."

The five-minute video is part of a slick propaganda program designed by Hamas and its armed Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades wing.

The program is intended both to rally divided domestic Palestinian opinion behind the group during its current conflict with Israel, but also to address the Israeli public directly.

The music video, entitled "Shake Israel's Security," is a Hebrew remake of a song that the group released in Arabic in 2012, during its last conflict with the Jewish state.

It appears to be the first time that Hamas has released a song in Hebrew, but it builds on a broader strategy of delivering its own message to Israelis.

The Qassam Brigades maintains a Hebrew-language version of its Twitter feed, which lay dormant in recent months, but was reactivated as the latest round of violence began on July 7.

And Hamas's Al-Aqsa television regularly displays a Hebrew translation of the Koranic verse that inspired the name of its current military campaign — which loosely translated means a field devoured of all its crops.

Underneath it lists the rockets it is firing at Israel, as though challenging Israelis to guess what is coming: M75, R160, J80, S55?

A Long-honed Strategy

Saleh Masharqa, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University who writes for the Palestinian Al-Hayat newspaper, said Hamas had built its Israel-focused propaganda strategy over more than a decade.

"It's a strategy that they have learned from Hezbollah," he said, referring to the Lebanese Shiite group.

"As Hezbollah built a team to produce and translate Hebrew, the Hamas movement has done the same."

Those efforts have resulted in highly fluent productions, like the video, incorporating both Israeli slang and military terms.

"When the Israeli people hear this they are hearing something new, and they are hearing Hamas's message directly from them," said Masharqa.

The message is a mixture of threats intended to create fear, and attempts to turn Israelis against their government.

It also mirrors Israel's media operations, which include military spokesperson Twitter accounts in multiple languages — including Arabic, and video footage intended to illustrate the "targeted" nature of air strikes.

The Israeli army even distributed lollipops in part of the West Bank recently, offering "a little sweetness" to counteract the "bitterness Hamas has brought to your lives".

Hearts and Minds

Hamas's message to the Palestinians, on the other hand, is a bid to appeal to a fractured polity in which many bitterly oppose the group.

Its television station Al-Aqsa intersperses breaking news with footage of its fighters firing weapons and rockets, and Israelis cowering by the side of the road.

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