Hamas is paying a spin doctor $180,000 (£100,000) to persuade Europeans and Americans that it is not a group of religious fanatics who relish suicide bombings and hate Jews.
The organisation, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, has hired a media consultant, Nashat Aqtash, to improve its image at home and abroad because it expects to emerge from next week’s Palestinian general election as a major political force, and wants recognition and acceptance by the US and EU.
“Hamas has an image problem. The Israelis were able to create a very bad image of the Palestinians in general and particularly Muslims and Hamas. My contract is to project the right image,” said Mr Aqtash, who also teaches media at Birzeit University in Ramallah.
“We don’t need the international community to accept Hamas ideology, we need it to accept the facts on the ground. We are not killing people because we love to kill. People view Hamas as loving sending people to die. We don’t love death, we like life.”
Mr Aqtash, who describes himself as opposed to violence and “believing in the Gandhi route”, has advised Hamas leaders to change their image by explaining that they do not hate Israelis because they are Jews. And he is attempting to persuade influential foreigners that Hamas is essentially a peaceful organisation that was forced to fight, but is now committed to pressing its cause through politics, not violence.
“Hamas does not believe in terrorism or killing civilians. But Ariel Sharon pressed buttons to make people angry. Sometimes we are innocent enough to react in a way that the Israelis use the reaction against us,” he said. [Note: the “innocent reaction” he’s talking about involves suicide bombing a bus full of schoolchildren. —ed.]
Next week Mr Aqtash says he will address the former US president Jimmy Carter and former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, and other prominent foreigners monitoring the election.