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Israel Hamas WarOpinionAustralia

Invisibility – Hamas’s secret weapon in the media war

It’s easy for students to get outraged at Israeli tanks and Palestinian corpses but hard to get up in arms at a terrorist group when you don’t see them do anything.
Michael Visontay
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Two sets of posters with writing and pictures

Posters at Sydney University accusing Israel of murdering children (left) and posters calling for the release of hostages with no mention of Hamas.

Published: 17 June 2024

Last updated: 18 June 2024

People are pretty easily led. They tend to form opinions based on what they see or read. When they see an image or headline, it sticks in their mind. If they don’t see it, there’s nothing to stick. They’ve seen a lot of Israeli aggression in this war – missile tracers, soldiers, tanks, destroyed buildings. They’ve seen a lot of Palestinian suffering – mass corpses, grisly hospital scenes, mothers wailing.

But they haven’t seen a lot of Hamas because they’ve been largely invisible. It’s hard to get outraged at a terrorist group when you don’t see them do anything. In turn, it’s hardly surprising that there is such a huge tide of public opinion against Israel - and in support of Palestine.

I was reminded of the importance of visibility when I visited the encampment at the University of Sydney - and saw the posters and their messages on the front lawn: “Gadigal 2 Gaza”, “the Political Economy Society stands with Gaza”, “Free Palestine – End Apartheid, Stop Genocide”, “The University of Thales” (a weapons manufacturer).

One poster stood out among the others. Designed in the same style as the Israeli hostage posters that appeared after October 7, it showed the names and faces of children who had been killed, allegedly by Israel, in the years before the Hamas massacre on October 7.

The banner read “Murdered by Israel”.

Most of the Israeli hostage posters read “Bring Them Home” or “Kidnapped” – without mentioning Hamas. On reflection, that was a mistake. Some have had the name in small type added later. Naming Hamas from the start would remind the casual onlooker that these Israeli victims didn’t just disappear. Hamas took them. It would emphasise that Hamas was and is an active force in this war.

Everyone calls it the Israel-Gaza war. Why isn’t it known as the Israel-Hamas war? Israel is not fighting Gaza. It’s fighting Hamas.

The same absence is evident in the name of the war. Everyone calls it the Israel-Gaza war. That implies a conflict between Israel and Gaza. Yet the protagonists are Israel and Hamas. Why isn’t it known as the Israel-Hamas war? Israel is not fighting Gaza. It’s fighting Hamas.

Hamas’s responsibility for Palestinian deaths is also largely invisible. Its embedding of militants and rockets within the civilian population, - schools, hospitals, public buildings – is a strategic weapon which has successfully damaged Israel’s reputation and advanced the Palestinian cause. In private messages, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar callously describes these civilian deaths as “necessary sacrifice”.

Israel’s refusal to let Western media into Gaza to report the war has exacerbated this imbalance of visibility. The decision was no doubt aimed at minimising international backlash over ugly images of death and destruction. But it has also helped keep Hamas invisible and passive. We have been deprived of seeing its battalions firing rockets, moving around civilian infrastructure, or engage in hand-hand fighting with Israeli soldiers.

These mechanics are not played out on TV or social media, they take too long to explain and would defy a Tik-Tok video. In turn, the protesters on campus are not confronted by these absences. These images are simply not there to see.

Before anyone complains that I am trying to shift all the responsibility, let me say this: Israel is culpable in many ways.

Before anyone complains that I am trying to shift all the responsibility, let me say this: Israel is culpable in many ways.

Not for genocide. But culpable for its indifference.

It is clear that Israel could and should have done more to reduce Palestinian deaths and injuries. If it has the intelligence and hardware to pinpoint a handful of hostages in two neighbouring apartments, as it did last week, then that same expertise could have been utilised over the past few months to minimise collateral civilian death.

At the same time, Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have used Israel’s two contradictory war aims – freeing the hostages and neutralising Hamas - to prolong the war and undermine the opportunity for a ceasefire when it is presented. The standards for ending the war that Netanyahu touts are designed to make resolution impossible. How will we ever be able to judge whether Israel has succeeded in eliminating Hamas’s military capability?

His government is also culpable over its withholding of aid, right from the start of the ground invasion, something proudly trumpeted by the Defence Minister Gallant, in the name of denying resources for Hamas. This has cumulatively led to the prospect of famine. There is simply no excuse for that. The provision of aid offers a clear opportunity to show compassion for the welfare of innocent people. Israel spurned that chance.

The images of bombs, dead bodies and starving civilians rioting at food trucks point to a simple ugly conclusion: Israel has shown little respect for Palestinian life. But Hamas has shown no more respect for the lives of its own people, and it has been more successful at hiding its culpability.

There is no moral high ground in this war. There is just a brutal battlefield and blinkered sympathies, united only by both Israel and Hamas’s leaders’ indifference to human suffering.

About the author

Michael Visontay

Michael Visontay is the Commissioning Editor of TJI. He has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 30 years. Michael is the author of several books, including Who Gave You Permission?, co-authored with child sexual abuse advocate Manny Waks, and Welcome to Wanderland: Western Sydney Wanderers and the Pride of the West.

Comments2

  • Avatar of Alain

    Alain18 June at 01:02 pm

    A very insightful article. I was thinking about this for a while and assumed Hamas is controlling the images to prevent filming of their fighters in battle or dead. The only time we saw them was when they were taken prisoners.

  • Avatar of Michael Liffman

    Michael Liffman18 June at 07:18 am

    I see merit in your suggestion that the term should be ‘the Israel-Hamas war’.

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