April 1, 2024 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 587

Al-Jazeera's Gaza Script Sabotaged By Their Ally Hamas

April 1, 2024 | By Amb. Alberto M. Fernandez*
Qatar, Palestinians | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 587

One way of telling the difference between a credible news outlet and a propaganda source is the subservience of news coverage to an ideological narrative. Given the dynamic nature of news, coverage would flow in all sorts of directions, a propaganda narrative only flows in one direction. In a normal, free media environment, the misdeeds of the offspring of the powerful are an irresistible topic. And yet in 2020 (and beyond) we saw the dominant news media outlets and social media companies in the United States intentionally suppress reporting on Democratic candidate Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden. The "Biden Laptop" scandal is a signal example of the triumph of narrative over journalism, the narrative in this case being Joe Biden's rise to the presidency.

Narrative beating out journalism used to be a staple of foreign authoritarian regimes, and it still is. It now often flourishes in the West. But nowhere has narrative reigned over journalism more completely – propaganda over actual news – than in the Middle East, especially in Arabic-language media. Almost all outlets do it, but if there was a champion in the narrative business, it would be Qatar's Al-Jazeera Arabic Satellite Channel. This makes sense because everything Al-Jazeera disseminates or produces is seen through an ideological framework, an Islamist lens, and serves Islamist causes, including the agenda of terrorist groups like Hamas.[1]

On March 23, 2024, Al-Jazeera ran a report alleging that Israeli soldiers had raped Palestinian women during an Israeli attack on Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fighters holed up at the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The report ran for more than 24 hours before it unraveled. The network then quietly deleted the content with no explanation given.[2]

Additional detail on the incident came from an interesting source – Jordanian journalist Yasser Abu Hilaleh, who had been Al-Jazeera Arabic's general manager from 2014 to 2018 and before that had served as the channel's bureau chief in Amman for many years. Abu Hilaleh noted on Twitter in Arabic (in a tweet with almost two million views) that the news was fabricated, according to an investigation conducted by Hamas.[3]

Abu Hilaleh, a veteran journalist who is also a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause and opponent of Israel, explained that "the woman who spoke about rape justified her exaggeration and incorrect talk by saying that the goal was to arouse the nation's fervor and brotherhood!"[4]

Of course, Al-Jazeera has circulated false or exaggerated information before, information that has served an ideological agenda. It has continued to serve up propaganda throughout this entire Hamas-Israel War as both the channel and Qatar who funds it play a key role in the war as banker, host and propagandist for Hamas.[5] Early on in the war both Al-Jazeera and much of the world's press (including the BBC and the New York Times) promoted and amplified a lie, that Israel had intentional struck a hospital in Gaza and killed hundreds of people.[6] It turned out that not only had Israel not struck the building, a PIJ rocket struck nearby, but hundreds had not been killed in the blast.

In this particular case, an accusation of rape is powerful because it would have served as a perfect riposte to multiple claims by Israeli eyewitnesses and victims of rape and sexual assault carried out by Hamas both on October 7 and afterward against female Israeli hostages. It would have served the narrative by, at the very least, "muddying the waters" by implying that either both sides do such things, or that the side – Israel – complaining vociferously about rapes, was actually the real rapist.

While such charges would have been useful in the larger context of the propaganda war being waged in both the Middle East and the West (where the extent of how much rape occurred on October 7 has become a controversy),[7] the initial false charge, which went viral on social media – that Israel was raping women in a hospital and burning families alive – had unintended "ripple effects" leading many Gazans to flee the northern part of the Gaza Strip and head south, a result that Hamas definitely does not want to see. An emptier northern Gaza is one that is easier for Israel to control and more difficult for Hamas cadres to hide in.

This is always the danger in propaganda. The narrative can turn out to have unexpected consequences.[8] So pro-Hamas protesters worldwide call for a Gaza ceasefire while Hamas actually rejects ceasefires that do not meet its demands. The thrust of Al-Jazeera's narrative on Hamas and Gaza is built on conflicting claims that must be passed over to avoid any sort of real critical scrutiny: the war launched on October 7 is both a disaster for Gaza and a great victory for Hamas, Israel has been fatally weakened and is destroying Gaza with impunity, the Arab and Islamic masses are with Gaza and yet no one will help them. A war that began gleefully with the parading of dead Israeli bodies by gloating Gazans now seeks to parade dead Palestinian bodies in Gaza to gain the world's sympathy.

As Ilan Benatar has noted, Hamas mastermind Yahya Sinwar has written a script where Israel is the villain and the goal was to "harness the entire world as a force multiplier to fight Israel on Hamas's behalf."[9] The fuel for such a scenario is Palestinian suffering – real or imagined – in Gaza (and anywhere else that serves the narrative).

If you thought that Al-Jazeera had learned anything from this latest embarrassing debacle, you would be mistaken. On March 28 the channel headlined "Israeli settlers storm Al-Aqsa under the protection of the Israeli police" while the television footage actually showed an Israeli man being forcibly removed, dragged away, by the Israeli police from the premises of Al-Aqsa.[10] The narrative, above all else, must be served and burnished.

*Alberto M. Fernandez is Vice President of MEMRI.


[1] See MEMRI Inquiry And Analysis Series No. 1751, Al-Jazeera Arabic: The Qatari-Owned TV Channel That Promotes Islamist Terrorism Worldwide, February 29, 2024.

[2], March 25, 2024.

[3], March 24, 2024.

[4], March 24, 2024.

[5] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 10872, Qatar Enabling Hamas' War Against Israel, October 15, 2023.

[6], October 23, 2023.

[7], March 26, 2024.

[9], March 17, 2024.

[10], March 28, 2024.

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