The Palestinian group Hamas has tapped a woman as its new spokesperson, an unusual move for the hardline Islamist group that controls Gaza.
The new public relations official, Israa Al-Mudallal, 23, spent her childhood years in the U.K., and according to the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat is a former correspondent for Iran’s government-funded English-language channel Press TV. She is the first women Hamas has ever appointed to the position.
Hamas,which the U.S. and Israel classify as a terrorist organization, is aiming with this job appointment to engage more with the Western media, Asharq Al-Awsat reported.
“I will address Western and Israeli media, and I will work on changing the media discourse and give a different picture of Palestine and Gaza,” Mudallal said.
Mudallal said she is currently learning Hebrew in the hope of speaking directly to Israeli journalists. That could be a problem for her new bosses, however, who do not speak to the Israeli media and who prohibit Palestinian reporters from being touch with Israeli journalists and officials.
“If I am given permission, I personally have no problem,” she said.
Already it appears she is not being given that permission, as reflected in her refusal to speak Monday with the Israeli news site Ynet.
Another part of her PR strategy, she said, is to frame issues from a humanitarian perspective, not religious. That goal might prove tricky for the radical Muslim group, as exemplified by a report in The New York Times on Monday that new high school textbooks now being used in Hamas schools in Gaza call the Jewish Torah and Talmud “fabricated.”
“I will make the issues more human, and even if (Palestinian) officials do not understand this language, I know Western people will,” she said.
“The West does not understand religious discourse the same way they do human discourse,” she added according to Asharq Al-Awsat.
Hamas government spokesman Ihab Al-Ghosein said Mudallal was appointed to the job in order to develop “Palestinian dialogue with the West, and to find speakers of foreign languages to explain the government’s views and the Palestinian issue to the West.”
According to the independent Palestinian news agency Ma’an, women are active in Hamas, and there is currently one female minister serving in Gaza: Jamilla Al Shanti, the minister of women's affairs.
After living with her family in Britain where her father attended university, Mudallal returned to Gaza where she majored in media studies at the Islamic University of Gaza.
One of her first goals, she said, is to convince the Western media to accept the Hamas narrative when covering current affairs.
“The Western media has begun to realize that the Israeli media falsifies the facts, and so we have to make a great effort to debunk Israeli falsehoods,” she said.