Dear Hamas, Psychological Warfare - You’re Doing It Wrong

How the Islamic movement's attempts to frighten Israelis with threatening texts and videos in Hebrew backfired.

Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter
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A screen grab from one of the Hamas's videos
A screen grab from one of the Hamas's videos
Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter

You could probably find happier places than Israel these days. What with rockets flying overhead, morale has been low. As the tragic pointlessness of Middle East violence engulfs anew, with stories about dead children in the news, violent clashes between right wing and left wing, and Israeli Jews and Arabs, it seems summer 2014 is a blockbuster season for desperation. How good that in these grim times, we have Hamas to bring us comic relief.

Terror organizations are not usually known for inspiring hilarity but Hamas, one of the world’s most notorious terror organizations, did just that this past week. Its vehicle: the organization’s attempts at psychological warfare.

On Sunday, thousands of Israelis received text messages in abominable Hebrew from a user calling himself SMSQASSAM. “The stupidity of your leaders put all of Israel under fire, and forced all Israelis to seek shelter. We will continue bombing every place in Israel until our legitimate claims will be answered with total affirmation”, said the message, signed “The Izz A-Din Al-Qassam Brigades”, which is the military wing of Hamas.

The SMS did not achieve its goal. Instead of quaking in their sandals, Israelis responded to the cellular threats with a flurry of satire. Some answered the messages and uploaded the exchanges to Facebook. “Yes, this is the president of Tel Aviv,” one responded. Others tried to persuade Hamas to postpone the scheduled rocket salvo because they had plans. “Hi there Hamas,” texted Israeli comedian Shalom Asayag sardonically, "breaking up" with the Palestinian military movement like a pesky ex-girlfriend: “Lately I've been feeling this isn't working… we fight all the time…you constantly complain, everything I do is wrong,” he wrote, adding, “And now that you fear I'm going to erase you from my life, you try making nice and want a ceasefire. But I think we're through.”

Hamas should have seen this coming. It already tried the “threatening text messages in broken Hebrew” campaign in 2012, during the Pillar of Defense campaign. Last March the organization texted thousands of Israelis: “Qassam rockets are waiting with you (sic), get out of our country if you want to have a life”. Earlier last week, it sent a text falsely claiming to have hit a petrochemicals plant in Haifa and killed 25 Israelis.

Hello and thank you for the note

Then there's the Hamas’ Hebrew Twitter account, easily one of the biggest viral hits of the summer. The account, opened a few days ago and claiming to be the official page of The Izz A-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, might as well be a parody of Hamas’ psychological warfare. On Wednesday, the account celebrated Hamas’ huge intelligence coup: a top secret internal IDF document, stolen straight from enemy hands!

That turned out to be a flier sent to Israeli reservists, assuring them that “while it is hard to guard (a perimeter) in the heat of Israel’s south, you should remember! With each guard and each patrol you take part in, you continue the great heritage of the people of Israel." Hilarity ensued.

As with the texts, the tweets in Hamas’ page are in terrible Hebrew, but there are more than threats here. The page is highly active, following and frequently citing Israeli journalists, commenting on recent developments and even engaging in dialogue with Israeli users, who take the time to correct its Hebrew. That’s what happened, for instance, with Elizabeth Tsurkov, who corrected the Hamas’ spelling and found herself having a very polite exchange with the account’s operator, presumably of Hamas.

“The al-qassam brigade sent half a million israelis a text message text”, the Hamas tweeted. Tsurkov corrected the Hebrew, pointing out that “brigades” in Hebrew is a masculine word, that they should have used the plural instead of the singular form and that their syntax could have been better. The Hamas tweeted back: "hello... and thank you for the note”.

Trolling for fun

Meanwhile, with the World Cup over, it seems Israelis have found a new hobby: trolling the enemy. Because nothing is more effective in combating terrorists than an Internet troll.

Hamas has probably never heard the expression “don’t feed the trolls,” because it tried to troll Israeli users right back. On Saturday, pro-Palestinian hackers hacked into the hugely popular Israeli Facebook page “Statusim Metzaitzim” ("Status Hunter"). The cover photo was changed to a “Free Gaza” banner, the profile photo was changed to a girl with a star of David painted on her face kissing a foot painted with the Palestinian flag, and the status message said “f#$%k Israel” (smiley face).

This, of course, led to wave of online spoofs. A few other popular pages pretended to be hacked, like the popular Facebook page "Mediocre Average People," that pretended to be hacked by, well, "Mediocre Average People from Hamas."

And then there was the video. Released earlier this week, it shows Hamas terrorists launching rockets and scuba diving, and singing what's supposed to be bombast in Hebrew. What it sounds like is “monkey, make me some babies.” Parodies naturally ensued.

The thing is, what with Hamas becoming an unexpected source of humor, it seems some Israelis are having trouble taking the organization seriously, even when it’s deadly serious.

Last Saturday, for instance, Hamas warned that it would attack Tel Aviv with a new kind of rocket at 9 PM. Did Tel Avivians run for shelter? Some, sure. But many preferred to look at the funny side, laughing at Hamas’ lack of punctuality (to be fair, the first rocket was launched only seven minutes late, which in Middle East terms is practically on time), at the funny video released with the threat, and, of course, at the absence of damage following the attack.

In these days of fraught nerves and sleepless nights, Israelis needed comic relief. Who knew it would be Hamas that would put a smile on their faces.

A Hebrew text message sent by Hamas militant to many Israelis on Nov. 17, 2012, reading, 'We will turn Gaza into a cemetery for your soldiers and turn Tel Aviv into a flame.'

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