Opinion |

When Hamas Speaks Hebrew

Not only are back-channel talks going on between Israel and Hamas, despite denials, but the latter is also conversing with Israelis by means of high-level Hebrew online posts

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Heeding a call from Hamas, Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip approach the border with Israel to protest the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, June 4, 2018.
Heeding a call from Hamas, Gazans protest against Israel at the border, in June. The Islamist organization's military wing is using its Hebrew-language site to reach Israelis.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

There are no negotiations underway between Israel and Hamas, at least according to the Israeli government and Hamas leaders. But such talks have indeed been underway in recent days, with the involvement of the United Nations, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and a few European countries.

The Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat reports that Hamas has been given three different proposals, each trying to tie a resolution of the crisis in the Gaza Strip to a cease-fire pledge, humanitarian assistance or return of the bodies of Israelis held by the organization there.

Hamas, according to the report, is not satisfied by the options. It separates the return of the remains of the bodies – which it says should be done as part of a general prisoner swap without connection to resolving the crisis – and it rejects offers of humanitarian aid if they are not part of a broader plan to implement commitments to rehabilitate the Strip, as was decided after the Israel Defense Forces Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014.

The proposals in question are being filtered through Israel and Egypt before they reach Hamas, and as are the responses from the Islamist organization. If that’s not negotiating, what is?

Meanwhile, an open monologue is underway between Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, and the Israeli public. The platform is the Hebrew-language website www.qassam.ps/hebrew, on which Hamas describes its struggle, its victories and the worthlessness of the Zionist enemy. The Hebrew is rich and well phrased, grammatical mistakes are not ridiculous and the message is precise.

For example, last week there was a cleverly rhyming Hebrew headline on a piece on the site about the underground tunnels dug by Hamas that have been destroyed by Israel, which mocks the Israel Defense Forces spokesman, “who apparently is not telling the truth, at least not with respect to one small but very significant detail: He forgets to mention that the tunnels being blown up are nothing but burned tunnels that have been out of use for four years.

"The occupation does everything to improve the morale of its public, among other things by inventing heroic stories that will be quickly shown, in any future clash, as having been made up.”

Beyond the questions this statement raises about the truth of reports from the IDF Spokesman’s Office and which exact tunnels the army is blowing up – whether they are still “lively" ones as Hamas puts it, which are not being demolished – the efforts Hamas is making to converse with the enemy are intriguing.

Does Hamas believe that the Israeli public really wants to read about the organization’s declarations, its explanations and its main tenets? Does this effort stem from the thought that Hamas, and in particular the citizens of Gaza, are closely following Israeli statements and commentaries in the Hebrew media, and that’s why it assumes that the public in Israel wants to read about what Hamas thinks?

If this is Hamas’ conclusion, perhaps they should save their breath. The Israeli public isn’t interested. Israelis make do with Hamas’ belligerent statements or violent messages. What the enemy thinks, even when it writes in clear and well-formulated Hebrew, doesn’t matter to Israelis.

One of the headlines on the website, from May, reads: “Leah: Netanyahu doesn’t care about bringing Hadar back” – addressed to Leah Goldin, the mother of Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was killed in the fighting in Gaza in 2014. The statement quotes reports in Israel about Leah Goldin’s harsh criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his failure to repatriate her son’s remains.

What is interesting about the headline is that the writer assumes that “Leah” and “Hadar” are such well-known names in Israel that there is no need to include the last name in the headline. As if the names were “Bibi and Sara.” The writer apparently also assumes that the debate over the return of the bodies of Hadar and others is so stormy in Israel that it is at the heart of the talks with Hamas, to the point where there is no need to explain to Israelis who “Leah” and “Hadar” are.

Back to the article about the tunnels: In poetic Hebrew that requires a high-level knowledge of the language, using imagery that demands a familiarity with the history of the Vietnam War, the writer compares the outcome of that war and the trauma it has left on the American people, to Hamas’ struggle against Israel.

“If a power that nourishes the Zionist entity through its umbilical cord was itself roundly defeated by the heroes of Vietnam through tunnels of death built for that purpose," the writer asks (in a rough translation), "will justice treat in a favorable way the weak and defective fetus [in the form] of the foreign Jewish entity that has been planted in our sacred soil? It is doubtful

"The Palestinian bag of opposition is full of surprises, the least of which will leave the enemy shocked and open-mouthed here for a long time, and if the hand on the clock of the cease-fire meets a timetable [meaning if the cease-fire ends and military action begins – Z.B.], no one, but no one – from the head of the snake to its tail – will know any more happy times.”

The content is unimportant, but the use of such a level of Hebrew leads to a number of conclusions. The writer gives great credit to the ability of the average Hebrew reader to appreciate a complex and colorful text in his language. Moreover, the writer wants to impress his readers with the depth of his understanding of Hebrew. Either possibility might actually make him lose his potential readers.

One must hope that the indirect negotiations now going on between Hamas and Israel are in more comprehensible language. At the same time, we may ponder the importance and the degree of influence of propaganda being disseminated in the enemy’s own language – whether that of the IDF spokesman in Arabic, or of Hamas in Hebrew. On both sides, the mother tongue is considered a more reliable source than the other language, and both sides know very well how to translate it.

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