With its Al Manar television station launched in 1991, the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah has pioneered the use of mass media as a weapon. It uses the broadcaster to recruit suicide bombers, raise money for terrorist operations, conduct pre-attack surveillance and incite violence. This fall, the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas is poised to follow in Hezbollah’s footsteps.
Until now, Hamas’s Al Aqsa television has been broadcast only within the Gaza Strip. But this month it will begin satellite distribution via the Nilesat satellite, the Palestinian News Agency (Ramattan) reported in August. This would allow Hamas to spread its message of hatred across the Middle East, North Africa and most of Europe. Nilesat, owned by the Egyptian government, and Arabsat, majority-owned by the Saudi government, are the only two satellites still carrying Al Manar despite joint U.S.-European efforts to halt its broadcasts.
For a preview of things to come, it’s worth looking into the Palestinian terror group’s media operations at home. Like Hezbollah, Hamas uses its propaganda network to support terror activities, including recruiting suicide bombers, inculcating hatred, raising funds and providing direct operational support to terrorist operations.
Al Aqsa TV routinely broadcasts Hamas leaders calling for jihad, songs of incitement to murder, and videos of Hamas gunmen. Just like Hamas newspapers, magazines, and websites, Al Aqsa programs typically feature splashy stories glorifying the actions of “martyrs” and assurances that through their sacrifices the “Zionist Entity” will be destroyed.
Children are specifically targeted. Hamas produces radio and television shows and publishes an online magazine geared at preteens. A recent issue of the magazine opens with a cartoon of a smiling child riding a rocket while the previous issue glorified suicide bombers and other “martyrs” in cartoons and poetry.
Hamas websites have been used to raise money for terrorist activities, both explicitly and under the guise of “humanitarian” aid. There have been reports, citing Israeli intelligence, that Hamas field coordinators have used Voice of Al Aqsa radio broadcasts to provide terrorists with exact coordinates and trajectories to fire Qassam rockets at Israeli targets.
In short, there is no reason why the West should show more leniency toward Al Aqsa than toward Al Manar. While a few free speech activists have defended Hezbollah’s television as a legitimate programmer, American and European governments have correctly identified it as a danger to free society. Washington designated Al Manar a terrorist organization, making it the first media outlet to be sanctioned under U.S. anti-terrorism laws. The European Union ruled that Al Manar contravened its broadcast laws and requested that European satellite providers stop carrying their programs. Private sector companies have taken action as well. Eight out of ten satellite providers have removed Al Manar from distribution and numerous multinational corporations have pulled more than $2 million in annual advertising from the station.
Similar steps can be taken to curb Hamas. The U.S. government should designate Al Aqsa TV as a terrorist organization. This would put strict limits on U.S. companies and banks from doing business with Al Aqsa. Multinational companies should refuse to advertise on Al Aqsa, denying it revenues that will ultimately go to support terrorist operations.
Finally, U.S. and European officials must put more pressure on the Egyptian government to deny Al Aqsa, as well as Al Manar, distribution over the Nilesat satellite. Egyptian officials cannot be interested in helping Hezbollah and Hamas radicalize their own citizens or the Arabic-speaking citizens of their European allies.
Given Al Manar’s experience in the U.S. and Europe, Hamas may try to soften Al Aqsa’s content to give it the veneer of a legitimate TV channel. However, policy makers and private sector executives must recognize a simple truth: Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of innocent civilians and until that changes, its television broadcasts will be used to further that goal.
A decade passed before the international community recognized the dangers posed by Hezbollah’s Al Manar. Similar mistakes must not be made with Al Aqsa. Otherwise, in too many European and Middle Eastern homes, Hamas’s hate TV could become the must-see fall programming for a new generation of terrorists.