On a prominent spot in the famous Saraya neighborhood in downtown Gaza city, a billboard greets thousands of passers-by every day. The sign changes at every local or regional political event, whether it is a statement by a head of state, a conflict between two countries, a coup d’etat, a revolution, or the visit of a prince. People in Gaza would be looking at the new message on the billboard, having sarcastically nicknamed it “the ministry of foreign affairs”.
Since 2007, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been almost absent in Gaza. Its responsibility is limited to stamping official documents for citizens. Contact with the Ministry in the West Bank is interrupted, as is the case with Palestinian offices and embassies around the world, so the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Gaza has found it difficult to make announcements and statements about Hamas’ positions on regional and international events. Since Hamas no longer has access to the world, or even to the people of the Gaza strip, it has looked for alternative ways to broadcast its positions. It chose the most direct and simple way: a billboard.
Hamas’s window to the world
15 meters wide and 5 meters high, the billboard is almost 75 sqm raised on heavy metal poles and fixed in the ground by cement blocks. It looks like just another commercial advertisements board, however, in reality, it is the international and regional mouthpiece of Hamas, the movement that controls Gaza. There are mixed reactions about it, ranging from curiosity, sarcasm, anger, to admiration. Many articles are written in the local media about the billboard and the messages that change all too frequently. Following the failed coup in Turkey, an image of Erdogan, the Turkish president, was featured
There are mixed reactions about it, ranging from curiosity, sarcasm, anger, to admiration. Many articles are written in the local media about the billboard and the messages that change all too frequently. Following the failed coup in Turkey, an image of Erdogan, the Turkish president, was featured
Following the failed coup in Turkey, an image of Erdogan, the Turkish president, was featured with his hand held high, greeting onlookers, and behind him a large Turkish flag. The billboard reads: “We stand with Turkey, its wise leadership, and its great people. Victory for the free. We salute the leadership and the people of Turkey”.
The billboard is located in a prominent location and a famous spot in Gaza city. Hamas uses it to make political statements
People in Gaza make fun of the billboard that features words of gratitude to Arab and foreign states at every political turn
Tahani Nasr (22), a law student, thinks that the purpose of the billboard is to “distract the public using a subject or a message.” For instance, in a message to the Egyptian regime, which launched a violent campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement close to Hamas, a picture of four Hamas members who went missing in Egypt months earlier was featured. The text on the picture read: “We want our kids. Give us back those who were kidnapped!”
Many people in Gaza believe that what Hamas declares through the “Ministry of Foreign Affairs billboard”, only reflects the opinion of Hamas and its supporters, and not the public at large. Others think that the money spent on the billboards would be better spent on the people in Gaza.
It is a well known fact that all the billboards spread around the Gaza strip are owned by municipalities who rent them to advertisement companies. This billboard, however, is the exception. It was placed there specifically for the Hamas movement. When asked about the owner of the billboard, the municipality of Gaza was unwilling to answer, nor to comment about the kind of agreement that exists with Hamas.
In mid-March, the billboard caused a controversy between the leaders of Hamas and the Egyptian leadership in Cairo, after a Muslim Brotherhood logo was featured. Hamas first tried to deny media reports about the logo, soon after, it covered it with a piece of cloth, and finally removed it completely.
Bissan Abdel Salam (28), a communication graduate, thinks that the messages that Hamas features on the billboard such as “thank you Qatar, you were true to your promise” or “thank you Turkey”, are a new advanced form of begging for charity.
She refers to the sums of money that are given as donations from these states. She adds laughing: “The corner of Al-Saraya (where the billboard is located) basically works for those who pay the most.”
Shadi Khamis (30), a salesperson studying political science, thinks that the billboard is nothing more than a distraction for the local public. He says, “looking at the billboard, you will know who is sponsoring and supporting Hamas.”
A billboard with many names
“Ministry of Foreign Affairs” is not the only nickname for the billboard. Khamis adds, “the billboard of thank you’s” to the list. He says: “It would have much better if they had written thank you to people of Gaza.”
Khamis was refering to the amount of suffering that the people of the Gaza strip have endured, with the disastrous conditions and crisis that were caused by Hamas policies towards neighboring states.
Tahani Nasr says that she is one of the people who call it “the billboard of thank you’s, and [of] Hamas's messages to the outside.” She explains that the billboard is public, it is located in a public space, and it would have been better if it featured messages that reflect the general opinion of the people.
Can the billboard really influence public opinion in Gaza? Palestinian writer and political analyst, Akram Atallah thinks that what the billboard succeeded in doing is delivering Hamas’s positions by making people talk about what is featured on it, even if sarcastically. According to him, this sarcasm is not against the billboard per se; rather, it reflects the anger and frustration of large sections towards the performance of Hamas.