The amazing accessibility of Hamas

Elliott Woods, For the Pulitzer Center

Senior Hamas legislator Sheikh Ismail Radwan sips a cold beverage at a festival celebrating Jerusalem as the "Capital of Arabic Culture." — Elliott D. Woods

I don't mean to say that Hamas leaders are available for walk in appointments. Hamas leaders are relatively accessible for interviews, and possibly even chatting, if you have contacts — senior Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad gave me his personal cell-phone number — but I lack the connections at present to get in touch with most of the big fish, though I did interview a barefoot and rather rotund son of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh at his mosque in Beach Camp, at the drop of a hat too.

What I mean is that when Hamas leaders are out in public, it's very easy — frighteningly easy — to get close to them and even to talk to them. I attended a festival last Saturday celebrating Jerusalem as the "Capital of Arabic Culture," and I got in the faces of such Hamas powerhouses as Mushir Al-Masri, Sheikh Ismail Radwan, and Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum (to be honest, I was kind of annoyed, because I'd lugged out my leaden 70-200mm lens thinking I wouldn't be able to get within fifty meters of them). There were dozens of soldiers and policemen present at the festival, which took place before the skeletal remains of what was once Gaza's central Legislative Building, but security was, well, lax. I walked right into the festival and into the press area without anyone checking my ID or asking me who I was or anything. The same went for all of my Arab counterparts.

A Hamas legislator hides from the sun at the Jerusalem festival. — Elliott D. Woods

Whatever people may say about Hamas and about their attempts to turn Gaza into a police state, this has not carried over to the media, it seems. Doubtless many journalists — especially local journalists — would beg to differ. Several of my friends, who shall remain unnamed for their security — have been harrassed by Hamas for writing stories that counter Hamas' image of itself as the divinely ordained protector and savior of Palestine.

Still, I could not imagine operating with such freedom and such a high level of accessibility in the United States, and doubtfully in Israel either, where I spent hours trying to get someone other than the soldier-receptionist-on-duty on the line at the Israel Defense Forces press office. I'm not sure I would even have an easy time getting so close to the mayor of Richmond without, at the very least, an ID check. Let's hope that this facet of the Hamas legislation remains unchanged, and that no one does anything stupid to ruin it for all of us.