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Informed Views in Gaza

Ambassador Mark Green

Among the roughly 240 hostages Hamas kidnapped on October 7, 11 were Americans. Those 11 represent the largest single group of Americans kidnapped overseas since Iranian militants stormed the US Embassy in Tehran nearly 45 years ago.

While nations may disagree on many things, attitudes toward hostage taking aren’t among them.

Article 31 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits taking human hostages. So does the fourth Geneva Convention. As the International Committee of the Red Cross notes, the UN Human Rights Committee condemns hostage taking as illegal and unjustifiable, and the International Criminal Court has called it an international war crime.

Republicans and Democrats are also united in their views on hostages overseas. In 2020, President Trump signed into law the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-taking Accountability Act, codifying important elements of hostage and wrongful detention policy, and authorizing the President to impose a range of sanctions on those involved. In 2022, President Biden issued Executive Order No. 14078, officially expanding the tools available for deterring and countering wrongful detentions and the taking of hostages.

Most Palestinians oppose hostage taking and attacks on civilians as well. 

A post-Hamas-terrorist-attack survey conducted in the West Bank and Gaza by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, an independent think tank working with Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, found that 52 percent of Palestinians believe “taking civilian prisoners of war” is not allowed under international law. Furthermore, 78 percent believe that “attacking or killing civilian women and children in their own homes” is also impermissible. 

Here’s one problem: in that same survey, only 14 percent of Palestinians say they’ve seen photos or videos of Hamas committing acts against “civilians in Israel, such as killing women and children in their homes.” Only seven percent believe that Hamas actually “did these things.” 

In other words, Palestinians oppose kidnapping and killing of civilians—but they’re not seeing or accessing the evidence from trusted sources and media that would convince them it actually happened. And the Palestinians aren’t alone in this regard. In Saudi Arabia, for example, according to a November 2023 Washington Institute poll, 95% of Saudi citizens said that Hamas “did not actually kill civilians” in the terrorist group’s October 7 attack on Israel. 

Distrust and disinformation seem to be winning in the “battle of narratives” that seem to be at the center of so many conflicts these days. In his thoughtful analysis of disinformation’s role in the Israel-Hamas war, Yusuf Can of the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program notes that regulations may help, but worries that false claims could provoke a wider conflict.

Someday, hopefully soon, leaders will turn to the monumental task of building Gaza’s future. Physical reconstruction will take a lot of money and a lot of time. But that will be the easy part compared to helping Palestinians forge citizen-centered, citizen-responsive institutions that truly listen to them and respond to their needs. It will also require independent, honest, accessible sources of information that they can trust.

Otherwise, the chances of finding sustainable peace and security are remote—at best.

About the Author

Ambassador Mark Green

Ambassador Mark A. Green

President & CEO, Wilson Center
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