Al Aqsa TV is a Hamas-run television station that promotes terrorist activity and incites hatred of Jews and Israelis. The station, established by Palestinian Legislative Council member and Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Ahmad Hammad, began broadcasting in the Gaza Strip in January 2006.
Modeled after Al Manar, which is owned and operated by the Lebanese-based terrorist organization Hezbollah and watched throughout the Arab world, Al Aqsa TV is the first private television station in the Gaza Strip. Like Al Manar, Al Aqsa TV was designated by the United States Department of the Treasury as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for being a "primary Hamas media outlet and airs programs and music videos designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood."
The station's programming, which includes news shows, political commentary, readings of the Qur'an and children's programming, is also available in other parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Some of the broadcasts are available in the United States through NileSat IPTV and ArabTV4ALL, which stream satellite feeds over the internet. Al Aqsa TV was previously carried by Eutelsat, which had also carried Al Manar, but was dropped in 2010.
Following the Hamas takeover of Gaza in August 2007, Hamas banned Palestinian public access television, controlled by rival faction Fatah, from making or broadcasting programs into Gaza. The ban left most of Gaza's electronic media in the hands of Hamas. The channel is also used as a mouthpiece to criticize the Palestinian Authority for its willingness to cooperate with Israel and take security action against Hamas.
Much of Al-Aqsa TV programming that glorifies violence focuses on children or is geared towards children, including music videos.
A March 2013 segment includes an interview with child-relatives of Umm Nidal, the Palestinian mother of four sons who became suicide bombers. The children expressed pride in their fathers' bombings and told viewers that, "I ask all Muslim sisters, mothers and daughters and sisters, that the Al Aqsa expects us, the next generation, to fall into line for it, God Willing and Exalted. Do not withhold from us the commanders, do not withhold from us the soldiers, and do not withhold from us lovers of martyrdom." The children also sang a song glorifying martyrdom.
At the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, Al Aqsa TV interviewed the children of Hamas members who were killed in Israeli airstrikes. One of the girls said "I want to fire missiles at the Jews and be martyred like my father." One of the boys also said that he wants to follow in his father's path, "I want to follow the path of Jihad like daddy and I want to be martyred like daddy."
Over the years, Al Aqsa TV has featured music video aimed at radicalizing children. For example, a few years ago one music video aired by Al Aqsa depicted a 4-year-old girl singing to her "mother," identified as "mother Reem," (an apparent reference to Hamas's first female suicide bomber Reem Riyashi). Later in the video, the woman detonates herself and kills four Israeli soldiers. After her mother carries out the attack, the little girl holds an explosive and sings to the camera, "I am following Mommy in her steps."
Another music video depicts a boy praying at a mosque before joining Izzedeen al-Qassam Brigades and becoming a martyr. A third video, picturing children in paramilitary uniforms and armed with guns, includes lyrics exhorting viewers not to mourn for former leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin because "these are the acts of Martyrdom-Seekers."
In April 2007, the show "Tomorrow's Pioneers" featured a Mickey Mouse-like character, Farfour, promoting a message of radical Islam, anti-Semitism and hatred for the West. "We will return the Islamic community to its former greatness," Farfour says, "and liberate Jerusalem, God willing, liberate Iraq, God willing, and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers." The "Farfour" character and child actors on the program taunt Western leaders and urge children to take up AK-47 assault rifles to defeat Israel and the United States.
In a later episode, Farfour is beaten to death by an Israeli official and replaced by a bee, Nahool, who continues to preach violence. In one episode Nahool says that "we will go as Islamic fighters" to liberate the al-Aqsa mosque from "the enemies of Allah, the killers of prophets."
Nahool continues to incite children, urging in a May 2013 episode that "we will always continue onto Jerusalem and we will always continue [with] the right of return." In another segment of the same episode of "Tomorrow's Pioneers" school children are brought to the home of former Hamas founder, Ahmad Yassin. In an interview held in the home, one of the children says that her message "to the Zionists, the Jews" is that "we will go forward patiently and avenge them [the martyrs], and God willing, we will meet them in Paradise."
The director of "Tomorrow's Pioneers," Samir Abu Mohsen, indicates that one of the reasons Nahool exists is to make sure that Palestinian children remember their exile status and are committed to regaining their land. In an interview, Mohammad Ramadan, the actor who gives voice to Farfour and Nahool, said that he will never tell children to go kill Israelis, but his character Nahool does tell the audience "Yes, we are all Jihad warriors."
Al-Aqsa TV maintains a Web site, which serves a medium for news and announcements from the station. News stories posted on the site justify rocket attacks against civilians as retaliation for "the crimes of the occupation." The site also includes many graphic pictures of martyrs wrapped in shrouds and carried by large crowds. The site is hosted by a German company.
Al Aqsa TV also maintains a presence on social media, with official accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The Facebook and Twitter account provide the latest updates from Al Aqsa TV's broadcasts, as well as link to footage hosted on the YouTube channel.
Al-Aqsa TV was established by Fathi Ahmad Hammad, chairman of Al Ribat Communications and Artistic Productions, a Hamas-run company that also produces Hamas's radio station, Voice of Al Aqsa, and its biweekly newspaper, The Message.
Hammad, a leader of the Izzedeen al-Qassam Brigades in North Gaza, was elected as a Hamas representative to the Palestinian parliament in January 2006. During the election campaign, he promised that Hamas "will continue develop its armed wings by recruiting more members and making more rockets and bombs." Hammad later became the Hamas Interior Minister, responsible for security within the Gaza Strip, from which position he allegedly orchestrates terror cells.
Hammad has said that the "Tomorrow's Pioneers," program "tries to relay noble Islamic concepts to the children by teaching them about life from our point of view."
In May, in response to IDF retaliations against Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza, Hammad said, "It is every Palestinian's duty to seek vengeance. Kill the occupiers. Murder them with suicide bombings or bullets. It does not matter how."
Hammad was replaced as director of Al Aqsa TV by Mahmud Abu-Daf, another senior Hamas official, in May 2009 so that he could assume his role as Interior Minister.