The group takes a patient approach to deriving political support from religious conviction.
Gaza City, Gaza
As a weapon in its struggle with Israel, Nahool the Bee doesn't look like a particularly threatening addition to the Hamas arsenal. He doesn't even have a stinger.
But what the bright yellow star of "Tomorrow's Pioneers" on Hamas-owned Al Aqsa television lacks in muscle he makes up for in fervor. Speaking in a recent episode, Nahool vowed to help take back Jerusalem from the "criminal Jews" and expressed his hope that he and all of his listeners would grow up to become holy warriors.
The show, along with paramilitary-style summer camps for Gazan boys, reveal a key element in Hamas's long-term strategy.
Like Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which spawned Hamas, the group takes a patient approach to tapping religious conviction to build political support. It is the movement's youth focus, critics say, that sets it apart from Hamas's rival, Fatah, which controls the West Bank and enjoys US and Israeli support.
The basic unit of the Hamas organization isn't cells or political committees – it's families. The organization has shown that by introducing children early enough to Hamas's hard-line Islamic thinking, it can recruit lifelong supporters.
"It hurts us so much when the international community misunderstands us," says Samir Abu Mohsen, a senior director at Al Aqsa. "Nahool isn't for teaching hate. It's for teaching children to think in the right way, to socialize them in our culture's way of life, and, of course, to remind them of their rights to the land that was taken from us."
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The Nahool puppet replaces a Mickey Mouse-like character named Farfur, who, in an episode several months ago, was shown being killed by an Israeli official after he refused to sell his land to Israelis. Director Mohsen says the show killed off Farfur because of complaints they were infringing on Disney's copyright.
Nahool tells his young audience in a high-pitched voice that his anti-Zionist passion is fueled by the memory of his grandfather, who was murdered at the hands of Israeli settlers. Both life-sized puppets have stirred outrage among critics who say that Al Aqsa television teaches children to hate.