Isra al-Modallal, 23, began her new job this week, and is brushing up on human rights law and other issues she will be expected to speak about. She plans to launch Twitter and Facebook campaigns in the near future to promote Hamas and its policies.
Modallal’s English has a detectable Yorkshire accent from the three years she attended school in Bradford while her father was at university. “I have good memories. It was a good part of my life,” she told the Guardian.
Since completing her degree in media studies at the Islamic university in Gaza, which is closely associated with Hamas, Modallal has worked as a journalist and television presenter. She accepted the offer of a job as the government’s international media spokesperson after “thinking about it for a while”.
She is not a member of Hamas. “I don’t belong to any [political] faction. I’m just Palestinian,” she said.
Modallal said she would concentrate on human rights and humanitarian issues. “Most people in the world recognise that Palestinians are humans too so the world will understand our message as refugees and people who live under siege,” she said.
She said she was conscious of the great responsibilities of the role, especially given her age, but insisted her gender was not an issue. “Palestinian women take an active role in the street, in organisations, in the media. I have not found any difficulties being a woman. We have all the freedom we need.”
Hamas has a female minister in the government, and several female legislators. However, it is criticised for imposing restrictions on women’s social activities and for pressuring women to wear the hijab in public.
Modallal has a four-year-old daughter from a marriage which ended in divorce at the age of 20. “She is the most special thing in my life,” she said. Her family and the girl’s father help with childcare when she is working.
Her three years in Bradford gave her insights into western culture and perspectives. “I didn’t find it so strange because my family had travelled a lot. But I was happy to come home to Gaza, to be in my land, with my people and my family, and be able to do things for my country.”
According to Ihab al-Ghusain, head of the government media office in Gaza, Modallal’s appointment was part of a programme to develop dialogue with the west, to explain the Palestinian issues and Hamas’s positions. “It also falls within the framework of strengthening and emphasising the role of Palestinian women,” he told Asharq al-Awasat.
Modallal said she would not have any dealings with the Israeli media as representatives of the occupying force in Palestine. “There is no way we can talk to them.”