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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Hamas’s Propaganda Videos: An Old-New Tool of Psychological Warfare

Filed under: Hamas, Operation Swords of Iron

Hamas’s Propaganda Videos: An Old-New Tool of Psychological Warfare
Hamas video showing hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin
  • Propaganda videos that show captured Israeli hostages have recently been released.
  • These videos are a “soft power” technique designed to manipulate public opinion to achieve psychologically what cannot be achieved militarily.
  • We can judge the effectiveness of Hamas’s strategy in part by observing Israeli reactions, i.e., public demonstrations that, in essence, support accepting Hamas’s terms for a hostage release.
  • Propaganda videos have long been a part of modern warfare and were used by the Nazis, Soviets, and Americans in World War II.
  • North Korea and North Vietnam have used hostage and prisoner videos against the United States.
  • Islamists, like ISIS and Hamas, have successfully used video for both internal and external propaganda purposes.
  • Capitulation to Hamas’s demands as a result of their use of these psychological techniques can potentially weaken a superior Israeli military advantage.

The recent airing of what even the Western mainstream press has labeled as “propaganda” videos1 by Hamas showing Israeli hostages is but another tool in the armamentarium of psychological warfare employed by Hamas. Hamas’s use of these videos appears to be an attempt to manipulate Israeli public opinion to accept their terms in order to release the illegally held captives.

Such videos are not unique in the history of war and have been used to bolster internal and domestic support and morale and degrade the enemy’s morale.

In Hamas’s case, one can assume the goal of any particular video by observing what happens after its airing. After the release of a video showing Hersh Goldberg-Polin on April 24, 2024, spontaneous and, at times, violent demonstrations broke out in Jerusalem demanding a hostage deal.2 (NOTE: It is critical to note that the family did not sanction nor participate in the demonstrations). Then, on April 27, 2024, a few days later, Hamas released yet another video, this time of two other hostages.3 The video was shown widely in Israel later that day on the evening news and aired at a rally in Tel Aviv where hostage families were demonstrating for a deal. At the rally, the father of one of the hostages spoke publicly, saying, “Approve any deal — any deal — that’s feasible. I implore you, one request: Make the decision now.4

Judging by the behavior seen after the videos’ release, it is reasonable to determine that Hamas’s goal is to influence public opinion, including Israeli public opinion, to pressure the Israeli government to affect such a deal. Indeed, Hamas’s demands, as reported in the press and reflected in worldwide demonstrations,5 are to achieve a ceasefire and end Israel’s military actions. Videos that increase the pressure placed by the public on the government to accept Hamas terms serve that purpose.

History of Propaganda Films – Examples

World War II: Germany and the United States

Modern warfare is replete with examples of media-based material used in psychological warfare. During the Nazi era in Europe, the regime created films that reinforced antisemitic sentiment6 as well as films that documented the atrocities committed against the Jews.7 The latter was likely done in the belief that their behavior would be seen as “accomplishments” for future generations in a Nazi-ruled Europe. This documentation was later used at Nuremberg as evidence against many of those on trial.8

Nazi propaganda extended beyond antisemitism and, under the direction of Leni Reisenthal, entered areas that glorified the Nazi regime and served as “inspiration” for the homefront.

The United States created films designed to “deprogram” Nazi prisoners. These films documented the atrocities committed in German concentration camps. There was also a considerable war-related effort by Hollywood to boost morale with films designed to enhance national purpose.9

Soviet Era

The former Soviet Union was also involved in using various media as propaganda. One such collection documents material from 1944-1987 in several languages. The material covered subjects “… from Soviet cartoons to guerrilla tactics in Palestine; from the construction of the Baikal-Amur railway line, or the building socialism in Afghanistan to the sanatoriums in Crimea.” The films were designed to showcase and highlight the Soviet way of life and to portray life under communism as the ultimate in development and happiness.


China is also actively bolstering its image, even using Hollywood films to improve its image in the West.10 China has also been accused of using artificial intelligence (AI) to generate YouTube videos designed to shift attitudes among English-speaking audiences.

Southeast Asia: North Korea and North Vietnam

The involvement of the United States in Southeast Asia also created opportunities for propaganda on the part of its enemies. The “Pueblo Incident” took place in 1968 and involved a U.S. ship (U.S.S. Pueblo) that North Korea attacked. It resulted in one U.S. serviceman dying of injuries and 83 others taken prisoner. During the 11 months of captivity, the North Koreans produced several videos of the prisoners, using the sailors’ “testimony” for propaganda purposes.11

During the Vietnam War, North Vietnam used the same tactics with captured American servicemen, with one notable example being a staged “confession” by pilot John McCain12 (who went on later to become a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate).

The North Vietnamese also produced films designed to show their tactics as successful, one of which was aired for U.S. audiences in primetime. Similar films were made locally for “morale-boosting” in Vietnamese. For their part, the U.S. also produced films to show its successes.13

Africa: Rwandan Genocide

Over the course of only 100 days in 1994, approximately 800,000 Tutsis were murdered by the Hutu majority in what has come to be known as the “Rwandan genocide.” Due to the lack of resources for traditional TV broadcasting, the Hutus established a radio station used to broadcast racist ideology and to urge Hutus to attack the Tutsi population.14

Islamist Propaganda

The Islamic State (ISIS) used videos of atrocities both to engender fear and to gain recruits for its Jihad.15 These videos were gruesome, featuring beheadings, burning captives alive, etc., to cause “discomfort, disgust, and fear” among Western viewers but also to create a morbid sense of curiosity.16 To prepare for their genocide against the Yazidis, ISIS also prepared videos to justify their actions.17

In a scientific experiment studying brain waves during the showing of ISIS videos, a U.S. Navy-funded study at the University of Chicago found that the videos appealed to the “heroic martyr” narrative and were specifically designed for that effect.18


Iran has long used images and caricatures to demean their enemies (United States and Israel). The recent escalation in tensions between Iran and Israel also has a psychological component, with Iranian threats highly publicized, serving to create, according to their own pronouncements, a “mind game” against Israel.19 Videos of Iranian missiles in the sky over Jerusalem20 were well publicized by Iran. They were used to try and shape a “post-attack reality” that agreed with the propaganda the Iranian regime was disseminating.21

A poster published by Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei in 2020

Unlike Sunni Muslims, Shiites do not revere “Al Quds, Jerusalem” as a holy shrine. But to appeal to Sunni Muslims, Iran sponsors “Al Quds Day” rallies in many communities around the world. Supreme Leader Khameini published this poster featuring heroes and martyrs of Iran, the resistance, and Iran proxies like Hizbullah and the Palestinians. His poster “Palestine Will Be Free” includes the phrase “The final solution.”

In 2016, Iran’s IRGC Navy captured two U.S. Navy coastal boats in the Persian Gulf. The American soldiers were harassed, tormented, and eventually released. Khamenei publishes posters of Iran’s “victories” for foreign and domestic audiences.

Part of a cartoon on Khamenei’s webpage
Part of a cartoon on Khamenei’s webpage.15 Caption: “Iranian leader conveys a strong message – the Islamic Republic of Iran – unlike in the past when foreign powers exploited its natural resources and humiliated its people  – is powerful enough to defend itself and humiliate its enemies.”

The Iranians have challenged the U.S. Navy numerous times in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Bal el Mandeb, and the Red Sea. Khamenei publishes posters such as this to taunt the United States. The picture below was part of a massive mural displayed in a Tehran square.

Burning U.S. battle ship


Hamas has produced videos to show off “accomplishments” for their “domestic” market. This includes the “go-pro” footage filmed on October 7 by Hamas terrorists that was designed, much like Nazi documentation of their atrocities, without regard for how outsiders might perceive this. The significant incidence of denial of Hamas atrocities,22 despite the filmed evidence, as well as the popularity of the Hamas action throughout the Palestinian population23 and the wider Arab world,24 provides real-time support for their use of these tactics.

Hamas has a history of producing material, such as music videos, that demonstrate and promote terror.25 They made instructional videos showing how to stab a Jew,26 videos showing guerilla tactics,27 and videos demonstrating how to create missiles from water pipes.28

In fact, Hamas posted a detailed video outlining their plans for the October 7 attack, weeks before the actual invasion.29


Hamas hostage videos are only a tiny part of a more comprehensive and longstanding use by Hamas of video to produce psychological effects designed to further their military and ideological goals. Some videos are used to bolster their domestic image, some to create fear and confusion among Israelis, and some, as in the case of the hostage videos, to manipulate public opinion to achieve psychologically what they cannot achieve militarily. Their purpose is achieved when their videos create discord and disrupt Israeli strategy. Should Israeli strategy be affected by Hamas tactics, it would reinforce the use of a calculated psychological technique and demonstrate how a “soft power” approach can potentially paralyze an opponent with a massive military advantage.

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  4. Ibid.↩︎




  8. Ibid.↩︎






  14. Ibid.↩︎