The Hamas authorities of the Gaza Strip has appointed their first female spokesperson to represent the group's communications with the international media.
The hiring of Isra al-Modallal, a 23-year-old who speaks fluent British-accented English, as a spokeswoman for Hamas is part of a long-running push by the group to present a newer and friendlier face both to its own citizens and internationally.
"We are looking forward to having a different and unique language," said al-Modallal in an interview in her Gaza City office, on her first week in the job. "We will make the issues more human."
Al-Modallal, a divorced mother of a four-year-old girl, does not have her roots in the Hamas movement. Unlike many other Hamas officials, her office does not bear a photo of Gaza's Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Along with the Quran, she keeps a book on American history as well.
She takes a slightly different line than many Hamas spokesmen. She refers to "Israel" rather than the "Zionist entity." She does not consider herself a Hamas loyalist but says she would be equally willing to work as spokeswoman for the rival Palestinian government in the West Bank.
"I am not Hamas. I am a Palestinian activist who loves her country," al-Modallal said.
Al-Modallal was raised in Gaza but spent five years in Britain as a teenager, studying at Grange Technology College, a high school in Bradford in the UK. Upon returning to Gaza, she studied journalism at the Islamic University, and worked as a television reporter for a local station and an English-language satellite channel, which she said taught her how to present herself on camera.
The change in policy began six months ago when a new head of the Hamas government’s media department, Ihab Ghussein, took over. Ghussein hired younger media people, started a new official government website, began extensive use of social media and started conducting seminars and workshops.
Ghussein said he appointed al-Modallal in an effort "to be more open to the West." He said many women were among the dozens of applicants considered for the position.
"Women are partners in our society," said Ghussein.
Every day, women's footsteps can be seen advancing more in society.
Al-Modallal asserts that women in Gaza are finding their way into politics, medicine, education and media. "Every day, women's footsteps can be seen advancing more in society," she said.
She speaks primarily about Gaza’s government affairs: education and social programs or the Israeli blockade of the territory.
Al-Modallal said Israel's unfair media coverage had given Hamas a bad reputation.
She takes up the job at a challenging time for the movement. Hamas lost a key ally with the downfall of its parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, in neighboring Egypt after the July 3 coup.
The group remains an outsider to many nations in the West."This is because of the Israeli media, which is a smart media. They change the truth and show the opposite picture of Palestine and the Palestinians," she said.
"I know it's a big responsibility and it's not easy to speak on behalf of a government in normal situations, whereas I am working in unique situations," she said.