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#Palestine: Flipping the Script Through Social Media

As violence engulfed Gaza and Israel in May, a separate kind of war was being waged online. In a bid to make up people's hearts and minds, Palestinians and Israelis turned to social media to share their narrative of events with the world — but with mixed results. Through a complex web of citizen journalism and state propaganda, as well as misinformation and digital censorship, the latest chapter of the Israel-Palestine conflict demonstrates how contemporary warfare is not only fought on the ground but on social media.

Palestinians and Israelis have been living under the threat of military raids and rocket strikes in recent weeks. The death toll in Gaza stands in excess of 250, whilst Hamas attacks have claimed the lives of 13 Israelis. The violence is nothing new — but this time around, social networks like Twitter, TikTok and Instagram have brought it directly to the screens of internet users all around the world. These platforms, offering a more experiential perspective than traditional media sources, have given outsiders a chilling, first-hand insight into the crisis.

Viral hashtags and on-the-ground footage have been key to this story. In the face of Israel’s superior military, political and economic power, social media has helped dispossessed Palestinians contest the odds and raise global awareness for their cause. For the first time in this decades-old feud, public opinion in the West seems to be turning in Palestine’s favour.


Let’s begin with Sheikh Jarrah — the neighbourhood in East Jerusalem where Palestinian families are facing eviction from their homes to make space for Israelis. Many social media users will have seen the viral video, originally posted on Instagram, of 22-year-old Muna al-Kurd confronting an Israeli settler in her garden. In a heated exchange, the Israeli man threatens “If I don’t steal [your home], someone else will steal it”. The clip spread quickly across the internet, reaching hundreds of thousands of people. In response to events in East Jerusalem, the #SaveSheikhJarrah hashtag snowballed across cyberspace, becoming a focal point in the pro-Palestinian online movement alongside other popular hashtags like #FreePalestine and #GazaUnderAttack.

Twitter: @MuhammadSmiry


Within war-torn Gaza, TikTok has been used by locals to document the crisis as it develops. The app’s global popularity has given Palestinians a platform to pull back the curtain on Israeli attacks. Posts depict rubbled buildings, screaming children, and victims being hauled away on stretchers — a harrowing glimpse into life on the Gaza Strip. One TikTok, showing Palestinians fleeing from an Israeli air raid, gathered over 46 million views. Users are encouraged to ‘like’ and ‘share’ posts as a means to spread the message.

The recent display of Palestinian suffering on social media is troubling to say the least, but it has helped to mobilise support and create tangible changes back on the ground. Greater awareness of the Israeli occupation has prompted governments, celebrities and ordinary people alike, to provide humanitarian aid to Palestine — now finally reaching Gaza following the ceasefire.

Around the world, there has been a surge in pro-Palestinian sentiment. Online, thousands of social media users have incorporated the Palestinian flag emoji into their profiles. The last few weeks have also witnessed mass demonstrations — generally coordinated through Twitter — in many major cities, as governments are put under pressure to condemn the Israeli state. Internet activism has been the driving force behind this global show of solidarity.  Decades on from when famous academic Edward Said contended that Palestinians are denied “permission to narrate, their voices are finally finding mainstream expression with the help of social networks.


On the other side of the fence, Israel’s use of social media has been notably less effective in generating popular support. Hoping to swing back the narrative, widely followed state accounts have tried to present Israel as a righteous nation acting solely in self-defence. On Twitter, the state of Israel’s verified account tweeted a long thread12 tweets, to be precise — of nothing but rocket emojis, each one serving to represent one of the missiles fired by Hamas into Israel. Users in the replies called out the disingenuousness of this post, given Israel’s own aerial attacks on Gaza, which have killed Palestinians in significantly greater numbers.

Users turn the tables on Israel's thread


Over on Instagram, the Israel Defence Forces shared images of buildings in Gaza, allegedly linked to extremist activity, being bombed and reduced to ruins. One of the levelled high-rises housed residential apartments and offices. The exhibition of these flattened buildingscelebrated in one post asa significant achievementelicited mixed responses from social media users.

The IDF didn't strike the right note with everyone 

Dr Gabriel Weimann from Israel’s Haifa University, speaking to the BBC earlier this month, said that the online PR battle fought between the two sides is “not an equal war” — with Palestine currently coming out on top . "From the Israeli side you see a counter flow, which I must say is less powerful, not organised at all, and if you ask me less persuasive".


As Israel’s propaganda machine conceded ground to Palestine, other more devious tactics were deployed. One such example is misinformation. On May 11th, Ofir Gendelman — spokesman for the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — shared a video of Hamas purportedly launching rockets from Gaza into Israel. The clip was appropriated from a separate conflict at a separate time, and was removed after being categorised by Twitter as ‘manipulated media’. Gendelman has a uniquely long history of sharing misleading information to delegitimise the Palestinian cause and justify continued Israeli attacks.

Gendelman’s now-deleted post


A growing number of reports also point to Israel’s involvement in the censorship of Palestinian content. Many users found that their posts were being deleted, even when they did not seem to be impinging on community content guidelines. Much of the commentary on Sheikh Jarrah was hidden or removed, with Instagram crediting this to “a global technical issue”. The site also censored posts on Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem Islam’s third holiest site — which has played host to several clashes between Israeli police and demonstrators in May.

Following the dubious removal of many pro-Palestinian posts, as well as the permanent closure of citizens’ accounts, digital rights activists are demanding greater transparency from the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram regarding their content monitoring processes. According to the campaign group 7amleh, Israel’s cyber unit — which surveils online Palestinian activism — works directly with the moderation boards of social media companies. The group suggests that in 2020, Facebook accepted 81% of the unit’s requests to remove content.

Questions pertaining to online free speech have only intensified this month, as Israel continues to use its political leverage to silence opposition. But, this influence looks increasingly tentative; the immediacy of social media is eroding Israel’s ability to dictate the narrative. In spite of propaganda, disinformation and censorship, the Palestinian message still seeps out. And as more eyes around the world are drawn to the conflict, injustices can only go unchecked for so much longer. 

Tom Morris / Editor & Writer at Social Songbird
Recent English graduate with experience in travel and current affairs writing. An aspiring digital marketer with a big appetite for postmodern fiction, crime documentaries and Hispanic culture.

#Palestine: Flipping the Script Through Social Media Reviewed by Tom Morris on Thursday, May 27, 2021 Rating: 5

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