Over 90,000 Instagram users liked a photo of the Dome of the Rock shrine posted by journalist Muna Hawwa denouncing the increasing violence against the Palestinian people. The Canadian-based journalist has been posting videos and interviews to update her 750,000+ followers on what’s happening in the occupied territories and denounce the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians.
For her part, film maker Ala Hamdan has also shared several posts and participated in daily live streams explaining the situation in the occupied territories and Gaza. Her 1 million followers were able to see in real time the shocking reality on the ground as Palestinians attempt to assert their rights.
“Palestinian women have always occupied a very important place in the struggle for independence,” Rima Hassan, who founded and presides over The Observatory of Refugee Camps, a French NGO, told Inside Arabia. “It is very often the women who carried and transmitted this duty of Palestinian memory. In our time, as we can observe for many struggles and demands, the place of social media has changed the situation. The very narrative of struggles has evolved through social media.”
Since the start of Ramadan on April 13, tensions have grown as Palestinians protested against Israeli restrictions limiting their access to the Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City. On April 26, in the face of persistent protests, Israeli authorities lifted restrictions. At the same time, anger had also mounted as four Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah (an occupied Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem) were under threat of imminent expulsion from their homes in favor of Israeli settlers.
Violence against Palestinians took another turn after the Israeli strikes on Gaza and the lynching of Arab men in Israeli cities and in the occupied territories. The latest report on Gaza, as of May 20, 2021, communicated by the Ministry of Health, reports 230 dead – including 65 children – and 1,700 injured. On the Israeli side, 12 people died, including two children, while hundreds of wounded are to be deplored in both camps.
Arab women activists have been heavily involved in covering these events in both the occupied territories and Gaza using their platforms to expose the attacks on Palestinian citizens of Israel by Israeli settlers and armed forces. And those with considerable audiences, in particular, have been able to influence the debate on social media by mobilizing sympathizers of the Palestinian cause worldwide.
“For Palestinian women activists, social media has been an important tool of liberation and emancipation.”
Unfailingly, activist women, who have been speaking up and supporting each other for a long time, have now begun a new form of resistance adapted to the demands of digital technology. Rima Hassan confirmed this phenomenon to Inside Arabia: “For Palestinian women activists, social media has been an important tool of liberation and emancipation. Indeed, through these new tools, they have the opportunity to appropriate a struggle and a space that has sometimes been confiscated from them.”
The new resistance of Palestinians and their supporters against Israeli aggressions has made a massive use of social media to sensitize the public on the violence perpetrated against the Palestinians. Photo sharing, tweets, retweets, and videos on Israel’s brutality are on the rise. Influencers have been promoting hashtags such as #FreePalestine and #SaveSheikhJarrah in their posts to express solidarity with the victims of the Israeli occupation.
In effect, influencers, activists, and freelance journalists are assuming the role of news agencies by monitoring events and reporting them to their followers. Some activists have gone live on social media with local figures and international celebrities to convey the facts as they witness them in Palestine.
However, as news of Israel’s crimes spreads on social media, some users have noticed several instances of censorship against these posts. In fact, as Al-Monitor reported, several activists, covering Zionist settlers’ attacks in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, accused Israel of pressuring Twitter and Instagram to block and suspend their accounts. This was the case for Palestinian journalist and Sheikh Jarrah resident Muna al-Kurd whose Instagram account was suspended for one day. Followers have been relying on al-Kurd as a trustworthy and reliable source to inform others on the Palestinian cause.
Evidently, Israeli authorities fear the impact of social media and its potential to garner greater solidarity with the Palestinians. Israel also wants to avoid damage to its reputation as the narrative around the “morality of its army” and its “democracy” is eroding day by day.
Palestinian Youth’s Frustration
As activist Inès Abdel Razek explains, Palestinian youth have been at the forefront of the mobilization. Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, these youth have seen the State of Israel’s dehumanizing occupation escalate and erode more and more of their freedoms, in violation of international law and human rights. Their anger is also directed against the nepotism of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has abdicated its role as a force of resistance to the occupation.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ postponement of the Palestinian elections scheduled for May 22, on the grounds that the polls were not “guaranteed” in the Israeli annexed areas of East Jerusalem, only aggravated the youth’s frustrations and completely discredited the PA.
Young Palestinians have come to the conclusion that they can only rely on themselves, due to the apathy and lack of support from the international community.
Today young Palestinians have come to the conclusion that they can only rely on themselves, due to the apathy and lack of support from the international community, Inès Abdel Razek told the French newspaper Mediapart. This realization has come in the context of an ongoing power struggle as Israel has never accepted the very idea of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.
Adding to the general frustration, the economic crisis compounded with the Covid-19 pandemic has not spared Palestinian youth, with significant unemployment hitting the occupied territories.
In Gaza, it is even worse due to the land, air, and sea blockade that has been imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2014. Neither have Arab citizens of Israel been spared from this racial and social discrimination because of the supremacist legislation and policies implemented by the far-right Israeli government.
As Arab and Palestinian women influencers and youth continue to use social media to spread the word of Israel’s cruel aggressions, it will become harder for Israel to hide its racist policies and heavy-handed offensives. The growing international attention may also be a wake-up call for Palestinian leadership to better support the will of the people.