Palestinian online campaign bids to counter Israeli narrative

By Yousef Alhelou

Palestinian history has been subjected to distortion by Israel and its supporters since the days of the Nakba in 1948 — from the old notion that Palestine was a land without a people to today’s propaganda use of the term “self-defence” to justify an illegal military occupation’s killing of civilians.

Despite being colonised for seven decades, Palestinians say their narrative is not given equal space in Western media, which prefer to cite officials from the state of Israel.

Thanks to the digital revolution and social media platforms, Palestinian citizen journalists and activists are turning to a method with which they can address the imbalance in traditional media reporting.

When media outlets quote official statements from the Israeli military, for example, Palestinians challenged the Israeli narrative by sharing photos, videos and witness statements of what took place.

Sometimes the online battles between pro-Palestinians and supporters of Israel are more ideological. Pro-Palestinian voices seek to counter Israel’s dehumanisation of Palestinians and show they’re simply yearning for freedom.

The most recent online campaign is called “Ihbid” (“Strike” in Arabic). Activists, calling themselves the Electronic Army of Habed, comment on Facebook and Twitter posts in public pro-Israeli social media accounts.

They used the hashtag #Ihbid194, in reference to UN Resolution 194, which called for the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their homes in what is now Israel. The other significance of the number “194” is the bid of the Palestinian Authority to make Palestine the 194th member of the United Nations.

Ameen A’abed, one of the co-founders of Ihbid, said the group’s Facebook page has attracted some 26,000 followers and the main activity of the campaign is dispelling misinformation posted on pro-Israeli accounts.

“On May 15, we targeted the pages of 15 Israeli embassies around the world and embassies of countries that recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” said A’abed.

Another co-founder is Hassan al-Dawood, who said Ihbid volunteers are in the hundreds.

“Members of this electronic army are highly educated and many of them live outside [the Palestinian territories]. They are frustrated about Western media’s biased coverage in favour of Israel,” Dawood said.

The volunteers don’t always fight back with information. They have bombarded social media posts with photos of the Palestinian flag and other symbolic gestures.

“My account was disabled for three days by Facebook,” said Iman Mohammad, who said he suspected he was being reported to the social media giant by Israeli critics. “I was threatened five times by Israelis for my online activism and for being a member of this electronic army.”

Some volunteers said they went after posts by US President Donald Trump for his role in relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Our posts are polite. We do not use abusive language. We engage in discussions and support that with information, pictures, videos and links to articles. We were surprised to see Jews who are anti-Zionists support us in these online discussions,” said Ahmed Jouda, the head of the volunteer group.

Palestinian citizen journalists and activists say digital battles are effective. With technology, they can clarify who are victim and victimiser. They can defend their cause and combat attempts aimed at distorting the truth, especially considering the weak official Palestinian state-run media outlets, compared to the powerful and well-funded Israeli propaganda machines and media outlets.

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