Part I. Independent Arabia says online “Palestinian content” is under persecution; extensively quotes “digital rights”-oriented NGOs but fails to deliver concrete examples
As the worldwide debate surrounding social media content restrictions intensifies, a news story about online censorship used against Palestinians because of their nationality or political views bears considerable traffic potential, making it desirable to publish (from the perspectives of the journalist and the outlet, at least). Judging by its headline, Independent Arabia’s October 31st, 2020 report, authored by the website’s Gaza correspondent ‘Izz ad-Deen Abu ‘Eisheh, seems to provide just that to its readers:
“TWITTER CLOSES PALESTINIAN ACTIVISTS’ ACCOUNTS”
In the body of the report, (admittedly, not the first of its kind; see “Facebook Chains the Palestinians’ Virtual Mouths” from May 2019) Abu ‘Eisheh indicates that recent weeks saw a significant increase in the number of Palestinian Twitter accounts that were suspended, removed or partially blocked. The two “experts in Israeli affairs” he interviews on the issue, each on behalf of his respective social media oriented (“digital rights”) NGO, are adamant that this is in fact part of an ongoing operation, jointly orchestrated by Twitter and the Israeli government which aims to further oppress Palestinians.
The first is Iyad Rifai, who heads the NGO “Sada Social”. Quite characteristically for a civil society activist from the Palestinian Territories, his main argument against Twitter’s response to Israeli alerts (about bots posting hateful anti-Israel content) involved hurling the usual “International Law!!” mantra around without apparent relevance, let alone well-formulated logic:
“The director of ‘Sada Social’, Iyad Rifai, says that initiating proceedings against Palestinian content contradicts international laws and treaties, drawing upon article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which protects the freedom of expression on the basis of the right of every human to endorse views without harassment.
“The Palestinians accuse Twitter’s management of aligning with Israeli requests to take actions against Palestinian content. Notably, about a week ago Israeli government’s Minister of Strategic Affairs Orit Cohen [sic. Her name is Orit Farkash HaCohen] has asked Twitter management to remove 250 Palestinian accounts, most of them from Gaza, due to their manipulation of news and rigging facts. According to the press releases of ‘Sada Social’, Twitter indeed heeded this request, as the platform’s management removed the same number which the Israeli minister had put forward.
“Rifai views this move as a dangerous indication of how fast does the Twitter platform’s management comply with Israeli official requests [that are aimed] against Palestinians. This consists a clear breach of international law and the principles which the Twitter platform is supposed to adopt.”
The second interviewee, Nadim Nashif, currently heads the Israeli NGO “7amleh – the Arab Center of the Advancement of Social Media”, headquartered in Haifa (notably, rather than acknowledging the northern city is located in Israel, it is mostly referred across 7amleh’s website as a part of “the Occupied Palestinian Lands of 1948”, “the 48’ Territories” or “the 48’ Lands”).
On his own professional Twitter page, Nashif, an Israeli citizen, claims he operates out of “Palestine”; so does another 7amleh employee, Balad’s former MK Niveen Abu Rahmoun, who is purportedly situated in “the Galilee – Palestine”).
In his interview, Nashif ascribed the erasing of what he labeled as “Palestinian content” (he concedes that others may call some of it “content in support of terrorism”) to a common effort by Twitter, Facebook, the Israeli authorities and the people of Israel. He even bothered to mention American and European judicial systems, which ostensibly enable online suppression of the Palestinian Cause™ by their own merit:
“On a related matter, Nadim Nashif, the director of ‘7amleh’ – the Arab Center of the Advancement of Social Media, said that ‘[there is] an agreement reached between the Israeli government, Facebook and Twitter in 2016 [which] is predicated on launching proceedings against Palestinian content, or as they call it content in support of terrorism or content which criticizes Israel. Twitter in particular has rules which relate to American and European law regarding combating terrorism and those who are blacklisted as such. This is why we find closures of Palestinian accounts. Twitter closing accounts of Palestinian figures blacklisted as terrorists by the American administration demonstrates this with [particular] clarity”.
“Considering the algorithms for content removal and closure of webpages, Nashif points out that Facebook’s and Twitter’s criteria are unclear. In the Palestinian context, they are based on the number of reports submitted regarding [certain] content, all while the Israeli government and Israel’s people collaborate in submitting reports against Palestinian content. Additionally, there are keywords in every tweet and publication, such as ‘martyrdom’, ‘an act of seeking martyrdom’ [‘Amaliyya Steshhadiyya, outside the Palestinian nationalist discourse, this term usually translates as “suicide bombing” or “suicide mass shooting”], ‘Zionist’, ‘occupation’, ‘Hamas’ and ‘Islamic Jihad’.”
Both NGOs conclude:
“According to both ‘Sada Social’’s and ‘7amleh’’s information, in 2019 Israel submitted 12 thousand content removal and web page closure requests to Facebook and Twitter , with which they complied about 85% of the time.”
What exactly is the “Palestinian content” in question?
Independent Arabia’s report does not provide a single direct quotation or a screenshot for the readers to judge for themselves whether they were, indeed, unjustly censored (admittedly, it does feature one indirect quotation of a Gazan “activist”, Mu’men Farahat, who said his account was suspended because he tweeted about “the consequences caused by the Israeli blockade on the Strip” and “against peace with Israel”).
Furthermore, even the press releases published in the stylish websites of both “Sada Social” and “7amleh” are nearly unable to present findings as such, to say nothing of proving there is a genuine silicon valley trend of targeting Palestinians specifically and systematically.
Unsurprising as it may seem for those familiar with Palestinian activism/journalism, their failure to present hard evidence nevertheless bears more scrutiny.
Unfortunately, this cannot be fully done within the constraints of this post; It would suffice to say that “7amleh” and “Sada Social” are devoted whitewashers of hateful and violent content, originally posted on social media by accounts they falsely portray as “persecuted”. Sada Social itself even labeled several murderers of civilians as “martyrs”, including notorious Yahya Ayyash, who is responsible for the deaths of many dozens of Israeli civilians between 1993-1996. Clearly, none of the two NGOs can be seriously viewed as any kind of authority as for what legitimate content in social media should look like.
Part II. “Quds News Network”, the only verifiable source of “targeted Palestinian content” mentioned by Independent Arabia, regularly glorifies murders of Israeli civilians
Due to his suspension from Twitter or otherwise, unfortunately we could not locate a Gazan social media activist named Mu’men Farahat that would match Independent Arabia’s description. The other Gazan account operator featured in Abu ‘Eisheh’s report, however, was easy enough to detect – it was the Gaza headquartered, pro-Hamas media outlet “Quds News Network”:
“Al-Akhras [‘Izz ad-Deen al-Akhras, presented as ‘the manager of Quds News Network’] says, ‘for the fourth time, as soon as our page reached one million followers on Twitter, the platform’s administration closed our account, without giving is a warning notification or a letter clarifying the reasons of closure. What we publish are news links about the course of events in the Palestinian arena. We consider this restricting the Palestinian narrative, and a violation of the freedom of opinion and expression.’”
“Quds” is, then, the only source of “targeted Palestinian content” that can be examined independently by the readers of Independent Arabia, i.e. the only place where the interviewees’ claims, about Palestinian “freedom of opinion and expression” being restricted, are verifiable.
Alas, as is revealed by browsing the webpages of the network’s Arabic Twitter account – the few that were archived prior to its suspension in November 2019 – the network’s publications are far from innocent. Repeatedly referring to murderers of innocent civilians as “martyrs”, the account breached the platform’s terms and conditions regarding hate speech, and was hence suspended by right:
- The account glorified Alaa Abu Jamal, who murdered rabbi Yeshayahu Kirschavski, aged 59, on October 13th, 2015: “#photos from the funeral of the rabbi killed in the #Jerusalem ramming attack today, which was carried out by martyr Alaa Abu Jamal”
- The account glorified Bahaa ‘Alian, who participated in the murder of two Israelis and one American, all civilians aged 51-78, on October 13th, 2015:
“Martyr Bahaa ‘Alian from occupied Jerusalem, in brief: [the rest of the text is missing. Published at the same time, a QNN Facebook post entitled almost identically further praises ‘Alian: ‘He ended his life during an attack in occupied Jerusalem, where he killed two settlers and wounding others as he was championing for Al-Aqsa’.]”
- The account glorified Mesbah Abu Sbeih, who murdered civilian Levana Halimi, aged 60, and subsequently killed one of the police officers who attempted to stop him from shooting:
“Latest publications by martyr Ali Shuyookhi are a lamentation on martyr Mesbah Abu Sbeih who carried out the Jerusalem attack, and a call for Allah to grant him [Abu Sbeih] with martyrdom”
Soon after the suspension, QNN’s English and Arabic Twitter channels resumed their operation under alternate usernames; to the best of our judgement, even the Arabic editorial board now tends to be more cautious there, so as not to be suspended once more. Nevertheless, the network’s “ordinary” Arabic material – appearing also in the network’s own websites – still circulates freely in Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, with plenty of it still qualifies as hate speech even today.
For instance, QNN’s Arabic Facebook account regularly publishes “video heritage lessons”, overtly praising terrorist attacks against Jewish and Israeli civilians which occurred throughout the history of the conflict. The videos, originally produced by a project called “Palestine 27k” (named after the total area of Mandatory Palestine, 27,000 km2), often label the attack “heroic”, all while terrorists who murder civilians are called “revolutionaries”, “martyrs”, “icons” and “mighty”:
“The ‘Khalsa [Qiryat Shemona] attack’
“The guerilla members told the settlers: ‘it is between departure and death – leave so we could live in peace’. Get acquainted with the details of the 1974 ‘Khalsa’ attack in the north of occupied Palestine.”
“[Against the background of the murderers:] The mighty do not die, history eternalizes them”
Praising the March 1975 Savoy Hotel attack in Tel Aviv, which claimed 11 casualties – 8 civilian hostages aged 13-63 (most of them European tourists), as well as 3 soldiers (collectively referred to as “11 Zionists, including Col. Uzi Yairi”):
The Savoy Hotel attack
“Retaliating the assassination of the three commanders in the ‘Verdun’ attack, the anniversary of which fell several days ago…
“Get acquainted with the details of the Savoy attack”
“[Against the background of the perpetrators:] The martyrs do not die, history eternalizes them”
Encouraging gunning down Israeli civilians in the West Bank:
“Route 60, the death road
“Route 60 or the death road – get acquainted with the road where dozens of settlers and occupation soldiers were killed in Ramallah and its surroundings.
“Narrated by Shireen Moussa Habsh”
the preferable location for claiming lives [of settlers and soldiers]”
“[regarding the murder of four Israeli civilians, aged 25-47, on Route 60 in September 2010:] carried out by martyrs Nashat al-Karmi and Mamoun an-Natsheh”
Praising the 1972 Lod airport massacre, which claimed 26 casualties, all civilians – 17 American citizens from Puerto Rico, 8 Israelis and one Canadian (collectively referred to as “26 settlers” who were “killed immediately”):
“The Lod airport attack
“This day 47 years ago – the guerilla warriors of the Japanese Red Army carry out the ‘Lod’ airport attack in Tel Aviv..”
“[Against the background of the sole survivor among the murderers, Japanese Kozo Okamoto:] He became a global revolutionary icon”
On a prior occasion, introducing a PFLP video about the attack, QNN’s Facebook account referred to it as “heroic” as well:
“Today is the anniversary of the heroic Lod airport attack, carried out by the Japanese Red Army in 1972.”
Praising the “killing of 133 Jews” during the 1929 riots in Mandatory Palestine, by stating the riots were a “revolution which established that any aggression against al-Aqsa shall not pass without the aggressor paying the price”:
“The 1929 al-Buraq revolution
“Red Tuesday, the day three of its icons were executed – get acquainted with the 1929 al-Buraq revolution and why did the Palestinians wage it?”
While the people “killed” were merely described as “Jews”, those who sparked the riots were labeled “the Zionists”. According to the video, they did so by performing “a march that headed towards the al-Buraq [Western] Wall, declaring ‘their [so-called] right’ to reach the al-Buraq Wall and introduce chairs, blinds and instruments for illumination and worship to practice their Talmudic rituals”:
Notably, although the vast majority of the 1929 riots’ Jewish victims were lawful residents in Mandatory Palestine, and at least a quarter of them were born in what was to become the territory, only the non-Jews among the dead were labeled “Palestinians” (two more “Jews” were murdered infants who were born in Hebron and Jerusalem after the British Mandate on Palestine was already created in 1920). Killed mostly at the hands of British forces, the video asserts that all of them ”became martyrs”. To quote: “the revolution lead to the killing of 133 Jews and the wounding of more than 300 others, all while 116 Palestinians became martyrs:”
Praising the 1974 Nahariya terrorist attack, which claimed four casualties: a soldier, a mother aged 30 and her two children, 10 and 5 of age (along with the eight wounded, they are collectively referred to as “dozens of dead and wounded”):
“The Nahariya attack, carried out by the Fatah movement on June 24th, 1974
“They returned to Palestine by the sea from Lebanon..
“The Nahariya attack, carried out by an elite [squad] of Fatah movement warriors on June 24th, 1974
“More from Shireen Moussa Habsh
“Palestine 27 productions”
”[Against the background of the murderers:] The revolutionaries are not gone, history eternalizes them”
“The heroic Bisan [Beit She’an] attack of 1974
“Carried out by three warriors from Gaza and the West Bank deep in the occupied territory
“The heroic Bisan attack – Palestinian corps crossing
“Narrated by: Shireen Moussa Habsh
”[Against the background of the murderers:] The revolutionaries do not die, history eternalizes them”
Praising the October 1985 Ras Burqa mass shooting, where Egyptian soldier Suleiman Khater opened fire at a group of Israeli tourists in swimsuits during their vacation in Southern Sinai (the group is collectively referred to as “the occupation”), killing seven of them aged 10-45, all but one women and children:
“Suleiman Khater – the betrayed hero
“On October 5th, 1985, Suleiman Khater fired the last Egyptian bullets at the occupation in defense on Egypt’s soil, he was then tried by a military court and executed in his prison, then framed with suicide
“Narrated by: Muhammad al-Atrash”
Praising Khater for his pride in “performing his sacred duty”, asserting that “his shots were the last Egyptian shots [to date] in defense of land and [national] honor”:
Engaging in gross misinformation about the incident, claiming that the victims were “an Israeli group attempting to infiltrate the border” who wouldn’t respond to Khater’s “warning shots” (Neither Khater nor any of the witnesses ever claimed that such shots were fired):
“[Against the background of Khater’s grave:] The revolutionaries do not die, history eternalizes them”:
Praising the 1975 Kfar Yuval terrorist attack, which claimed three casualties, including one civilian adult, aged 22 (she is referred to as “several more dead among the settlers”):
“The heroic attack of Abel al-Qamh – Kfar Yuval
“The Abel al-Qamh attack in the Kfar Yuval settlement of June 15th, 1975 – what do you know about it?”
“[Against the background of the murderers:] The revolutionaries are not gone, history makes them eternal”
In total, between October 2018 and October 2020 “Quds News Network” has published at least nine “Palestine 27k” videos which glorified past acts of fatal violence against Jewish and Israeli civilians, referring to those who purported them as “martyrs”, “heroes”, “revolutionaries” and “icons”.
More recent murders of Israeli civilians are glorified by QNN’s YouTube and Instagram channels:
In a video dedicated to one of the two murderers who carried out the Jerusalem synagogue mass shooting of November 2014, Ghassan Abu Jamal, QNN’s YouTube channel showed the victims’ blood on the synagogue floor along with the subtitle “views from the heroic attack of martyrs Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal”:
“What do you know about martyr Ghassan Abu Jamal, who carried out the Jabal Mukabber attack in occupied Jerusalem?
“On martyr Ghassan Abu Jamal, who carried out the Jabal Mukabber attack #Stories_From_Jerusalem Despite the sanctions – the Abu Jamal family form #A_Resistance_Brigade”
In conclusion, any attempt by Independent Arabia to portray “Quds News Network” as an innocent media outlet that is censored for no reason is nothing short of whitewashing violent propaganda; if anything, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram should call “Quds” out and suspend its respective accounts just like Twitter did.
(Our Arabic version of this post is here)