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Reclaiming Online Spaces to Shift the Narrative and Mobilize

By Haneen Kinani

Over the past six months, we have all been exposed to the genocide unfolding in Gaza through our phones and screens. From the deliberate bombardments of entire residential blocks, hospitals, schools, shelters, universities, electricity hubs, and water pumping stations, to the ground invasions, assassinations, and targeted killing of journalists, doctors, nurses, and aid workers. The use of starvation as a weapon of war by Israel, causing the death of children and elderly people, has also been widely reported.

At the same time, we have also witnessed unprecedented mass mobilizations across the world, disrupting business as usual, obstructing the transfer of arms, organizing boycott campaigns and historic marches that have taken over major cities. As Palestinians are under attack once more, this time, reactions from around the world feel different. What was the trigger, what were the conditions that led to such a response? Let us unpack.

The Palestinian people have already experienced a similar catastrophe. The echoes of the evacuation orders and expulsions, as well as the images of camps in Gaza, feel too familiar and painful, as the wounds of the 1948 expulsion from historical Palestine have not yet healed. The 1948 Nakba, despite its extensive documentation in oral history and by historians, has only enlisted marginal recognition many decades later outside of Palestinian communities. Palestinians continue to refer to life under Israel’s colonial rule as an ongoing Nakba, a reality of continuous dispossession, displacement, and erasure.

While the 1948 Nakba has been narrated by its survivors over generations, today a genocide is taking place live on our screens. A massacre is committed every time we swipe through social media, Palestinians killed in their attempts to reach aid, bodies decomposing, hospitals razed while they are being used by patients and sheltering families, freshly built cemeteries already destroyed. Indeed, we have been watching the genocide being broadcast daily. To echo the words of Irish lawyer Blinne Ni Ghralaigh, representing South Africa in the genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice: “This is the first genocide in history where its victims are broadcasting their own destruction in real time, in the desperate hope that the world might do something.”

Gaza Al-Shati refugee camp during the first Intifada (1987–93). Photo by G. Nehmeh for UNRWA (FAMSI).

In many ways, Palestinians have been taking over the work of international media in documenting their own genocide since October 2023. In a world where Israel and its allies have in recent history held the monopoly over the narratives related to Palestine, international media outlets have continued to play a significant role in dehumanizing Palestinians, omitting crucial context in their reporting, bypassing Palestinian voices and narratives, and taking Israeli official statements at face value. As a result, they routinely provide a distorted reflection of the events on the ground and the reality of Palestinians under colonialism and apartheid.

Part of the explanation for this one-sided reporting has been the relentless propaganda campaign launched by the Israeli authorities and their allies to control the narrative and justify their attacks on Palestinians in Gaza since October 7. Senior officials have accused Hamas of using Palestinians as “human shields,” referred to Palestinians as “human animals,” and compared Hamas to ISIS and even to the Nazis. Israeli disinformation and its dehumanization of Palestinians have been central pillars of attempts to legitimize their war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of genocide. The primary target of Israel’s propaganda is the Western powers. Israel crafts its messages to resonate with these governments and their constituencies to garner material and diplomatic support. Indeed, this has been manifested in the Israeli Foreign Ministry spending $1.5 million in October 2023 on ad campaigns that included videos showing Israeli soldiers and terrified families, as well as an ad on the now debunked myth of “40 infants murdered in Israel by Hamas.”i

But this time, Palestinians did not wait for the world to fall prey to such artifice. They regained their agency and narrative over the genocide in Gaza and the attacks across historical Palestine. Acutely aware of the harmful pro-Israeli framing of the issues, they immediately began exploiting the digital space to bring context to the events in Palestine. They have debunked Israeli myths and propaganda, simultaneously asserting their own narrative, testimonies, and documentation of the carnage unfolding in Gaza. This is not the first time Palestinians have resorted to digital tools to mobilize international support for their liberation. Social media also played a crucial role in shifting public opinion and actions across the world during the 2021 Unity Intifada.

The largest pro-Palestine march in London, November 11, 2023. Photo by author’s friend.

Israel has banned international reporters and journalists from entering Gaza from the beginning of the war. As a result, Palestinian social media activists, content creators, journalists, and photographers risk their lives to bear witness to the crimes taking place in Gaza. Without them, it would be impossible to understand the magnitude of this catastrophe and no media organization would even have the material to report on it.

Content creators and social media influencers such as Bisan Odeh, journalist Hind Khoudary, photojournalist Motaz Azaiza, and even medical students like Ezzedine Lulu, are among the many young Palestinians who have used their online platforms to document daily the terrible crimes committed by Israel in Gaza and to reach a global following of thousands and millions. When the attacks on Gaza began in October 2023, Bisan started using her platform to provide daily check-ins with her regular greeting: “Hi all, this is Bisan from Gaza. I’m still alive.” She continues to provide updates from the ground, voicing the names and stories of those killed, all the while documenting her own experience of fleeing to the south of Gaza with her family. Bisan’s reporting resonated thanks to her humanization of Palestinian people under fire. In one instance, she showcased the poignant moment of a Palestinian mother who had employed whatever ingredients she could find to prepare donuts for her family and others in the shelter. This type of coverage helped in shaping the Palestinians’ own narrative by breaking the stereotypes constantly reproduced by mainstream media.

None of these young Palestinian journalists, creators, or social media influencers are impartial observers, nor do they intend to be. These Palestinian voices, both in Gaza and beyond, are themselves political, social, and economic experts, analysts, historians, and authoritative voices on the reality of Palestinians under Israel’s hegemony. Those in Gaza are both covering and experiencing the genocide firsthand. Many have been uprooted from their homes and cities, lost family, friends, and colleagues. Like the rest of Gaza’s population, they must also deal with the lack of access to food, water, electricity, and shelter, and even the loss of relatives and colleagues. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPT), the unfolding genocide in Gaza counts as the deadliest conflict for media workers that they have ever recorded, with preliminary investigations showing that at least 97 journalists and media workers have been killed as of April 23, 2024.ii

Visual of Bisan Odeh from her Instagram interview with Palestinian mothers in Gaza, by Rābet.

Despite the risks, Palestinians have flooded online feeds to expose Israeli disinformation strategies, which were particularly prevalent in Israel’s systematic assault on Gaza’s medical infrastructure at Al-Shifa Hospital. The Israeli attacks were accompanied by repeated narratives that civilian spaces and hospitals were being used as “human shields” by Hamas. The purpose is to render such places legitimate targets for the Israeli occupation forces, despite such incidents being a violation of international law to which they are accountable. Palestinian experts have consistently exposed this, reminding us that Israel has a history of attacking Palestinian medical infrastructure. This essential recontextualization serves to underline that Israel is waging a campaign of erasure to cause irreparable harm to Palestinians.

As a result of online dissemination of voices and perspectives, many social media followers have been able to witness the unfolding events with critical eyes. Those who have been following the events online often had crucial access to real-time and raw information, leading to a better understanding of events on the ground, including the complicity of their own governments and media. It is not an exaggeration to say that Palestinian content creators, organizations, and their allies have played an essential role in shifting public opinion by reclaiming online spaces. These spaces where Palestinians have detailed their lives under genocide have become places where international support has been nurtured and mobilizations have magnified.

Such impactful online engagements played a crucial role in digital mobilization for Palestine, to the extent that conservative Congress members and US lawmakers felt the need to renew their accusations against TikTok, an app used predominantly by young people. They claimed that they were pushing pro-Palestine content on the app and indoctrinating young people against Israel. However, the company denied the accusations and said that the phenomenon occurred organically as TikTok users are overwhelmingly in favor of Palestine, not because the company was intentionally manipulating the algorithm.iii For instance, if we look at public data on other platforms, such as Instagram, we see that there are 5.7M total posts tagged #FreePalestine compared to 214K total posts tagged #StandwithIsrael.iv  It is significant, also, that according to TikTok data, the #StandwithPalestine hashtag has been predominantly popular in the Global South, including in Malaysia, Pakistan, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar.v

Refaat Al-Areer quote in a pro-Palestine march in Brussels, December 17, 2023. Photo by author.

At the same time, this is occurring in a context of increased censorship of pro-Palestinian content on social media platforms and digital rights violations. Since October 2023 and until the end of the year alone, 7amleh documented a total of 3,035 digital violations, including 910 removal/restriction violations against Palestinians or pro-Palestine accounts, and eight digital financial accounts such as PayPal.vi Social media platforms have long been accused of discriminatory practices against Palestinian content, including “shadowbanning,” restrictions, content removal, and account closures. According to 7amleh, such measures have intensified, particularly after October 2023, demonstrating how their activity corroborates the Israeli silencing attacks launched against Palestinian voices and narratives.

Yet, for the past seven months of the genocide, people’s online feeds have been dominated by Gaza and Palestine, despite extensive efforts to censor and repress voices. This is a crucial element, as young people (16–24) inform themselves on TikTok, Instagram, X, and YouTube, in contrast to the older generation who rely on traditional media. A recent public opinion poll by YouGov and commissioned by the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy (PIPD) in European countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, also showed how there is a clear generational dimension with regard to support for Palestine, with “Gen Z” (18–24) being more conscious of how Israel undermines Palestinian rights, recognizing the commission of genocide and supporting an arms embargo on Israel. They also recognize that censorship exists on social media platforms and hence are better equipped to maneuver around it. This data has also underlined how youth understand the connections between the Palestinian question and global justice issues such as “freedom” and “fighting for equality.”vii This intersectionality has been extraordinarily impactful because of the influence it has had on younger generations, active in other social justice movements, who have mobilized in their hundreds of thousands across the world to support Palestine.

The online engagement of young people has contributed immensely to the public opinion shift on the unfolding genocide. This has been demonstrated in a recent study by DMR, an AI technology firm that collected one million posts from social media platforms from October 7 to 23 that contained hashtags of pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian terms, and found a sharp shift against Israel over time. On October 7, both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli posts had the same share of support, but by October 19, pro-Palestinian posts were 3.9 times more prevalent.viii

“A Feminist Call to Strike for Gaza.” A visual by Gaza Group: a group of Palestinians from Gaza and Exile, highlighting the intersectional and digital mobilization for Palestine.

For the past months, social media has been used by individuals, collectives, and solidarity groups to organize themselves, disseminate resources on Palestine for others to read and educate themselves, share information on the nearest protests, and connect with existing solidarity movements. The historic one million march in London in November 2023, the largest pro-Palestinian march in the history of the UK, serves as one of the most momentous examples. This is also reflected in YouGov/PIPD polling data, where half of voting-age Europeans support an arms embargo on Israel (Italy: 65 percent; Belgium: 62 percent; Sweden: 50 percent; France: 51 percent; Germany: 49 percent), and are in favor of prosecuting Israeli officials for war crimes (Italy: 62 percent; Belgium: 61 percent; Germany: 51 percent; France: 51 percent; Sweden: 49 percent).ix

Such international support for Palestine is unprecedented, much of it translating from online space to material action. And the world needs to keep that momentum. But we must ask ourselves the difficult question: If it were not for Palestinians in Gaza or elsewhere documenting the genocide and brutality inflicted on them daily, would the world have reacted in the same way? International support must be built on deep understanding and commitment because the moment we no longer have Gaza and Palestine on our feed, the fear is that the world will cease its engagement and Palestinians will lose the attention they deserve and sorely need for their liberation.


i “Graphic Pro-Israel Ads Make Their Way into Children’s Video Games,” Reuters, October 30, 2023.
ii “Journalist Casualties in the Israel-Gaza War,” the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPT), April 23, 2024.
iii “The Truth about TikTok Hashtags and Content during the Israel-Hamas War, TikTok, November 11, 2023.
iv “The Truth about TikTok Hashtags and Content during the Israel-Hamas War,” TikTok, November 11, 2023.
v Sara Fischer, “On TikTok, Views of Pro-Palestine Posts Far Surpass Views of Pro-Israel Posts,” Axios, October 31, 2023.
vi “Hashtag Palestine 2023,” 7amleh Report.
vii “Public Opinion Poll: How 5 European Countries See Palestinian Issues,” The Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, April 16, 2024.
viii The Economist article, Nov 2, 2023
ix “Public Opinion Poll: How 5 European Countries See Palestinian Issues,” The Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, April 16, 2024.

  • Haneen Kinani is a Palestinian researcher and activist. She is currently the International Advocacy Officer for the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy/Rabet, where she focuses on shifting the discourse and policy on Palestine by uplifting Palestinian voices and narrative through advocacy work and digital mobilization.

1 Comment

  1. Anne Habiby

    Thank you for the data Haneen. Very illuminating. Can you show month by month the trend of pro Palestine vs. pro Israel sentiment, and continue documenting this? I was struck at the multiple of pro Palestine hashtags. This is a powerful measure of the global groundswell , and by getting the number in circulation, it keeps growing it. .

    Reply

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