Palestine’s Online Line of Defence

As the violence between Israel and Palestine continued to escalate over the past week, both parties took to social media in order to offer their narrative of events. Last week I explored Israel’s official narrative by analysing tweets published by Israel’s MFA. What struck me most was the fact that Israel’s narrative seems to completely disregard the narrative being spread online by Palestine. Thus, both sides may be portraying two different realities which leave social media followers dazed and confused.

This week I decided to analyse the Palestinian narrative of events and explore the extent to which the Palestinian side interacts, or responds, to Israel’s allegations. Indeed the past weeks has seen a flurry of online activity by Palestinian activists which according to the Israeli IDF spokesperson serves mainly to incite violence.

However, as I am concerned with digital diplomacy I chose to focus on messages being dissimilated on twitter through official government accounts. This is easier said than done as there are currently two Palestinian governments, one headed by Hamas in the Gaza strip and one headed by President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. I therefore decided to analyse each government’s narrative separately.

Hamas’s Online Narrative On its English Language Twitter Channel:

1. The Problem: A battle Over Jerusalem

Jerusalem has long been the centre of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Thus, it is not surprising that over the past days Hamas  regularly referred to the current cycle of violence as a struggle over the fate of Jerusalem. In a series of tweets, and press releases, Hamas officials have stated that the battle over the fate of Jerusalem has officially began and that although it is located in the Gaza strip, Hamas plans to take an active role in this struggle.

2. The Cause of the Problem: A Threat to the Al-Aqsa Mosque

If Jerusalem is at the centre of Israeli-Palestinian animosity, the Al-Aqsa mosque is its great symbol. According to Hamas, Israel is responsible for the current cycle of violence, and the resulting struggle over Jerusalem, given its attempt to alter the status on the Tempel Mount. This claim is contrary to Israeli narrative which asserts that Palestinian incitement is the cause of the current escalation.

The following tweet, and press statement published by Hamas, demonstrate its narrative quite clearly by focusing on Israel’s attempt to “Judiazie” the mosque and prevent Muslims from entering thier most holy site.

Hamas’s spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhr stressed that the Israeli occupation must cease Judaization schemes and violations of the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and lift the noose tightened around Muslims’ freedom of worship and access to Al-Aqsa

Interestingly, Hamas seems to be attempting to rally international condemnation of Israel as the protection of religious rights is now an important global topic. Likewise, these statements may be an attempt to present this conflict as one that is relevant to all Muslims. As such, these tweets are quite similar to Israeli tweets that attempt to galvanize international support against Palestinian terror.

3. The Moral Evaluation: Israel’s Lack of Morality

Like Israel, morality seems to be a key feature of Hamas’s narrative.

This first tweet, seen below, presents Israel a “cold blooded” killer. This tweets includes a film taken seconds after Israeli security forces shot and killed a Palestinian woman. It is the use of the term “cold blood” as well as the murder of a woman that is supposed to appeal to followers’ moral compass. (Note: The fact that the woman in question held a knife in her hand before beings shot is not mentioned in this tweet).

The second tweet deals with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s claim that Palestinian social media activists are using these platforms to incite violence. It is possible that Hamas has decided to highlights Netanyahu’s statement in an attempt to depict Israel as country that censors criticism and denies freedom of speech. This claim may be viewed as an attack on Israel’s self-depiction as the only democracy in the Middle East.

4. The Solution: Palestinian Unity in Uprising

According to Hamas, the only solution Israel’s attack on the Al-Aqsa mosque is a Palestinian popular uprising. The ‘popular’ aspect is a crucial element of Hamas’s narrative. According to Hamas, the recent violent attacks on Israelis are in no way a well-planned and coordinated assualt but rather an emotional outrage of young Palestinians who now feel an obligation to combat the Israeli occupation. Thus, Hamas is calling this terror wave an Intifada which literally means uprising or rebellion.

The tweets below all demonstrate this aspect of Hamas’s narrative.

Hamas’s use of the term uprising may serve three goals, First, if these attacks are not coordinated, Israel has no legitimacy to attack Gaza militarily. Secondly, the term uprising immediately evokes a connotation of the Arab Spring. Thus, Hamas is labelling trecent attacks as a democratic revolt rather than acts of terrorism. Third, Hamas may be using the term uprising as a means towards unifying Palestinians now separated into two different political entities.

Hamas’s Narrative on its Arabic Channel:

When analysing Hamas’s Arabic twitter channel, two differences arise. First, on its Arabic channel Hamas openly commends Palestinians who have perpetrated attacks on Israelis calling them heroes. Such statements, shown in the tweet below, are not evident at all on its English channel used to communicate with global followers.

Secondly, on its Arabic channel Hamas more openly confronts the Israeli narrative disseminated online. In the tweets below, Hamas directly attack Israeli PM Netanyahu while referring to his address to Israelis in which he promised to bring an end to the current terror wave.

Finally, Hamas also uses its Arabic twitter account to display Israeli immorality and the pain and suffering inflicted on Palestinians by the Israeli occupation.

The Palestinian Government Media Centre:

This channel is operated by the Palestinian Authority which controls certain areas in the West Bank. Amazingly, over the past week this account has published only one tweet dealing with the cycle of violence. While recent tweets have dealt with higher education, the arrival of Indian officials and a holiday, there is no mention of the escalation of violence with Israel.

The only tweet to deal with this matter, shown below, attributes responsibility for the situation to Israeli settlers and thus maintains that the Israeli government responsible for stopping the bloodshed.

PLO delegation to the US:

As Palestine is not recognized as a state by the US, it mission to Washington is referred to as the PLO delegation to the US. While evaluating the tweets published by this mission two conclusion arise. First, the delegation does not contend with the Israeli narrative reagrding Palestinian incitement, nor does it attempt to refute Israeli claims that Mahmoud Abbas has failed to denounce terror.

Secondly, like Hamas and Israel, the PLO delegation focuses on moral issues. Several tweets, shown below, deal with the deaths of children at the hands of Israeli security forces. If Hamas used women to depict Israel’s immorality, the PLO uses children.

However, there is also novel aspect to the PLO delegation’s narrative and that is the introduction a legal argument. According to PLO tweets, seen blow, Israel’s recent killings of Palestinians were similar to an ‘execution style’ murder or had an ‘extra-judicial killings and execution style’. These are not just moral claims but rather legal ones that are supposed to suggest that Israel is violating international law, acting as a judge, jury and executioner of Palestinians.

Summary:

The analysis presented in this post demonstrates yet again that nations, and national actors, now turn to social media in times of crisis. Moreover, it appears that nations use social media in order to characterize a crisis and define its four main aspects: the problem, the cause, a moral evaluation and a solution.

When comparing Hamas’s narrative to the Israeli one, two similarities arise. First, both Israel and Hamas (and the PLO) use social media to morally de-legitimize one another. Thus, morality seems to play an important role in the social media activity of nations during crisis. Secondly, both Israel and Hamas use social media in order to rally international support for their cause. In Israel’s case-Western solidarity in the face of terror. In Hamas’s case- Muslim solidarity in the face of a threat to the Al-Aqsa mosque.

However, there were also some differences in the narratives used by both sides. On its English and Arabic channel, Hamas openly contends with Israel’s online narrative. Thus, unlike Israel, it contends with its opponent’s claims and arguments. Secondly, Hamas used social media to undermine an important component of Israel’s brand and national identtity- that of the only democracy in the Middle East. Third, there was a difference between content published on Hamas’s English and Arabic twitter channel, mainly the praising of terrorists and branding them as heroes.

Finally, unlike Israel, the PLO delegation uses legal arguments when criticizing Israel. Such attacks carry much weight nowadays as Israel is often the subject of international tribunals such as the 2015 Gaza probe and the Goldstone report. By suggesting that Israel has ‘executed’ Palestinians, the PLO delegation may be able to spread doubt among international actors leading to further legal investigations against Israel. This is the very interplay between online and offline diplomacy.

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