From Ramallah to Gaza: Palestian youth on social media


Social media occupied a significant position in the reality of the Palestinian media and it has a wide effect on the Israel-Palestinians conflict and a wide impact on the level of the Palestinian internal division between the Hamas control Gaza Strip and Fatah led West Bank.

The Palestinian people’s intention to the social media has recently increased, whilst the number of Twitter and Facebook users has increased namely after reaping the fruits of the Arab Spring revolutions each in Tunisia and Egypt. Since then, the Palestinian youth woke up and began more alerted to the importance of social media that useful mean which is not subjected to the control of the Palestinian local government.

The increased number of social media users in Palestine and the significant results of social media users activities on the ground namely in holding protests and demonstrations in various occasions, forced Palestinian government officials as well factions both in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to use social media to address the masses of Palestinian people hoping to influence the happenings on the ground on the level of security and political situation.

Taher Al-Nounou spokesman for Hamas-rule government in Gaza Strip is one of social media users. He uses social media to address the Palestinian people and clarify the Hamas movement’s position on various local, regional and international issues.

Al-Nounou uses social media means in the same way people do; he posts his points of view on various issues and posts photos and pictures for different events leaving comments on them aiming at enhancing communication with his followers.

“I have become convinced of the impacts of social media on individuals soon after the success of the Arab Spring revolutions in toppling regimes in some Arab states where political movements failed to bring these regimes down,” said Al-Nounou.

He added, ” I always thought that social media was a mean of entertainment more than that for enhancing, affecting and communication, before I recognized the useful impacts of social media. Thus, I started using it in delivering messages to the Palestinian community via posting each our government’s and my own points of views, as well my individual analysis and comments on various news materials to my wall, in addition to using social media in refuting the views of our political opponents.”

Al-Nounou does not deny the importance of social media means in the present time namely, for according to him, “social media means provide him ‘Al-Nounou’ with a feedback on youths attitudes and positions on various political and social issues both either youth are pro or con Hamas government performance, as well as they facilitate work in collecting the people’s reactions and positions without turning back and waiting for studies, researches and polls as usual done in traditional media.” 

Former PA Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad was on the most Facebook activists, he used to publish his governments news and his own views and positions on the ongoing political, financial and social events, as well as he used Face Book to share and exchange information with Palestinian youth.

Statistics published by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) indicate that approximately 55 percent of Palestinian youth in the Palestinian territory, that’s to say more than half of Palestinian youth, posses computers connected to the internet.

A report on Arab social media published by the Dubai School of Government in July 2012 said that 21.2% of Palestinians have Facebook accounts, while local media reports say the percentage is as high as 40%.

Hamas government in Gaza shows great interest in social media means. Many government faces such as officials and Hamas movement representatives as well as their institutions have Facebook and Twitter accounts that facilitate communication with users as well as make it easier for them to exchange points of views and positions towards various social, economical and political issues.

Meanwhile, Fatah movement and it’s led-by Palestinian government in the West Bank does not share Hamas movement and government in Gaza the  same interest in social media means, whilst many of them do not even have Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Social media activist Malak Hasan, in article published on ” This week in Palestine”, spotted the light on the rare use of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) for social media means namely during the campaign to gain the membership in the United Nations two years ago.

 ”I opened pages and groups created to support the Palestinians 194s state membership in the United Nations, to find that the number of supporters for this cause does not exceed twenty thousand,” said Hasan.

She wondered whether the reason behind the low number of supporters was the Palestinian people’s non-convince to their leadership’s step to head to the United Nations and apply for Palestinian state membership, or their lack of acceptance to PA and its policy in dealing with various issues namely those related to the Palestinians cause.

She even wondered whether Palestinians were not aware enough of the importance of social media means in gaining the international public support to the Palestinian cause.

It has become a commonplace phenomenon for Palestinian media to quote Hamas government officials and leaders press statements posted on their own Facebook pages or tweeted on twitter, a phenomenon which has never been widespread before the Arab Spring.

Meanwhile, Al-Nounou said, commenting on Hasan’s statement, “I have never thought that statements I publish on my Facebook page would be quickly widely spread on websites. This drove me to daily set aside time to post my statements and follow up comments left by my followers to discover the local public mood and attitude towards various issues.”

Ola Anan, a blogger from Gaza believes that the reasons behind Palestinian leaders use for social media means are, the wide and significant impact played by these means on youth, as well as enables them to easily and quickly communicate with their supporters both in Palestine and Arab States without a need to traditional media means which almost stand by the Arab regimes.

She said,” The dilemma does not lie in Paestinian leaders and officials presence in social media websites, rather it is in their rare responses to the social media means users’ opposing views and comments left on their posts and tweets except some cases when they, Hamas leaders and officials, want to extra clarify and explain their positions.”

Anan explained that the presence officials on social media websites has positive aspects, for example it quickly spreads statements they leave, and it avoids any expected wrong interpretations and distortion made by media reporters, as well it enables people to express themselves to these leaders and officials directly though leaving comments without complications and without any need for media means to imply their message.

Palestinian youth took benefits from the experiences of people in the Arab States that witnessed the Arab Spring. They learnt lessons on arguing community to take in streets and hold demonstrations and protests against government to topple it down.

Some Palestinian youth exploit Facebook to urge the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to up rise against Hamas government and topple it, they also call to take in streets protesting against governments practices. The most recent youth activity was calling for rebellion ”Tamarod” against Hamas government and the state of division between Fatah and Hamas, in addition to their call to protest against Israeli Knesset vote to pass ”Prawer Plan” an Israeli blueprint to demolish houses belonging to Bedouins in Negev and uprooting 40.000 Bedouins from their homes.

Social media activists in Gaza, used social websites to mobilize masses roamed Gaza streets in March 15, 2011 calling to end the state of division between Fatah party and Hamas movement.

Mohamed Matar, Gaza-based facebook activist and one of activists in March 15 protests organized in March 2011 against the states of division between Fatah and Hamas.

Matar said, ”Facebook was our only mean to access the Palestinian people and spread information and videos calling them to take in streets in protests  against division and call both Gaza and West Bank government to end the dispute between them and unite.”

” We succeeded to achieve our goals in taking Palestinian masses to streets both in West Bank and Gaza Strip to force Fatah party and Hamas movement ending the state of division between them, a condition which forced leaders of both movements to take initiatives suggesting a solution to end the state of division and reassure the public of near possibilities of division ending.” He added

Both Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip use social media websites to access information related to youth groups activities and monitor their activities, so as soon to ban groups activities that contravenes the government’s political orientation as well as to face any demonstrations and marches against the government.

Meanwhile, a number of social media activists complained to Palestinian Centers for Human Rights the measures taken against them by Hamas security forces by interrogating and questioning them on posts they wrote on their Facebook accounts while showing a printed version of these Facebook posts during the process of questioning.

Matar said, “I was summoned by Hamas security forces many times, and I was questioned for my social media activities. They asked for passwords each for my facebook, twitter and hotmail accounts to read my private messages.

Official at Hamas Internal Security Agency, chose to remain anonymous said  “social networks such as Facebook are main sources of security information for his agency, for it provides Hamas security with information related to activists activities on the ground and their future plans, thus it enables security forces to develop plans dealing with activists activities and movements.”

The official added, ” We have various means to keep security stability in the Gaza Strip, while some try to violate it,” revealing that his agency officers easily penetrate social networking activists accounts in case if they led or participated in activities that threaten security in Gaza.”

Gaza-based Journalist and activist Samia al-Zubaidi said that she has received several threats of physical harm for publishing criticism about Hamas’ practices and the government in Gaza. The threats came from fake Facebook accounts.

Zubaidi said that she confirmed that the security agencies are monitoring the accounts of activists on social-networking sites when she participated in the sit-in in the Gaza City to support the Bedouin in the Negev desert.  A security official tasked with dispersing the protest told her, “Dear Samia, didn’t the one responsible for your Facebook page tell you that the rally has been cancelled?”

Security surveillance is not limited to the Facebook pages of young activists, but also to what journalists publish against officials. Several journalists have received anonymous death threats by telephone.

Journalist Emad Drimly, the office director of the Chinese news agency Xinhua in Gaza, said that he received a death threat over the phone after he published on his Facebook account what was considered a stance in support of deposing then-Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian army.

Human rights organizations monitored PA security forces arrest for a number of journalists and bloggers on the backdrop of their posts on Facebook as well as for owing anti-corruption pages, and they were charged for inciting on Palestinian officials.

PA security acts against journalists and bloggers in the West Bank, outraged Palestinian Civil Society officials and forced them to draw widespread criticism on such steps against media activities.

Fathi Sabbah, chairman of Palestinian Institution for Communication and Development (PICD) believes that security agencies in Gaza strip and west bank suffer for mania of collecting information about youth activities, especially after the success of youth in Arab states in toppling their leaders during the Arab Spring.

He said, ”Means of social media have recently become a security concern for both Hamas government in Gaza and Fatah government in the West Bank, thus, they, both governments, started using these means for accessing needed information that according to them would create a security destabilization either in Gaza or West Banka, as well as they use social media means as proofs before charging and questioning social media activists and bloggers for their political or anti-government activities.”

He added, ” Social media is a main source of information for Hamas and Fatah security apparatus, since it provides them with a free access for information of importance and sensitivity; which is much easier to access to on social media than using traditional media sources, in addition to the free and wide use of social media where activists can easily, freely and openly express their views and stances on various topics, unlike it when they express that directly and live to reporters who would be affiliated either for Fatah or Hamas movement.”

Meanwhile, Palestinians use social media namely Facebook Twitter, and youtube to fight the Israeli occupation to the Palestinian lands by spreading more facts, information and news both in Arabic and English about Palestine, Palestinians suffering and struggles.

In November 2012, during the Israeli military operation of ”Pillar of defence” against Gaza Strip, Palestinians used Facebook as a wide battlefield paralleled to the real battlefield; where Palestinian militants were fighting against Israeli huge military equipments.

Palestinian author, Adnan Abu Amer said, ” Electronic warfare between Israeli and Palestinian youth first broke out during the Israel military operation ”Pillar of defence” forcing youth of both sides to form special units to lead that electronic war not only against Israeli army but also against the Israeli government.”

”Electronic warfare against Israel no less important than field war between Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers, for it has impacts on the sympathy of the international community towards the Palestinian cause which is daily subjected to the Israeli ongoing assaults,” said Abu Amer.

Social media activists benefited from social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter on numerous and various occasion namely during the Turkish Freedom Flotilla try to access to Gaza Strip coast on May 31, 2010. The activists widely spread news reports about the Israeli military operation six ships of the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” in international waters of Mediterranean.

Hence, as long as social media means have been developed and widely spread, they became an integral part of daily life for all Palestinians who use social media means to express themselves as well to criticize both West Bank and Gaza government’s work and activities, and to fight Israeli occupation activities against Palestinian people.