The May 11, 2022, murder of Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, evidently by Israeli soldiers, while she was covering one of their routine raids on a West Bank refugee camp sent ripples through journalistic circles and garnered extensive corporate press coverage. However, when it comes to repression of Palestinian media, Abu Akleh’s killing is just the tip of the iceberg. Palestinian journalists routinely face harassment by Israeli defense forces, and the world’s leading social media platforms have been quick to suspend, block, and restrict users who post pro-Palestinian content, including journalists.
Since 2020, twenty-six Palestinian journalists based in the West Bank have been imprisoned for attempting to cover Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. According to an April 5, 2022, report by Yuval Abraham in the Intercept, Palestinian journalists who post footage or comment on Israel’s use of force are often placed in administrative detention for months at a time and experience harsh interrogations without ever being charged. After serving months of jail time, detainees are typically forced into entering guilty plea deals offered by Israeli military prosecution in order to be released.
Often, Palestinian journalists’ social media posts are used against them by Israeli authorities. As Abraham detailed, journalist Hazem Nasser filmed a clash between Palestinians and Israelis that occurred on May 10, 2021, within the West Bank territory. He was confronted by Israeli soldiers on his way home, detained at a checkpoint, and then subjected to repeated interrogations about the incident for a month. In June, he was charged with incitement. The evidence of incitement presented in court consisted of some of Nasser’s old Facebook posts rather than any of his journalism.
Between May 6 and May 18, 2021, the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, 7amleh, documented 500 cases of digital rights violations targeting Palestinians. These are cases in which social media platforms deleted stories, hid hashtags, and restricted or completely suspended accounts, often at the request of Israel’s “Cyber Unit.” Of those 500 violations, half involved Instagram and a third involved Facebook, both owned by social media giant Meta.
During spring 2021, Palestinians and pro-Palestine activists took to social media to condemn the evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. Subsequently, activists who condemned the evictions and journalists who covered them faced account suspensions and restrictions on social media, Nadda Osman reported for Middle East Eye. Mona Shtaya of 7amleh told Osman that these restrictions were part of a longstanding pattern: “Annually there are tens of thousands of requests that the Israeli cyber unit [sends] to social media companies in an attempt to silence Palestinians. The number of requests is increasing annually. In 2019 Israel made 19,606 requests from the cyber unit to social media companies regarding content takedowns.”
Repression of Palestinian speech online could soon get much worse. In a January 18, 2022, article for the Jordan Times, Ramzy Baroud revealed that Israel’s minister of justice, Gideon Sa’ar, is pushing legislation known as the “Facebook Law.” The legislation would grant Israeli courts broad powers to remove online content deemed to be “inflammatory” or harmful to the security of the state from social media or “any website at all.” Although the law ostensibly prohibits all violent, hateful rhetoric posted online, the Palestinian Digital Rights Coalition and the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council issued a statement opposing the legislation on the grounds that it would be used in a discriminatory manner and ultimately “increase the muzzling of Palestinian voices and advocacy for the Palestinian cause on social media platforms.”
Although Abu Akleh’s murder was widely covered, the systematic repression of Palestinian journalists and the silencing of Palestinian expression on social media has been largely ignored by the establishment press. The arrest of dozens of Palestinian journalists detailed in Abraham’s Intercept article never made it onto the corporate news media’s radar. There have been scattered reports in the corporate press about censorship of Palestinian activists on social media. The Washington Post published a May 2021 article about Palestinians being blocked on social media. The same month NBC News reported on Palestinian accusations of censorship against social media platforms. ABC News ran an October 2021 story about leaked Facebook documents recording its employees’ concerns about restrictions on content about Palestine. With the exception of publications focused specifically on Israel or the Middle East, there has been no discussion in the corporate media of Israel’s so-called “Facebook Law.”
Yuval Abraham, “Israel Charges Palestinian Journalists with Incitement––For Doing Their Jobs,” The Intercept, April 5, 2022.
Nadda Osman, “Sheikh Jarrah: Activists Raise Concerns Over Deleted Social Media Content,” Middle East Eye, May 7, 2021.
Ramzy Baroud, “How Israel’s ‘Facebook Law’ Plans to Control All Palestinian Content Online,” Jordan Times, January 18, 2022.
Student Researchers: Eli Rankin (Saint Michael’s College) and Cem Ismail Addemir (Illinois State University)
Faculty Evaluators: Rob Williams (Saint Michael’s College) and Steve Macek (North Central College)