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The Palestinian narrative does not share in the global prominence that Israeli or Western narratives enjoy, but one organisation is trying to change that through a digital campaign.
Digital diplomacy is the latest weapon at the Palestinians’ disposal to make their voices heard.
The Palestinian narrative has been systematically distorted since the loss of their homeland during the Nakba, 71 years ago. A few primary distortions are that historic Palestine was empty, the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a religious one, or that Jordan was the true homeland of Palestinians.
Palestinians accuse some western media outlets of being biased in favour of Israel for their role in adapting the Israeli narrative and ignoring or giving very little attention to the grievances of Palestinians who have been living under military occupation and colonisation since 1947.
Now to the internet and social media, the landscape of myths and fallacies can be altered. Palestinian citizen journalists and internet users in Gaza have started an online campaign to raise awareness, clarify and challenge certain ‘facts’, which they hope will put an end to the demonisation and dehumanisation of Palestinians who seek freedom. It’s an online battle to counter the Israeli narrative.
The chosen name for this campaign, which some describe as unprecedented, is Ihbid, which means “strike” in Arabic, referring to the combating misinformation. Campaigners leave large numbers of comments in English on specific Israeli and pro-Israeli Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.
They call themselves the Electronic Army of Habed and currently have around 33,000 followers on Facebook and over a thousand followers on Twitter. Their main hashtag is #Ihbid194. The number references UN resolution 194 which calls for the Palestinian refugee right to return to where they were forcibly driven out by Zionist militias in 1948. During that time Palestinians were massacred in an effort to de-populate, de-Arabise and de-Palestinise the historic land of Palestine. The other significance of the number is it is the membership number of Palestine at the UN.
One founder of the electronic army of Habed campaign told TRT World that they created several spare accounts in case their main page is taken down by Facebook, stating that they are being targeted now because of their rise to prominence for exposing Israeli crimes and atrocities against the Palestinian people.
On Nakba day campaigners left thousands of comments on Israeli embassy Facebook pages and embassies of countries that recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The founder of the campaigns claims that as a result of their posts the Israeli embassy in Washington and consulates in San Francisco and Miami removed posts celebrating Israel’s so-called independence day and Eurovision.
The ongoing electronic battle gained momentum following Israel’s offensive on Gaza early this month where at least 25 Palestinians were killed.
Another co-founder, Hassan Al Dawoody, and a researcher in digital diplomacy stated that the number of volunteers increases daily, and they can be classified into two groups; one targets Israeli and pro-Israeli platforms using several languages, and the other group monitors and targets local Palestinian websites and accounts that stand against the general national Palestinian consensus (advocating the use of ‘Occupied Palestine’ for instance).
It is unconfirmed whether Habbeedah were responsible for hacking Israel’s webcast of the Eurovision Song Contest with animated images of explosions in the host city, Tel Aviv, amid growing continuing calls by pro-Palestinian activists to boycott the event.
One of the habeeds said that some of the Facebook and Twitter accounts targeted were that of US president Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka for their role in relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The campaigners insist that their posts are not rude or abusive and follow discussion guidelines on social media.
Another strategy of the campaign is to leave positive comments thanking certain users, officials, or celebrities for their support towards the Palestinian cause.
Palestinian online citizen journalists and activists believe that digital battles can be just as effective as confrontation on the ground. It’s crystal clear that the influence of the Palestinian official state-run media outlets is weak compared to well-funded Israeli media outlets and Israel-friendly Western media organisations.
This unique “battle of awareness” is here to stay in light of the digital revolution, as long as anti-Palestinian propaganda exists and as long as justice is denied to the Palestinian people.