In The Silouette, McMaster University’s student-run newspaper, Shehla Choudhary’s June 21 op-ed entitled “The role of social media activism in the current struggle for Palestinian liberation,” argues that social media engagement is critical to ending the alleged mistreatment of Palestinians, pointing to the recent violence this past May between Hamas and Israel as a symptom of that alleged mistreatment.
Unfortunately, and ironically, social media misinformation and propaganda is arguably one of the biggest contributors to the recent violence in the Middle East, and it has been used very effectively by anti-Israel activists in the region.
For example, Choudhary argues that there have been “forceful evictions” from the eastern Jerusalem neighbourhood of Shimon HaTzaddik/Sheikh Jarrah, which social media has highlighted. Tragically, misinformation surrounding this issue has spurred violence from the Palestinians. In reality, a group of non-paying tenants in a building owned legally by a string of Jewish owners for 140 years have refused to pay rent, though the ownership of the building is without a doubt, and has been proven in court, even with the acknowledgement of Arab tenants. And, in a country governed by the rule of law, the owners sought to legally evict their law-breaking tenants, which was granted by a district court, though not yet followed through with.
Nevertheless, back in the spring, spurious claims – not dissimilar from the ones made by Choudhary – began spreading that Israel is evicting tenants for some unfounded reason, and that was enough for Hamas, the terrorist group which rules the Gaza Strip with an iron fist, to sense an opportunity. In short order, propaganda began spreading, and the “Tik Tok Intifada” was born, leaving death and destruction for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
During that same conflict, one image quickly went viral around the world. In it, a tree atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was ablaze, and in the Western Wall Plaza below, jubilant Israelis danced. The rumours thus began: Israeli Jews celebrate while the Al Aqsa Mosque burns.
But once again, the facts were nowhere to be seen.
The truth is very different. The tree in question was set ablaze by errant firecrackers, fired from Palestinian rioters on the Temple Mount, towards Israeli police. And in the Western Wall Plaza, concurrently but unrelated, celebrations were already taking place for Jerusalem Day, when the city was liberated from Jordanian occupation in 1967.
But social media rarely captures nuance, and so the truth became secondary to scandalous – yet fake – rumours.
If Choudhary sees social media as an effective tool to spread truth about an event, it would be important to first set the record straight, and stop peddling misinformation.
She writes that The Gaza Strip is “occupied” by Israel, but this is pure fiction. In the summer of 2005, Israel pulled nearly 10,000 Israeli Jews out of the area during its Disengagement. In harrowing scenes, Israeli soldiers were physically taking their fellow citizens out of their homes, some of whom had been there for generations. Israel pursued the Disengagement in an attempt to give away land for peace, just as it had successfully done with Egypt in 1979, and offered to the Palestinians many times, including at Camp David in 2000.
But after Israel left Gaza, its former greenhouses became home to tunnels used to smuggle weapons into Israel, and the entire 360 square kilometre enclave was soon run by Hamas, a genocidal, misogynistic and antisemitic terrorist group, whose leaders steal aid money meant for their own people.
While this misinformation in Choudhary’s oped is significant and deeply problematic, there is one area in which she is correct: that the conflict between Hamas and Israel is “constantly portrayed as an incredibly complex situation,” but in reality “is rather simple.”
Hamas is a terrorist organization sworn to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish State, and which rules Gaza as an Islamic theocracy, where women cannot leave their homes without a male guardian, and where homosexuality is illegal. In the recent violence, Hamas fired thousands of rockets, indiscriminately into Israeli population centres, and has no qualms about purposefully murdering civilians – and in the process, Hamas killed many Palestinian civilians too. Hamas actively glorifies those who murder Israelis in their official communications.
The conflict between Hamas and Israel is indeed simple. Hamas seeks to destroy Israel, and Israel is duty-bound to protect itself, and its civilians, against those threats. And social media, like any medium, can be used for productive or destructive purposes. In the hands of Hamas, it has been used to fan the flames of hatred, and spread propaganda. But used by people who seek to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, social media can be a very beneficial resource indeed.