Armed with knives, rocks, and social media…
They are young, apparently unaffiliated with any political or terror group and brimming with fury over Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
Like the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011 and the recruitment success of the Islamic State, the spreading violence against Israelis in recent weeks seems to have been sparked by spontaneous combustion on Twitter and Facebook, rather than by organized political groups. Social media have been crucial in mobilizing Palestinians for protests, disseminating information and feeding outrage against Israel.
Palestinians participating in the uprising are typical social media users, are largely apolitical and leaderless. They post videos, photos and commentary “showing the larger picture of occupation, which is a violent experience which all Palestinians believe it is legitimate to resist,” said Ahmad Rafiq Awad, a professor of media and political science at al-Quds University. They use platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to bring “stories of individuals, who are portrayed as heroes.”
Since the Jewish New Year last month, at least eight Israelis have died and 31 Palestinians have been killed in attacks or clashes with Israeli soldiers.
“What we see now is like an octopus with many hands but no brain,” said Orit Perlov, an expert on Arab social media at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “You don’t need something sophisticated. We’re talking about 15-year-old boys.”
Facebook and Twitter have been deluged with videos and photos portraying Palestinians’ suffering under occupation and calls for resistance. A music video shared more than 100,000 times on the Facebook page of the news site Keifak features Palestinian musician Qassem Najjar describing intifada — or uprising — as a unity of Palestinians against injustice, singing, “When a shahid (martyr) is made, we will take each other’s hands … workers, teachers, doctors … from the left and from the right.”
During the last intifada, from 2000 until 2005, coverage was dominated by large media outlets such as Al Jazeera, creating a “collective experience,” said Shimrit Meir, founding editor of the Arabic news site Al-Monitor. This time, established news sites take cues from the tone and content of amateur viral videos and posts, she said. “If you look at the Facebook pages of attackers, though, they don’t have a goal, they want revenge, they want blood.”
Israeli citizens are taking measures to defend themselves against these dangerous criminals who are out for blood.