“All the rioters and rock-throwers we are seeing have smartphones, computers, websites and Facebook and Twitter accounts,” Palestinian affairs expert Khaled Abu Toameh told The Algemeiner on Thursday, following multiple stabbing attacks against Israelis throughout the day across the country.
Abu Toameh was responding to the question of the role of social media in what the Palestinian street has been calling the “third intifada.”
Israeli officials and analysts deny that the recent spate of violence is an organized uprising, in the vein of the first intifada (from 1987-1991), characterized by rock-throwing and Molotov cocktails, and the second (from 2001-2005) suicide-bombing war.
But when “lone wolf” attacks occur several times daily, as they have been for weeks now, a new definition is sought for a terror wave that appears like a kind of “spontaneous combustion.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed the Palestinian Authority leadership for the surge in violence, attributing it to incitement.
“But incitement comes in different forms,” said Abu Toameh. “There is the kind that Abu Mazen [P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas] systematically engages in to rile up his population; and there is also the kind that is spread and festered by peers and activists, who use social media as a tool to organize riots and encourage one another to become ‘martyrs’ for the cause.”
Abu Toameh pointed to examples of the postings on the Facebook pages of the young knife-wielding terrorists, whose actions have led to the deaths of five Israelis and the wounding of dozens of others in the last month – since the eve of Rosh Hashanah on September 8 – alone.
“Each one of the killers had said he or she was prepared and even happy to die for the cause of murdering Jews,” he said. “And they are buying into Abu Mazen’s lies about how the Temple Mount is being abused by Israel.”
According to Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli NGO devoted to monitoring incitement in the official P.A.-run press, in addition to sermons in Palestinian mosques and text books used to educate Palestinian children, social media has, indeed, been instrumental in fomenting the violence.
The official P.A. daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, concurs, as is indicated by the following item, published on Oct. 2 and provided by PMW:
Palestinian users of the social networks Facebook and Twitter posted pictures from the scene of the settlement Itamar operation (i.e., terror attack murder of Naama and Eitam Henkin in front of their four children) south of Nablus, the most significant being the picture of the killed woman settler and her husband, alongside expressions of joy over the operation which they described as ‘heroic.’ [Palestinian] citizens expressed their joy over this event.
This is but one example of how the Internet is used by the Palestinian youth to promote the slaughter of Israeli civilians.
YouTube, too, has served as a fertile environment for the promulgation of death and destruction. This week alone, two video clips encouraging the killing of “Zionists” were widely circulated. One is a Hamas rendition of an Israeli hit, sung by Mizrahi pop star Eyal Golan, with lyrics in Hebrew and subtitles in Arabic, warning the “Zionists” that they will be killed.
The source of the other clip is unknown, but it is a lesson in how to kill Jews in Jerusalem.
When alerted to the existence of these clips, the Israeli Foreign Ministry sent a letter to Google Israel – whose parent company, Google Inc., owns YouTube — to request that the “hateful” and “racist” content be removed.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told The Algemeiner on Thursday that the response from Google, and from policy-makers at Facebook, with whom he is in touch, has been “very good.”
Google, he said, “has already removed one of the films [created by an unknown source], and is in the process of investigating the other one,” produced by Hamas.
Nahshon added that he will be meeting with a senior Facebook manager, when he comes on business to Israel next week, to discuss the issue.
Still, Nahshon admits, “It is not certain that removing such clips from social media will have an effect” on the current security situation in Israel, or on the Palestinian populace.
“Remember, social media sites cannot do anything of this sort in advance,” he said. “They react to what is reported by other users and then flagged. So, for every film they remove, another one crops up.”
But, he insisted, “We have to continue being vigilant.”
According to Nahshon, the Foreign Ministry – which has a digital media department — is aided in this “vigilance” by organizations like Palestinian Media Watch and other hasbara (public diplomacy) agencies, “as well as by our embassies throughout the world – because not all of the material is in English.”
Watchdog bloggers also keeps regular tabs on antisemitic and anti-Israel activity on social media. In particular, pro-Israel blogger “Elder Of Ziyon” has been following the hate-filled posts of teachers employed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), funded mainly by Europe and the United States. Complaints to the relief organization and the U.N. often lead to the removal of particular posts. New ones continue to appear on a regular basis, however.
Asked why the Israeli government should allocate resources to what he described as an uphill battle, if the Sisyphean challenge may not bear fruit, Nahshon was adamant in his conclusion: “This is an ongoing struggle, which could take a very long time. But we are obligated to conduct it. Ultimately, it will have been worth the effort.