As the casualties of Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip continue to increase, social media has quickly become the main platform for both Palestinian and Israeli sympathisers to receive information, express their views, and engage in debates on the escalating crisis in the region.
In the eight days of the Israeli offensive on Gaza, social media has been littered with posts, pictures, and tweets, from activists condemning the collective punishment being meted to the Palestinian people.
Muhammed Desai of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement hailed the overwhelming support coming from ordinary members of the public via social media, as a clear condemnation of Israel’s oppressive regime. He acknowledged the impact of social media in exposing “Israeli crimes on Gaza”, by providing reports, pictures, and videos straight from people on the ground, and allowing everyday people to raise their voice on the issue.
“We are seeing certain hashtags trending for a large amount of time. For example, from yesterday until this morning we had the hashtag, #expelisraeliambassador trending for just over 12 hours. This shows the kind of support we are getting from people,” he said.
Despite the overwhelming outcry on social media, concerns have been raised that many users, in their overzealousness to protest against the Israeli oppression, were posting information or pictures that were either not factual, or taken out of context. Desai said the BDS were actively warning people to verify the information they put out, and make sure they were from reputable sources.
He also noted that, whilst BDS gave their unequivocal solidarity to the Palestinian people, at the same time they rejected all forms of racism, or anti-Semitism. This comes after an increase in hate speech from activists, being directed at those with opposing viewpoints.
“We won’t allow our solidarity with the Palestinian people to be used as a doormat for any anti-Semitic statements,” he insisted.
Desai said the Muslim community in particular, were responding very maturely in their solidarity with Gaza. He noted far less of a Islam-Judaism debate on social media, with activists choosing rather to view the crisis as a human rights and political issue.
“We are seeing peoples anger being translated into concrete action. We see people not just being emotional and angry about this issue, but genuinely asking how they can be part of a campaign to hold Israel accountable,” he said.
Social media commentator Riyaaz Ismail said he has noticed a surge in interest in the Palestinian issue.
“It seems that folk are really grappling with the issues. They seem to be well informed and social media is powerful,” said Ismail, a pro-Palestinian activist.
“The consciousness can be evidenced from a substantial percentage of my contacts changing their profile pictures.”
According to Radio Islam journalist, Faizel Patel, the station had received numerous tweets and retweets through its twitter hashtag #SASupportsGaza. But he also warned users to be careful with the information they shared online, for fear of spreading information that was either non-factual, or part of Israeli propaganda.
Patel admitted to rarely finding anyone who addressed the issue from both sides of the story, saying that both Muslims and Israelis were passionate about the injustices they felt they were facing.
“There are one or two very rare occasions where somebody has said the killing needs to stop on both sides, which is ironic since there is no deaths on the Israeli side,” he said.
Amongst the more unique forms of activism on social media noted by Patel, were a selection of cartoons posted by political cartoonist Carlos Latuff.
“His cartoons have caused quite a stir, and show the actual happenings on the ground in Gaza. It is similar to what Zapiro does here in South Africa. A picture speaks a thousand words and his cartoons actually do justice to what is happening in Gaza,” he said. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)