Once again, Palestinians are subject to silencing by social media channels, this time, in an unprecedented step, WhatsApp,a division of Facebook, has banned more than 100 Palestinian activists from the service, after they used it for live coverage of exposing Israeli abuses and violations during its recent bombardment of the Gaza strip.
The Palestinian Media Collective (AMAD) strongly condemned the "vicious attack" by social media platforms against "Palestinian content", not least through WhatsApp, adding that the application had blocked and closed hundreds of accounts belonging to Palestinian journalists and activists on the 15th of November.
The recent outrage comes after Palestinian journalists and activists monitoring the recent events on the ground in Gaza complained about their numbers being blocked and blacklisted and being unable to access the application.
Furthermore, the "Palestine Today" news agency had also declared that the supervisors of its WhatsApp group accounts had been blacklisted and suspended after covering the Israeli assault on Gaza. This came only two days after the barbaric Israeli bombardment of Gaza in response to rockets fired by activists from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement which in turn came after Israel assassinated the military commander in the movement, Baha Baha'a AbulAta on November 12. The Israeli bombing campaign has so far resulted in the deaths of 34 Palestinians including women and children, and the injuring of approximately 111 others, before a truce was declared via Egyptian mediation on the morning of the 14th of November.
WhatsApp, a Facebook division, is selectively blocking Palestinian activists and journalists from using its services to cover Israeli aggression, with evidence of collaboration between Facebook and Israel to stifle Palestinian reporting.
#Facebook is continuously feeding its algorithm with lists of terminologies, names and words it considers to be against its social policy, so that posts referring to Israel's abuses against Palestinians are deleted and entire FB accounts are blocked.
In its statement, the Palestinian Media Collective (AMAD) declared: "This censorship by WhatsApp comes in the context of a flagrant complicity with the Israeli occupation to fight Palestinian content, and in continuation of the policy of silencing voices and preventing the voice of Palestinians from reaching the world," adding that this represented a "blatant attempt to cover up the crimes of the Occupation against our people."
The statement proceeded: "As a result, we commend the important role carried out by our journalist and activist colleagues in the service of the Palestinian cause, and we call on them not to surrender to the measures undertaken by social media sites, and to resort to the appropriate mechanisms to continue on these important platforms, to take the necessary steps to ensure that they remain on these sites, and to follow the guidance that is published in order to safeguard their accounts from danger."
The statement also called on human rights and journalist bodies, both local and international, to "stand alongside Palestinian journalists and activists to protect them from the encroachment by social media sites, which are complicit with the Israeli occupation, against their accounts."
Finally, the statement stressed that the voice of Palestinian journalists and activists "will remain present and will not be silenced, it will keep exposing the falseness of the Occupation's narrative."
Over the previous month, the Palestinian Press Agency (SAFA) declared: "With the start of 2019, there have been more than 500 violations against Palestinian digital content on Facebook, and during (last) September alone, the platform blocked 140 Palestinian accounts and pages, as well as hundreds of cases of blocking live transmissions."
SAFA pointed out that there is a "strong tightening" around Palestinian content on Facebook, with the site providing its algorithm company with a new list of terminologies and words that it considers to be against its social policy, so that the post or account that publishes it is deleted.
Amongst the terms that Facebook has added to the watch list, according to SAFA, are: martyr, Hamas, resistance, Qassam, Jihad, Popular Front – as well as the names of some martyrs such as Yahya Ayash and prisoners such as Hasan Salama amongst others.
SAFA also noted the accusation against Israel by the international "IMPACT" organization for human rights policies, last September, that the Zionist state had exploited its relationship with Facebook to combat Palestinian content, revealing repeated meetings between high-ranking Facebook officials and Israel.
At the time, the Palestinian Press Agency accused Facebook of "double standards" by focusing on Palestinian content and not applying the same standards towards racist posts from the Israeli side – while citing the recording of almost 474,250 racist or inciting posts against Arabs through the social media site in the last year alone, according to research by the " The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media."
The Truth Shall Prevail
Relatedly, Palestinian journalists launched a campaign on the 16th of November in solidarity with their colleague Muath Amarna, who lost his left eye by a bullet of the Occupation forces during his coverage of the clashes that broke out in the village of Surif near Hebron a day earlier.
The Palestinian journalists became active on Twitter on the two hashtags #Muaths_eye and #The_eye_of_truth_wont_be_extinguished, in which they expressed their solidarity with their colleague who will not be able to continue his work once again because of the Occupation's targeting of him, with some of the journalists uploading his picture with a bandage over his eye, accompanied with the comment: "We are all Muath."
In three different languages – Arabic, English and French – the Palestinian journalists wrote: "Muath Amarna is a Palestinian journalist who recorded many incidents with his camera. But after the 15th of November, he won't be able to complete his journalistic work because of a bullet fired by the Occupation's soldiers at him during his coverage of the clashes in the village of Surif in Hebron, which led to the loss of his left eye."
The Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate also condemned in its own statement the targeting of Amarna, adding that it had followed up on the crime with the Arab league and the United Nations, and urged them to declare a stance against the crimes of the Occupation that specifically target Palestinian journalists.
The Syndicate also recorded approximately 606 cases of attacks against Palestinian journalists by the end of October, including injuries by live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas canisters and sound bombs, as well as physical assaults, summons for interrogation, raids on media events, imposing home arrests, and preventing coverage, as well as other abuses.
The Syndicate affirmed that these attacks are intentional and aim to prevent the body of Palestinian journalists from exposing the crimes of the Occupation.
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