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'ISNAD': Has Arab digital resistance proven its superiority over Israeli propaganda?

'ISNAD': Has Arab digital resistance proven its superiority over Israeli propaganda?

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إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"إسناد"... هل أثبتت تفوّق "المقاومة الرقمية العربية" على البروباغندا الإسرائيلية؟


In an extension of Arab and global initiatives in support of the Palestinian people, the digital resistance campaign ISNAD was launched in November 2023 as a means to defend the Palestinian cause and confront the misinformation disseminated by the Israeli media machine. The Israeli public, among others, is greatly affected by the false claims propagated by their leaders and their manipulation of public opinion. Israeli media deems ISNAD a source of disturbance as it disrupts the Israeli propaganda machine, which Israel spends millions of dollars on.

Questions still remain surrounding ISNAD, its purpose and future, and how it can be optimized to protect the rights and freedom of expression of Arab citizens.

What is ISNAD and how did it start?

ISNAD is a popular, grassroots campaign led by a large group of digital and artificial intelligence experts from across the Arab world. Over 4,700 volunteers from the region are affiliated with ISNAD, working to “support the Palestinian cause” by breaking Israeli military censorship constraints on media content in order to convey the reality on the ground in Gaza to the Israeli public.

ISNAD works to expose the Israeli public to the “reality” of the war, by archiving and blogging in different languages via a “flood of accounts”, some with Hebrew identities, and on various platforms. According to ISNAD, which has around 31,000 followers on Telegram, they have published over 800,000 posts in Hebrew. The team also engages in “125 daily tasks”, disseminating diverse content related to Palestine in Israeli digital circles.

ISNAD is a popular, grassroots campaign led by a large group of digital and artificial intelligence experts from across the Arab world. They break censorship constraints in order to convey the reality on the ground in Gaza to the Israeli public.

Ezzeddine Dowidar, coordinator of the ISNAD campaign, tells Raseef22, “When pro-Palestine protests in the West intensified, occurring on a weekly basis, and the Western public proved to be more engaged than those in some Arab nations, it became clear to us that blogging in foreign languages, especially in English, was no longer decisive. Western society was already doing its part: Western activists and youth, and members of the Arab diaspora abroad, have embraced the cause and followed it closely, successfully exposing it to their people and communities.”

Dowidar continues, “We questioned why we exhausted ourselves appealing to Western communities that are actually more engaged than us Arabs. This is where the idea and initiative was born, for us to play a more advanced role, much closer to the battleground, that goes beyond just writing in foreign languages or appealing to international organizations. We decided to target Israeli public opinion.”

Contrary to claims made by Israeli media that the initiative’s founders are part of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dowidar explains, “We started out of responsibility and duty, not a humanitarian one, because that would mean we are not concerned with the cause. The campaign certainly has an ideological aspect, but our primary motive is responsibility. We are not defending others; we are defending our nation, our country, and our sanctities. We did not volunteer for some general humanitarian mission like anyone else who looks at the cause from the perspective of Western communities. Rather, this is our field, our battle, and our cause.”

According to Dowidar, “We became the top trend in Israel for two days after a hashtag we created went viral. This concerned the Israelis. They didn't know that we were behind it.” The hashtag was about the Ukrainian mercenaries who accidentally killed three Israeli captives in the second stage of the war. Their lack of Hebrew knowledge led to their inability to understand the captives’ calls for help.

“The initiative will not be limited to what is happening in Gaza currently, but will continue until Palestine is liberated, no matter how many years it takes.”

As of now, the initiative does not face any major challenges. “We have an organized mechanism for taking in followers and volunteers, interacting among each other, and forming the campaign's structure, which is very well organized,” explains Dowidar. He and his colleagues aim to influence this battle, saying, “We try to do what the Palestinian resistance is unable to do. We intend to carry on beyond the war on Gaza. After witnessing our impact on the Israeli side, it is clear that the campaign is a success.”

He adds, “The initiative will not be limited to what is happening in Gaza currently, but will continue until Palestine is liberated, no matter how many years it takes.”

Dowidar concludes, “We do not hide our identities. The majority of us work under their real names. We are not violating any laws of the countries we are in, or even of Israel; rather, we use our right to publish and express in any language we choose. We chose to publish in Hebrew, and this is our right to expression. Any Israeli pursuit of us is neither legal nor legitimate. It would be a technical or digital campaign, involving hacking or closing our accounts. We are prepared. If the digital attacks against us escalate, we are prepared to pay the price for what we believe in.”

Israel attributes the campaign to a specific party, refusing to recognize it as a group of independent Arab youth. At first, they insisted that ISNAD was Iranian, then Russian, then composed of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, then, just Egyptians. “But we are Arab youth from across the region.”


What bothered the Israeli press so much?

Since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza, Israeli media has quoted many Israeli leaders and their unsupported claims. There is still no evidence for Israel’s claim that Hamas beheaded Israeli babies on October 7, 2023.

Israeli newspapers have accused ISNAD of “spreading false information that misleads public opinion.” Haaretz published claims that the campaign is “spreading misleading information in Israel” and that it is “supported by Iran and Russia,” whereas i24 News stated that ISNAD is the work of “thousands of volunteers affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in exile outside Egypt.”

Dowidar refutes these claims. “It is expected that Israel will attribute the campaign to a specific party or side, rather than recognize us as a group of independent Arab youth. At first, they insisted that we were Iranians, then Russians, then members of the Muslim Brotherhood, then just Egyptians. But we are Arab youth from across the region. Our management consists of several nationalities. I am Egyptian, so perhaps this informed the Israeli media perception. The fact that we are independent youth volunteers is what they find most concerning.”

All Arab youth are welcome to join the initiative with no prerequisites. They “don't care about country, color, affiliation, party, or religion.” The only requirements are the possession of a mobile phone and access to the internet. Dowidar is keen to emphasize that “ISNAD is an independent campaign, not affiliated or connected to any party or entity worldwide. It has no ideology, no political direction, and does not involve itself in the internal affairs of Arab countries. It consists of thousands of Arabic-speaking volunteers worldwide, not just Egyptians, and it is open to everyone. The slogan circulating by Israeli media that we 'play with their minds' is not our slogan. This is what they called us in Israel during their news coverage of the campaign.”

What next?

Hayder Hamzoz, founder of the INSM Foundation for Digital Rights, expressed to Raseef22, “The campaign will not face technical problems or account closures despite recent changes in policies adopted by social media companies. 'X' (formerly Twitter) now requires paid subscriptions for verification, significantly shifting away from unverified accounts in general. Previously, it emphasized the importance of proving that an account's identity matches that of its owner.” According to Hamzoz, this has led to a rise in fake accounts, both verified and unverified, on the platform.

The same applies to Facebook and Instagram. “Despite still insisting on verifying the identity of the account owner, they have followed the same policy as X, and have started authenticating accounts for a fee,” Hamzoz adds. “These policies might cause resentment in public figures, as users can be misled by impersonators.” However, for ISNAD, this is a great benefit and even a necessity for its continuity. “But once verification policies are applied, the campaign will come to an end with its accounts and will no longer be effective. The continuation of this campaign depends on platforms' awareness of what is happening and the implementation of any sudden policies, as happened in the early days of the events in Gaza when these platforms blocked content related to the Palestinian cause and imposed restrictions on specific words related to Palestine, and this happened suddenly without informing users that there had been a change in policies. Therefore, this theory is not unlikely or difficult to achieve.”

The campaign is meticulous in organizing its members' work. Dowidar explains, “Every day, hundreds of volunteers come forward, and we pass them on to specialized bots, give them membership numbers, before they are examined and selected. Next, they attend 'ISNAD Academy' or the 'preparatory academy' in order to be trained on how to deal with the Israeli community, create Hebrew accounts, and how to carry out tasks. Within two days, the volunteer completes this stage and becomes part of ISNAD.”

Youth initiatives in support of the Palestinian people may play a crucial and effective role in this war. Such campaigns and movements have gained massive popularity across the globe.

Artificial intelligence tools translate posts into Hebrew and other languages. ISNAD has a specialized technical team to guide individuals on how to handle posts, how to publish and disseminate, and how to process membership requests.

Asu Wahab, cybersecurity expert at the Cyber Cord project, believes that large technology companies began censoring Palestinian content before the war started. According to him, “As awareness increases and time passes, and as more light is shed on the campaign and more awareness is raised using technology, ISNAD will have a significant impact if it focuses on the human aspect of the Palestinian experience, in addition to targeting communities in their native languages to rally them against Israel's genocidal policies.”

“The work is voluntary. The absence of funding does not make a difference; they just need to apply specific dissemination strategies in order to reach the largest possible number of people,” Wahab shares.

Jihad Omar, a Libyan researcher, agrees with Wahab. However, he points out certain concerns, “The campaign engages in a kind of media war and employs methodologies of influence and deception. As an information auditor and fact-checker, I have some reservations. Participation requires giving up privacy on Telegram, such as having a clear profile picture and being on the receiving-end of calls and messages from anyone.”

Youth initiatives in support of the Palestinian people may play a crucial and effective role in this war. Such campaigns and movements have gained massive popularity across the globe, along with protest movements, student gatherings, and the efforts of human rights organizations, as well as condemning Israeli crimes through strikes, art, poetry, digital advocacy campaigns, debates, boycotts, and legal action.



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