The role of social media activism in the current struggle for Palestinian liberation

June 22, 2021
Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

In light of the ethnic cleansing and violent dispossession of Palestinians, social media activism has never been more important

By: Shehla Choudhary, Contributor

cw: genocide, ethnic cleansing, violence 

On May 16, nearly 1000 protestors gathered at Hamilton City Hall and marched through the downtown core. Similar demonstrations occurred in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square and Mississauga’s Celebration Square. These massive turnouts were facilitated by online advocacy, organized and advertised through social media outlets. 

The objective of the demonstrations, although constantly portrayed as an incredibly complex situation, is rather simple: to stop the violent and illegal evictions of Palestinians from their homes; to cease the relentless airstrikes resulting in the murder of Palestinian civilians; and to end the occupation of the current open-air prisons known as Palestinian territories.  

The situation escalated and garnered worldwide attention when earlier this month, eight Palestinian families joined the roster of forceful evictions in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in order to enable Israeli settlements that are illegal under international law. This area is accustomed to such occurrences, having seen similar displacements earlier in 2009. 

Demonstrations in protest of the expulsions quickly occurred throughout the neighbourhood and were immediately met with police violence. Despite warnings from Hamas promising consequences if Israel continued attacks in Sheikh Jarrah and east Jerusalem, this pattern of oppression further manifested through attacks on worshippers at Al Aqsa mosque. This involved excessive Israeli force using stun grenades, rubber bullets, live bullets and tear gas. Following Hamas’ rocket strikes, an 11-day onslaught of Israeli airstrikes was unleashed upon the occupied and blockaded Gaza strip, killing at least 248 Gazan civilians, including 66 children and wounding more than 1900. It is estimated that the rocket fire killed at least 12 people in Israel.  

Social media activism, commonly exercised through retweets on Twitter and story posts on Instagram, has gained traction throughout the past year. Sparked by the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, it has exponentially contributed to the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, but has also been met with criticism.

Social media activism brings with it concerns of “slacktivism,” otherwise known as performative activism, in which individuals share posts simply to appease followers, without taking any substantial actions to further the cause. While performative activism can be hurtful, as exemplified by worries of drowning informative posts under the BLM hashtag on #BlackoutTuesday, refraining from posting due to the fear of being perceived as “hopping on the bandwagon” is also deeply hindering. 

There is no denying the significance of material contributions. However, in the context of the current movement for Palestine, productive social media exposure is just as, if not more, important. What the Palestinian cause needs most at the moment is the sharing of infographics, videos and interviews that have led to conversations and protests, while directing the international gaze and scrutiny to Israel’s actions.  

"There is no denying the significance of material contributions. However, in the context of the current movement for Palestine, productive social media exposure is just as, if not more, important."

Shehla Choudhary

Palestinians have long argued that Western media consistently fails to accurately represent the ongoing apartheid inflicted upon Palestinians. Mainstream media’s misrepresentation of events paints the aforementioned issue as a conflict, a clash and a war. These words carry the implication of two equal parties engaged in an armed fight, avoiding the reality of state-sponsored Israeli militia with police officers occupying and attacking civilian men, women and children. 

This veiled journalism is not surprising, considering the strong allyship of North American countries with Israel. Examples can be seen through examining Canadian-Israeli arms sales and the $3.8 billion dollars of yearly military aid that the United States provides Israel. Portrayal of events in Palestine in Western media usually carries a one-sided and biased perspective. 

The coverage from Palestinians amounts to cell phone coverage of protests, bombings and police inflicted violence. In addition to social media posts by not only journalists and activists, the West also sees regular civilians currently enduring settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing. 

By resharing these posts and raising further awareness, social media has drawn attention to Palestinian activists such as Mohammed El-Kurd. El-Kurd has since been invited for interviews by many mainstream news organizations and successfully addressed their biases while providing an accurate picture of the situation in Sheikh Jarrah.  

Further illustrating the relevance of social media activism to this cause is Israel’s targeting of towers housing media offices in Gaza. Israel justifies its attacks on civilian residential buildings, hospitals and COVID-19 testing labs by citing alleged Hamas presence, often without providing evidence to back these claims. 

The demolition of the al-Jalaa tower and the al-Awqaf building, hosting multiple media offices, is yet another attempt to suppress Palestinian voices. These attacks, which many have urged the International Criminal Court to investigate as war crimes, are undoubtedly instigated by Israel’s failure to control the narrative due to overwhelming Palestinian support online. In light of these attacks, our responsibility to ensure that the voices of the oppressed are continued to be amplified through our social media platforms becomes increasingly evident. 

The issue of Palestinian apartheid, which has long been painted as historically intricate and irrelevant to a regular citizen in the West, has now become reframed as a human rights issue relevant to everyone. Infographics taking over Instagram and videos shared on Tiktok have allowed accessibility to content that clarifies Israel’s tactics to shut down these conversations, such as incorrectly equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism and using pinkwashing to dehumanize Palestinian victims. 

Consequently, these conversations have revealed the prevalence of Zionism in our social circles and opened the doors to debate that illustrates the problematic nature of taking a neutral stance. Remaining uneducated, ignorant and silent despite available and plentiful information, or using nonspecific language while refusing to condemn Israel is choosing the side of the oppressor. 

This shift in public perspective regarding the urgency of this matter has empowered people to ask questions. I have personally had multiple conversations with McMaster students hoping to learn more as a result of content shared to my social profiles. This exemplifies that resharing posts is not a passive display, but a medium for reaffirming true allyship.  

The impact of social media pressure in this struggle for liberation has already been witnessed: due to public scrutiny, Israel’s Supreme Court proceedings for the Sheikh Jarrah evictions have been postponed. Under the pressure of worldwide protests organized through social media outlets, various government officials, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, called for a ceasefire. 

However, the movement has not yet accomplished its goals. Despite agreeing to a ceasefire on May 21, Israeli forces continued with violent attacks on worshippers at Al Aqsa mosque in east Jerusalem. The ceasefire does not end the blockade of Gaza or the siege of Sheikh Jarrah. 

The ceasefire does not end the illegal Israeli occupation and settlements on land internationally recognized as Palestinian territory. The ceasefire does not end the displacements of individuals who can trace their entire lineage to Palestinian land. The ceasefire does not end the demolition and stealing of ancestral homes. The ceasefire does not end the decades-long apartheid. The need for continued social media activism, reshares and reposts, within the McMaster community and beyond, has never been more apparent. 

As of Wednesday, June 16, the ceasefire has been broken and Israel has launched airstrikes in the Gaza strip.


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