News / Middle East

#Gaza: Social Media Amplifies New Voice in Mideast Conflict

The war on the ground has quickly become an online battlefield on various social media platforms. This image taken from Twitter on July 30, 2014.
The war on the ground has quickly become an online battlefield on various social media platforms. This image taken from Twitter on July 30, 2014.

Maysoon Khatib's Facebook page is usually devoted to fun-filled images and anecdotes detailing her sometimes harried life as a mother of four children.

But lately, the Kentucky woman's social media posts have taken a somber turn. Instead of snapshots of her kids at summer camp, Khatib is sharing urgent messages about the destruction thousands of miles away in Gaza.

"When the bombing of Gaza began, I had two directions I could move in," said Khatib, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to a Palestinian father and a Brazilian mother. "I could act as if nothing is going on and post about the antics of my kids and my day, or use Facebook in a more constructive manner. I opted to do the latter."

Watch related video by VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem

War in Gaza Also Waged on the Interneti
Ayesha Tanzeem
August 01, 2014 9:27 PM
The war in Gaza is being waged as much on the Internet as it is on the ground. Some people claim the increased use of social media in this conflict -- compared to past ones -- is changing the way the war and its two sides are being perceived. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Washington.

Online war of words

Khatib is not alone.

Social media platforms have been flooded with conflicting opinions and information since Israel's offensive in Gaza began July 8.

The Israeli military says it has hit more than 4,100 sites in Gaza and that 1,566 of those sites were connected to rocket-launching. The military said 2,670 rockets and mortars have been fired toward Israel during that time.

More than 1,250 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians, according to the Gaza-based health ministry. Officials on the Israeli side report 53 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

Those numbers have sparked impassioned social media commentary on both sides, but it's difficult to calibrate whether the online war of words is having an impact.

A Gallup poll conducted July 22-23 found the American public is almost evenly split on whether Israel's actions against Hamas are justified; with 42 percent saying the actions are justified while 39 percent believe they are not. The difference between the two opinions is within the poll's margin of error of four percentage points.

The survey also found that a wide majority of young people – 51 percent – between the ages of 18 and 29 believe Israel's actions in Gaza are not justified, as compared to 25 percent who said the Jewish state's actions are justified.

Public engagement

Jed Shein, digital director of Israel's embassy in the United States, says he hasn't seen any evidence social media is negatively impacting public opinion against Israel in the U.S. and Europe.

"The people willing to comment and react on social media are the people that maybe are on the broader ends of each spectrum," he said. "The information that you might see on Twitter and on Facebook isn't necessarily totally reflective of the broader general opinion."

Nonetheless, Israel recognizes the importance of engaging in social media as part of its broader public diplomacy efforts.

"We're looking to reach out and engage with the public," Shein said. "Where are they getting their news and information? Can we meet them at that place and really make sure they understand where we're coming from?"

The PLO Delegation in Washington also maintains a social media presence, providing updates on its website and through Facebook and Twitter.

"We do have a social media presence and we are active," said a staff member. "We want to send out the message. We want to increase awareness, to give our side of the story."

Humanizing with real-time information

However, instead of influencing public opinion, the conflicting voices crowding onto social media could end up drowning each other out.

"I don't think social media users are making any great difference on the discourse on the Israel-Palestinian conflict," said Anand Varghese, who specializes in technology and peacebuilding at the United States Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan federal institution created and funded by the U.S. Congress. "The conversation is just as polarized and, on the margins, just as hate filled."

Varghese sees social media's real value in its role as an arm of a larger media infrastructure that's helping to humanize the issue. He points to the recent online publication of names of both the Palestinian and Israeli dead as a positive step.

"Real-time information from the field at such a granular level, that is something that has completely changed," he said. "When you see a picture of a Palestinian child who was killed, or of Israeli families tweeting in relief that their loved one wasn't killed, these are emotions we can identify with. It feels real. Whereas, so much of the other information we get from Gaza and Israel feels abstract."

Visual narrative

Those pictures of the death and destruction in Gaza are adding to a visual conversation that challenges the traditional Israeli narrative of Palestinians as terrorists and of associating all Palestinians with Hamas, according to social media expert Laila Shereen Sakr.

A PhD candidate in media arts and practice and researcher at the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, Sakr created a massive database of Arabic-language tweets during the Arab Spring. She used a computer program to aggregate data and identify patterns, and was lauded by the U.S. State Department for correctly predicting the fall of Tripoli.

Sakr says Instagram, the photo and video sharing platform, is the most active social platform in relation to Gaza right now.

"We are witnessing a shift in the discourse on Palestinians," said Sakr. "There's a movement to humanize them a little bit more and to recognize that they are being victimized."

Virtual body politic

While Sakr believes social media is impacting the Israel-Palestine conversation, she isn't certain where it will all lead.

"We are seeing the emergence of a virtual body politic," she said. "It has made an impact on the discourse, but we don't know whether it will have an impact on the outcome of the discourse."

Back in Kentucky, Khatib has a clear idea of what she hopes will result from her active social media presence.

"My goal is for my non-Arab friends to be exposed to what's going on so they can have an open heart," she said. "Ultimately, I hope they walk away with the understanding that there are two sides to every story."

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Comment Sorting
by: Broken Arrow from: Texas
August 07, 2014 5:31 PM
Unfortunately, the people in Palestine don't learn very easily and have to continue to repeat this process. I now that if Mexico was launching rockets into Texas there would be an ass whipping coming! Why is it that no other Arab country will take in the Palestinians???

by: Tyler from: Montreal
August 03, 2014 10:19 PM
The atrocities in Gaza is a disgrace for the world community and UN should deploy its peace keepers there and put pressure on Israel and its partner in crime Hamas to end the inhuman siege of the strip. Gaza is currently a modern day Concentration Camp. Let people of Palestine live a dignified life. May the humanity prevail.

by: Cosby
August 01, 2014 3:13 PM
There is a need for some people to pause and think why Israel has taken this action in Gaza. War on this scale is absolute hell but Hamas initiated it with their rockets, tunneling and shootings.
Hamas has also used the Gaza population as a "shield" and humanitarian appeal to the world. Those far away, from the front line have lost touch with reality and the Israeli people, just like the UN has lost touch in Syria and Africa, where thousands of people have lost their lives at the hands of dictators and remain free to this very day - shocking does not even begin to describe it, but the facts speak for themselves.
In Response

by: Juke from: Canada
August 02, 2014 5:19 PM
What a bunch of crap. The Palestinian people have to deal with the brutalization from Israel for years and years. Under siege, occupation, apartheid … how can you justify the killing of 1400+ almost 300 children. It is disgusting. They had tunnels in Warsaw. Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist. William Wallace was portrayed as evil - what do they have in common? It is so heartbreaking to see trolls like you defending these atrocities. Shame on you. If another country came to yours - stealing your land, killing your people, checkpoints, controlling the amount of food and meds entering - would you fight back?? Oh, wait - you're most likely American, you've already done that. I'm SO VERY proud to be Scottish!!!!

by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
August 01, 2014 12:47 AM
Not Again from Canada, I told VOA and the world Hamas was playing TV politics, now it has caught up with them. If you put your rockets in civilians area and fired at Israel, Israel will fired back, They know that. The UN knew there were rockets in that building. When Israel to the UN about the rockets in the UN school compound, what did the UN do with those rockets? the UN give those rockets back to Hamas to fired at Israeli civilians. This thing is very simple, tell your Hamas to stop storing their rockets in mosques, in school, and the UN building, then we will not have this problem. I saw it coming, I told VOA, the US, and the UN need to stop Hamas, or else Israel will level Gaza. Your see what Israel did to Lebanon in 2006? I told your this was going to happen, I told your this was going to happen, No country will sit there and another country or rebels fired rockets into their country. that will not happen. In as much Ukraine is weak and cannot fight Russia, but yet and still they are defending the sovereignty.
Like I said I am sorry for what has happened to the Gazans, But they should blame Hamas. not Israel. Hamas know very well they cannot fight Israel, why they kept firing at Israel position? the Iran that they depends on, Iran has to think twice before she fire at Israel Position. Iran is scare of Israel. I give you four instances
(1) In 2008 Sept When the Iranians scientists and north Korean were building Syria nuclear reactor, Israel bomb it, the Iranian scientists and North Korean died in the blast, what did Iran do? nothing. It was the good chance for them to fight Israel (2) This was last year, when Syria had the weaponry on its way to Lebanon, The Iranians General and some of Hezbollah fighters were in that convoy, Israel bomb them, they all died in it. It was a good chance for Iran to fight Israel. (3) Last years Iranian ship had stock packs of arms that were heading to Gaza, Israel seize the ship, flying Iranian flag on it. it was the good chance for Iran to fight Israel, Iran had arms depot in Mali, Bamako, Israel flew over its enemies air space, went to Bamako, Mali and bomb it. It was the good chance for Iran to fight Israel. Iran is using the Gazan people died. Iran need to be held accountable for their actions. Iran knows she cannot strikes Israel. I don't care what anybody write, Iran cannot strike Israel. If Iran could defeat Israel. long time ago, Iran would have. But she know wazz Up. God Bless Israel

by: Not Again from: Canada
July 31, 2014 2:46 PM
The truth is coming out of Gaza, European reporters were threatened on trying to report the truth= Hams is using civilian shields, Hamas is firing from/near neutral zones, it is firing from marketplaces; Hamas' rockets are misfiring, as one would expect at least a 10% failure rate; misfired rocket killed children at playground, European reporter was threatened for attempting to report the occurrence at the playground; reporters from international media are having to leave Gaza, so that they can report the truth.

It is a bad situation in Gaza, Hamas is behaving badly just like all other terrorist organizations. This is all bad news for the people of Gaza.
Hamas has fired nearly 3000 projectiles into Israel, at a low misfire rate of 10%, over 300 rockets could be predicted to have misfired. Usually such crude rockets misfire immediately upon launch, a proportion, probably about 25 % misfire into their climb, falling right back. potentially about 65-80 rockets fell back on Gaza. All in all it is clearly a bad situation for the civilians.
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
July 31, 2014 7:49 PM
THE WISE MAN said it;... No one can question the bravery of the defenseless innocent unarmed Palestinian civilians, (who day after day), withstood the full overwhelming firepower of the Israeli military armed forces assault, (on unarmed helpless Palestinian civilians), that rivals the most brutal bloody sieges, in the modern history of the world..... It's unbelievable that the Palestinians still are defiant, and stand with unbroken spirits with Hamas, against the brutal apartheid occupation the Israeli's have imposed on them.... (Israel has lost that myth of invincibility, while Hamas becomes legendary).... and the legend grows..

by: meanbill from: USA
July 31, 2014 9:51 AM
The Israeli's use the excuse of not wanting to kill innocent Palestinian civilians for not fighting Hamas in Gaza city, (and then), the Israeli's sit back in safety, and kill those same innocent unarmed Palestinian civilians, who they claimed Hamas was hiding behind, don't they? The Israeli's are going to kill those innocent unarmed Palestinian civilians no matter what, (but), it's far safer for the Israeli's to kill the innocent unarmed civilians from a safe distance, (than), go into Gaza and fight Hamas in a ground war, and end up killing some of those innocent unarmed Palestinian civilians by accident.... (It seems Israel just lacks courage, and killing innocent unarmed Palestinian civilians, is safer than fighting Hamas militants)..
In Response

by: Shaun Hilts
July 31, 2014 11:36 AM
I find it funny all of the anti-Israel press that is going on. Everyone is up in arms about how Israel is bullying Palestine. How about hamas firing rockets into Israel? How about the 3 teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered for no reason? There has been a war going on over there since Israel was founded back in 1948, and there will continue to be war as long as Israel is attacked.

As far as Israel not engaging in ground war, haven't you been paying attention? They are in Gaza right now...they are mobilizing another 16,000 troops to supplement their forces. Before you post a baseless claim do a little research.

As far as this woman goes, she is siding with a country that is allowing a terrorist organization to operate within their borders. If Palestine wanted, they could oust hamas, but they don't. They continue to let them operate, and "ask" them to stop....Gaza needs to be freed alright, freed from hamas....once they are gone, things will quiet down....

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