Global Voices – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 28 May 2024 02:25:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.10 Is Israel’s War on Gaza destabilizing Egypt? https://www.juancole.com/2024/05/israels-destabilizing-egypt.html Tue, 28 May 2024 04:06:27 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=218791 By Haneen Shoukry | –

( Globalvoices.org ) – On Tuesday, April 23, protesters in Cairo were detained while participating in a peaceful demonstration in support of women in Sudan and Gaza. Ironically, this event coincided with Sinai Liberation Day, a public holiday celebrating the return of the Sinai Peninsula from Israel to Egypt.

The detentions were anticipated, given Egypt’s history of suppressing protests since 2013, under President Abdeh Fattah el-Sisi. This is not the first time that activists have been arrested for showing support for Palestine since the conflict began last October. In early April, demonstrators assembled outside the Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo to denounce the Zionist aggression towards Palestine. The government accused the protesters of spreading false information and of belonging to a terror group — accusations that are used in almost every instance of the government suppressing free speech.

In this most recent wave of arrests, the protestors were all women, protesting in solidarity with women in conflict zones. Among the protesters were well-known figures in Egyptian revolutionary society, such as Eman Ouf, Rasha Azab, Mahienour El-Masry, Ragia Omran‌ and Lobna Darwish. The feminist activists involved assembled outside the regional headquarters of UN Women in Cairo, which is responsible for promoting gender equality and empowering women as a United Nations entity.

The detainees were released the day after their arrest.

The human cost of Gaza’s blockade

Despite expressing disapproval of Israel’s repeated public statements about relocating displaced Gazans to Egypt, and requesting greater assistance from the US in securing the border, Cairo has not taken direct action against the Israeli aggression since it started, over six months ago. This has led to significant frustration and resentment among Egyptians.

Although it claims otherwise, Egypt has played a role in the blockade on Gazans. The majority of those who have been able to cross the borders hold dual citizenship in both Palestine and Egypt. Others have had to gather an exorbitant amount of money in order to leave, due to the actions of Ibrahim Al-Organi, a leader of a government-approved militia in the Sinai region. Since the start of the Gaza war, Al-Organi has had significant control over the movement of people and goods between Gaza and Egypt through his companies. One of these companies, Hala, charges Palestinians thousands of dollars to help them leave Gaza. It has strong ties to the Egyptian security forces.

Video: Students at American University in Cairo Protest for Gaza

A majority of Arabs generally regard Israel as a representation of tyranny. Egyptians have voiced their disapproval towards their government for granting Israel any control in the transportation of crucial aid into Gaza through an Egyptian border crossing. Sisi fears the boomerang effect, as speaking out about the Palestinian issue during protests might motivate the public to rally against him, which did in fact occur last October.

State-controlled protests?

In October, Sisi’s authoritarian regime allowed the public to express their frustrations, by calling on people to gather in the streets. However, demonstrators soon moved to Tahrir Square, the iconic site of the 2011 Egyptian revolution and the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

According to an article by The Tahrir Institute For Middle East Policy on December 12, 2023:

State-controlled media called on people to congregate in certain locations on October 20, to show support both for Gaza and the president. However, at least one of the demonstrations strayed from this state-approved scenario, as it made its way to the iconic Tahrir Square, after starting at Al Azhar Mosque. Videos of the demonstrations showed police trying, to no avail, to prevent people from reaching Tahrir Square. It was the first time demonstrations had reached the iconic square in 10 years.

Following the demonstrations, the Egyptian authorities unlawfully arrested and charged numerous peaceful protesters.

The people of Egypt stand firmly behind Palestine and the movement for Palestinian liberation. As an 89-year-old grandmother from Alexandria told Raseef 22:

The Palestinian cause runs in our blood. I watched The Nakba unfold in my youth, and I was left confused about why there were masses of people crying on our streets. It wasn’t until I grew up that I truly understood the ugliness of it all. I saw what the occupation was capable of after I saw my brother-in-law return from war in 1967, bloodied and in ripped clothes, only to enter his room and start hysterically crying.

The erosion of artistic freedoms

As Cairo tightens its grip on pro-Palestine protests, the influence of state control extends beyond the streets and into the very heart of Egyptian cultural life, notably impacting the once vibrant landscape of cinema.

Once a cinematic powerhouse in the Middle East and North Africa, in ‌recent years, Egyptian cinema has died. El-Sisi founded the United Media Services Company, which oversees all creative, TV, and news production in the country. It is under the control of the General Intelligence Agency, giving the military a significant impact on artistic creation.

Before this, many iconic examples of Egyptian film and television touched on the Palestinian issue.

One of the most well-known films in contemporary Egyptian cinema that addresses the Palestinian conflict is “El Sefara Fel Omara.” This film follows the journey of Sharif Khairi, who is compelled to come back to Egypt after two decades of working for an oil company in Dubai. To his surprise, he finds out that the Israeli embassy is situated right next to his apartment. Initially, he attempts to sell the property, but his unsuccessful attempts lead him to handle the situation in a different manner.

Through the lens of Egyptian cinema, the Palestinian cause has been a recurrent theme, resonating deeply within the cultural fabric of the nation. Films like “El Sefara Fel Omara” have not only depicted the struggles of Palestinians but have also served as a platform for exploring themes of justice, resistance, and solidarity. As Hossam El-Hamalawy articulates in an article for Spectre Journal, the cause is deeply ingrained in the cultural identity of many Egyptians:

The Egyptian regime’s position is understandable if one takes into consideration how the powers in Cairo perceive the Palestinians: as a source of threat, instability, and inspiration for Egyptians to revolt. The Palestinian cause has always been a radicalizing factor for the Egyptian public. Most, if not all, turning points in the history of dissent of the most populous Arab nation were, either directly or indirectly, the product of a chain reaction triggered by Palestinian resistance and popular mobilization.

The recent crackdown on pro-Palestine demonstrations underscores not only the government’s determination to quell any opposition but also its reluctance to openly challenge Israeli aggression. This suppression of free expression reverberates throughout Egyptian society, touching even the cultural sphere, where historic solidarity with Palestine in films has also declined under el-Sisi’s regime.

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Written byRaseef22

This post by Haneen Shoukry was first published by Raseef 22 on May 8, 2024. An edited version is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement. Our MENA team added the links to provide further clarification.

Via Globalvoices.org

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Israeli Violations against Journalists in Palestinian West Bank Multiply https://www.juancole.com/2024/05/violations-journalists-palestinian.html Mon, 06 May 2024 04:06:38 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=218422

The perilous reality for West Bank journalists under Israeli occupation

Written by Natacha Danon

More than 100 journalists in Gaza have been killed by Israel since it launched its deadly war on the strip, following Hamas’s incursion into Israeli soil on October 7, 2023. Reporters Without Borders has filed multiple complaints with the International Criminal Court to investigate “intentional homicides” of several Gazan journalists.

But with all eyes on Gaza, violations against journalists in the West Bank have multiplied. Israel now ranks sixth among the top countries for jailed journalists, tied with Iran. Over the past seven months, 52 journalists have been detained, all but two in the West Bank, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) told Global Voices. Nearly all are being held without trial or charge under Israeli military law.

Women journalists are among those detained. “Israeli forces don’t differentiate between women and men as journalists in the field,” Aziza Nofal, a Palestinian journalist based in Ramallah, told Global Voices. A freelance journalist with Al Jazeera English, she also works with Reporters Without Borders to document violations against Palestinian journalists. Women journalists in detention are routinely threatened with rape by the Israeli security forces, she said. 

One journalist who spoke to Global Voices, Sojoud Aasi, was detained in October. Two months pregnant at the time, she was manhandled and strip searched multiple times “in a very humiliating manner,” she said. “I was denied the right to change my clothes, get my medications, or even go to the bathroom.”

Israeli forces also threatened to hurt her seven-year old daughter and kill her husband. Her husband, also a journalist, is currently in detention. “He is subjected to severe torture, while being deprived of his most basic rights, like other detainees in Israeli prisons,” she said.

Rights organizations have decried the use of torture and other forms of inhuman treatment in Israeli prisons, while UN experts have “expressed alarm over credible allegations of egregious human rights violations” against Palestinian women and girls, including sexual assault.

Another journalist, Bushra al-Tawil, has been arrested five times for her work, which is focused on Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, Nofal said. Most recently, al-Tawil was arrested in March, and remains under administrative detention to date. According to eyewitnesses, she was beaten by the Israeli intelligence forces in her home as she was being detained. 

A third journalist, Asmaa Harish, has been under house arrest for the last six months. “The Israeli forces have banned her from using social media or even making calls,” Nofal added.   

A mural on the separation wall in Bethlehem in tribute to Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead by the Israeli army in the West Bank city of Jenin. Photo by Dan Palraz via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0.

In addition to detentions, West Bank journalists also face restrictions on freedom of movement and outright violence by the Israeli army and armed settlers. 

Mohammed Samir Abed, a correspondent for Al Quds News Network, and his six colleagues experienced this violence first hand when they came under direct fire from the Israeli army on January 4. They had been documenting clashes between the Israeli army and Palestinian factions in Sir, a town south of Jenin. 

After the clashes concluded, “we wanted to leave and all of a sudden there were gunshots…we were shot at directly,” despite wearing their press jackets, Abed told Global Voices. Footage he captured during the incident shows him and his colleagues sheltering from gunfire fired from Israeli military vehicles nearby. 

Jihad Barakat, a Ramallah-based reporter for Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, has also been shot at multiple times while reporting. “At any moment a soldier might forbid you from photographing…or fire tear gas or rubber bullets,” he told Global Voices. At other times they are live bullets, as in the case of the 2022 killing of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Aqleh by the Israeli army in Jenin.

Every day, journalists in the West Bank risk their lives and experience a myriad of violations to document and expose the Israeli occupation — with a significant psychological toll. 

Restrictions on freedom of movement

In addition to violence at the hands of the Israeli army, West Bank journalists are confronted with settler violence. “There are a lot of settler attacks all across the West Bank. We have difficulties moving from one place to another, it’s very dangerous,” Nofal said.

Since the war started, there have been over 600 settler attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank, according to the UN. Nine people have been killed during these attacks, in addition to the nearly 400 people killed by the Israeli army as of early March.

Since October, the Israeli government has issued over 100,000 gun licenses — with the highest rates of arms among illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The government has weighed arming certain West Bank settlements with anti-tank missiles

Journalists’ freedom of movement has also been heavily restricted by the establishment of dozens of new checkpoints and confinement of entire villages since the war broke out. “Now I can’t move from Jenin to Nablus because of the presence of checkpoints,” Abed said. The two West Bank cities are 40 kilometers away from each other.

When passing through checkpoints, Abed uses his personal ID rather than his journalist ID, which is issued by the Palestinian Authority — the nominal governing body in the West Bank. He does so “out of fear of being delayed, or detained at any moment for covering the crimes of the occupation.” 

In 2000, Israeli press cards were definitively denied for West Bank journalists. Without them, it takes them significantly longer to pass through Israeli checkpoints. Checkpoints can take hours to pass through to travel small distances.

Once on site, journalists’ movement is heavily restricted by the Israeli army. “Army vehicles come in close proximity to obstruct us,” Abed said, showing a video of an armored vehicle honking and rolling towards him and his colleagues in Jenin last December. 

Israel has also sent a clear deterrent message to journalists through past and recent killings of Palestinian journalists, both in the West Bank and in Gaza.

Psychological toll

While there has been a sharp uptick in attacks on journalists during the war, “violations against Palestinian journalists are a continuation, not a result of October 7,” Walid Batrawi, a journalist from Ramallah who now serves on the board of the International Press Institute, told Global Voices. 

In 2022, the Israeli army and security forces committed at least 479 violations against journalists.

Although these crimes are well documented by local and international bodies, impunity prevails. “When the soldier who shot Shireen Abu Aqleh was identified, he evaded punishment, which means everything will repeat itself,” Batrawi explained.

In the absence of the rule of law, fear is rampant. “There is perpetual fear and uncertainty as to if he puts ‘press’ on his car, is he protected or a target?,” he added. The International Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating the intentional targeting and murder of a dozen journalists by the Israeli army. 

Israeli forces use fear and intimidation to “silence every free voice in the West Bank,” Aasi said. “It’s part of an attempt to impose self-censorship.”

“You might be the target of the next bullet, this is something that stays with Palestinian journalists. When I leave the house, I’m counting on the fact I may not return,” Abed said.

Collective punishment is also a source of widespread fear. “Not only journalists have become targets, their families have become targets. This impacts every Palestinian journalist,” Barakat said. 

The psychological costs are high. “I’m afraid I won’t get home to my three children. I’m afraid something will happen, I feel I can’t control my life,” said Nofal. “Our trauma affects our social lives, our relationships with the people around us.” 

But with time, death becomes normalized. “Every day I photograph funerals. I’ve started to fear that if I lose someone I love I won’t feel the loss, it has become something normal for me,” Abed said. 

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Written byNatacha Danon
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Israeli Violence against Palestinian Children is rooted in Viewing them all as Dangerous Adults https://www.juancole.com/2024/05/violence-palestinian-dangerous.html Wed, 01 May 2024 04:04:01 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=218327
Written by Safa
 
 

A playground in the West Bank. Picture taken by Justin McIntosh, August 2004. Wikimedia Commons. (CC-BY-2.0).

( Globalvoices.org ) – Since Israel’s latest aggression on Gaza began in October — described as  “a mass assassination factory — the literal and actual dehumanization of Palestinians has intensified. UNICEF has labeled Gaza “a graveyard for children” and “a living hell,” as a result of Israel’s severe and unrelenting attacks. 

UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese referred to the ‘deliberate unchilding from birth’ of Palestinians under Israel’s “forever occupation” which has caused “never-ending harm” to the population. However,  Israeli violence against Palestinian children is not a recent phenomenon. 

‘Unchilding’ Palestinians for generations 

At least 14,500 Palestinian children have been killed by Israel since October 7.  However, Israel’s abuses against Palestinian children before this war had already been thoroughly documented. Journalist Chris Hedges detailed violence by Israelis against Palestinian children in Gaza in his 2002 book War is a force that gives us meaning:

Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered […] but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport. […] ‘We all threw rocks,’ said ten-year-old Ahmed Moharb. ‘Over the loudspeaker the soldier told us to come to the fence to get chocolate and money. Then they cursed us. Then they fired a grenade. We started to run. They shot Ali in the back. I won’t go again. I am afraid.’

Palestinian scholar Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian — whose work focuses on trauma, state crimes and criminology, surveillance, gender violence, law and society and genocide studies — first coined the term “unchilding” in 2019, to critically examine the use of Palestinian children as leverage for political goals.  

Middle East Monitor reported that from 2000–2020, “3,000 children have been killed by Israeli occupation forces. Some were killed in front of the lenses of international media, including 11 year-old Muhammad Al-Durrah.” In 2021, Defence for Children International also highlighted Israel’s targeting of Palestinian children and Human Rights Watch noted a spike in Palestinian children killed by Israelis in the West Bank in August 2023.

Save the Children reported in 2020, 2022, and mid-2023 on Israel’s systematic punitive abuses and in-custody traumatization of Palestinian children, including strip searching. They stated that “the most common charge brought against children is stone throwing, for which the maximum sentence is 20 years.” 

Defense for Children International found that the majority of children prosecuted from 2013 to 2018 experienced abuse by Israelis while in custody. Ahmad Manasra became well known for spending his entire teenage years in prison, including two years in solitary confinement, leading to severe psychological deterioration. According to The Guardian, Israel’s mass incarceration of Palestinian children represents “a hidden universe of suffering that touched nearly every Palestinian home.”

Caption: Sign from a peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstration in Berlin on December 2, 2023. Photo by the author, used with permission.

News media’s role in furthering the denial of Palestinian childhood

Two articles by The Guardian’s Jason Burke, published on November 22 and 23, illustrate the denial of Palestinian childhood portrayed across news media. Burke noted in both articles, “the [Israeli] hostages to be freed are women and children, and the Palestinian prisoners are also women and people aged 18 and younger.”

The use of divergent language within the same article to refer to children parallels the die” versus “kill” hierarchy, which is used to downplay Palestinian versus Israeli fatalities in news media.

The Guardian articles followed an intense period marked by derogatory racist comments, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks in October, where he called  Palestinians the “children of darkness” and “human animals.” 

The Guardian is not the only news agency to employ divergent, vague or otherwise imprecise language when referencing Palestinian children and babies. The Associated Press has referred to Palestinian children as “minors,” Sky News has described a 4 year-old as a “young lady,” and The Washington Post has used the term “fragile lives” instead of saying “premature babies.” Scanning the archived New York Times top headlines daily from November 22 to December 3 reveals barely a hint of Palestinian victims, certainly not reflecting the mass number of child fatalities that occurred during that period.

After publication, The Guardian amended both of the aforementioned articles to refer to Palestinians under 18 as “children.” In a note at the bottom of the articles to explain the change, they wrote, “Any insensitivity in the earlier expression was unintentional.” 

Queer Jewish influencer Matt Bernstein (mattxiv) stated on Instagram: “When we allow ourselves to view Palestinians as anything less than full human beings […] we become complicit in our own moral bankruptcy.”

The language used in news reporting is crucial to communicating key details to readers. A 2016 Columbia University study found that 59 percent of  shared links “went unclicked, and presumably unread,” underscoring the significance of news headlines in delivering information and influencing audiences. The words used in social media previews — such as the title and tagline — are critical for those who don’t read past the headlines to grasp the extent of the situation. 

Sign from a peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstration in Berlin on November 4, 2023. Quote is from Save the Children. Photo by the author. Used with permission.

Racialized children at high risk

The denial of childhood is not exclusive to Palestinians, and  valuable insights can be gained by examining other racialized groups also subjected to significant violence. 

In the United States, Black children are six times more likely than white children to be shot and killed by police. High-profile cases like the murders of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin, 16 year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, and 12 year-old Tamir Rice illustrate the excessive risk Black children face in their daily lives. 

Researcher Alisha Nguyen explains:

To justify dehumanizing treatment against Black children, White logic affirms that Black children are less innocent and therefore, should receive less protection and do not deserve the same level of tolerance compared to White children.

Rice was later described by Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association president Steve Loomis as “a 12-year-old in an adult body” as a means of justifying the excessive force used by the police officer who assassinated the sixth-grader.

Similar to the comments made by Loomis, there have been attempts to justify the murder of Palestinian children. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated in radio interviews and on X on November 30, “There are no innocents in Gaza.” President Isaac Herzog shared the same sentiment.

There are no innocents in Gaza.

As activist and educator Wagatwe Wajuki said on X:

If you wonder why Black people identify with the fight for Palestinian liberation: the white media’s refusal to see our children as children resonates. […] Under white supremacy, childhood is racialized because they associate childhood with innocence and only white children are deemed innocent.

Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz of the children killed by Israel:

No explanation, no justification or excuse could ever cover up this horror. It would be best if Israel’s propaganda machine didn’t even try to. […] Horror of this scope has no explanation other than the existence of an army and government lacking any boundaries set by law or morality.

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Echos of our Lost Home in Gaza https://www.juancole.com/2024/03/echos-lost-home.html Sun, 24 Mar 2024 04:02:05 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=217727

A Palestinian family’s journey from the 1948 Beit Tima massacres to Gaza

By Haneen Abo Soad | –

The author’s four-generation land and home were destroyed by Israeli F16 rockets in January, reducing it to rubble. Photo provided by the author, used with permission. 

( Globalvoices.org ) – On January 12, a message arrived from my sister in Gaza, bearing the devastating news: our parents’ home, a sanctuary of memories, had been razed by Israeli F16 rockets, reducing our beloved home to rubble. 

This is no ordinary house. Within its walls, I took my first uncertain steps, and my laughter and tears echoed through its very foundations. It was sacred ground, where I grew up alongside my beloved siblings, cocooned in a world of love and safety. 

As the weight of this heartbreaking news settled upon me, a storm of rage and frustration brewed within, threatening to consume my very being. Later that day, as more details unfolded, the magnitude of the loss sank in even deeper.

Like most Palestinians, we lived in close proximity to our grandparents and uncles, tending to our land and cherishing our communal bonds. The bomb that shattered my parent’s home also reduced my grandparents’ humble abode to rubble, a dwelling fashioned from straw and clay over seven decades ago. They had built this sanctuary with their own hands, a symbol of resilience and hope forged in the aftermath of escaping the horrors of the massacres in their village, Bayt Tima. 

In October 1948, Bayt Tima fell victim to occupation during the brutal Operation Yoav by the Givati Brigade, a Zionist gang marching south and massacring villagers along its path. Bayt Tima, once a peaceful village, became the target of aerial and artillery bombardment, forcing a large exodus of refugees. 

Despite the falaheen’s (“villagers”) brave resistance against the Negev Brigade, another Zionist gang that attempted to occupy the village as early as February 1948, even before the Nakba, the Givati Brigade eventually prevailed. Their onslaught claimed the lives of 20 villagers, destroyed the main source of water, and demolished the central granary, striking at the heart of our community’s sustenance and spirit.

Devastated and heartbroken, the Indigenous people of Bayt Tima, who had learnt about other massacres across our beloved Palestine, including the Deir Yaseen Massacre, feared for their lives and those of their families. They were displaced to Gaza. 

The tragedy of loss

In their effort to survive and rebuild their lives amidst the trauma and upheaval of forced relocation, my family purchased the land in Gaza and built the house. My grandmother often recalled the fear, uncertainty, and profound sense of loss of that period, but above all, the grief that was most unbearable. 

During the cruel and harsh journey, the family lost many of their relatives from the village, including one of their children, my uncle, baby Mohammed, who died on the way, fleeing to Gaza. 

My grandmother often recounted the story of my uncle Mohammed, each retelling was a testament to the pain that refused to let go: 

“When we were fleeing for safety, I sometimes carried Mohammed on my back and sometimes his father did. He was just 8 months old. We walked for many hours, stopping occasionally under a tree to rest and breastfeed. One of these times, he did not respond to my voice when I tried to wake him up. 

I called his father over to check on our child. When he saw him, he said, “Allah Yirhamoh,” (“May God have mercy on him”). I screamed ‘No, no! Not Mohammed.’ My breasts were full of milk for the baby that will never drink it, and my heart was crying for a young man that will never be. 

I held him high and prayed to God with a burning heart, ‘Ya Allah, ya Allah.’ I clung tight to my beloved Mohammed for more than six hours, unable to let go or believe what had happened. But when I finally found the strength to let go, his father dug a grave for him, somewhere along the road, under a tree, and we returned him to our mother, the earth. 

I pleaded with the earth to treat him kindly. He was a sweet child. I asked her to be gentle with him, for she had taken the most precious thing I owned — the soul of my soul.

We barely had a few minutes to say goodbye, when the Israeli gangs started getting closer and shooting at us. They took away everything from us, even our final goodbye.”

Olive trees and ancestral bonds

My family made it to Gaza, where they remained on this land for over 70 years. 

They planted many olive trees, intertwining their roots with those of the trees, forming connection with their ancestors who lived and died on this land for thousands of years. They worked the land for most of their lives, growing their own vegetables and fruit, and raising goats and chickens to sell at the local market. 

Over the years, their connection to the land in Gaza deepened, all the while holding onto the dream of one day returning home. My grandmother kept the key to her home in Beit Tima hanging from a necklace close to her heart, until she passed away in 2016.

The home was alive with family gatherings and occasions. This photo was taken during one such gathering in the summer of 2021. Most of the photos of the house were destroyed in that airstrike, erasing the family’s memories. Photo provided by the author, used with permission.

Their home was a vessel that nurtured generations. It began with them raising their children, and as time passed, my uncles and father built their own houses around my grandparents’ home. Together, we formed three generations of a Palestinian refugee family.

Now the fourth generation, which includes my children and my sister’s children, has experienced life on that land. The home stood as a testament to our somoud (“resilience”) in the face of oppression and the enduring bond we share with our ancestral land. 

That house was the heart of our family, beating with every family gathering, birthday celebration, late-night laughter, and star-gazing session when there was no electricity.  It witnessed our weddings and funerals, holding the essence of our lives. 

When I reflect on all these moments, my heart shatters. The bombs not only destroyed our land and houses but also shattered our hopes and soulful memories. Our cherished moments captured in photographs, our books, our beds, our roof, and our beautiful olive tree field — all destroyed.  

Memories and trauma in Gaza

The deep-rooted trauma of war and displacement has been a constant in our lives in Gaza. I have experienced four major aggressions on Gaza, having lived there until I left five years ago. Many times, bombs fell near our home, and we lived through the horrors of explosions and the fear of losing our lives. 

I vividly remember the 2008 war on Gaza when Israeli airplanes bombed someone who was walking past our home. We were inside when the whole house shook, and smoke filled all the rooms, choking us. Terrified and unsure where to go, we decided to go outside, only to find the burned, lifeless body of the man who was targeted. It was my first time seeing a burned body. 

As we ran to my uncle’s house a few meters away, the bombing started again. One of my sisters was injured by a piece of burning debris, screaming in pain. How can we ever overcome such memories? 

What affects me most is the targeting of the olive trees. what have the olive trees done? My grandmother planted them over 70 years ago. Four generations of my family have endured the atrocities of occupation and lived under colonial rule.

This knowledge is carried in our bodies. The atrocities we endured are imprinted in our DNA and will be inherited by our children and grandchildren for generations to come.

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A Dictionary for Understanding the War on Gaza https://www.juancole.com/2024/03/dictionary-understanding-gaza.html Wed, 06 Mar 2024 05:04:34 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=217420

How linguistic warfare manipulates narratives in the ongoing Gaza conflict

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Israel’s War on the Bodies of Palestinian Women https://www.juancole.com/2024/02/israels-bodies-palestinian.html Tue, 20 Feb 2024 05:04:58 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=217185

Palestinian women prisoners are subjected to torture, abuse, beatings and threats of rape

Read this post in українська

 


Freed Palestinian prisoner Ruba Assi was welcomed as a hero upon her release in the prisoner exchange deal last November. Screenshot from a video by medyascope english. Fair use.

This article is written by Hala Al Zuheiri, and was originally published in Raseef22 An edited version is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

“They took me and my daughter to a room inside the house, and they brought in a female soldier with a police dog. She ordered us to undress completely. We did. I acted blind, deaf, and mute so that they would not beat my son,” Suhad Al-Khamour, 49, from the Dheisheh refugee camp south of Bethlehem, tells Raseef22.

In late November, Suhad’s home was surrounded by a large number of heavily armed Israeli occupation forces (IOF), who then stormed it and destroyed its contents. Suhad, a mother to three sons and a daughter, spoke with Raseef22 about how the armed soldiers kept her husband and son in the living room while she and her daughter were taken into the bedroom at gunpoint and trailed by a guard dog. Suhad and her daughter were forced to undress before redressing and quickly leaving the house. They went out barefoot, waiting in the cold for the questioning of her husband and her son, Mohammad, 26, to conclude. When they came out, the IOF took her son with them, only to release him two hours later.

On December 4, the IOF raided Suhad’s home again before taking Mohammad to Ofer Prison, near Ramallah. This is not Suhad’s first violent targeting by the occupation forces. Her son Ibrahim, 20, is detained at Nafha Prison, where he is completing a 5-year sentence, whereas her son Omar, 14, died in early 2023, after he was shot in the head by occupation forces. Rona, 24, is the only one of Suhad’s children still with her at home, although her psychological condition is rapidly deteriorating.

Suhad is just one of hundreds of women who have been arrested or have had family members arrested in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, and subjected to various forms of humiliation and violence.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners Club and the Commission of Detainees’ Affairs, about 300 female prisoners were arrested in 2023, including 184 after October 7, 2023. 

Since October 7, Israel has escalated its campaign of illegal arrests and its targeting of women’s bodies through torture, abuse, strip searches, forcefully removing veils, in addition to starvation, depriving them of basic needs, and detaining them in harsh conditions in prisons and compounds. 

Testimonies from Gazan female prisoners similarly reveal use of the same tools of humiliation. Many civilians have been forcibly taken prisoner by occupation forces, and their whereabouts are still unknown.

Reinforcing the occupation by violating the body

Ruba Assi was released on November 28, 2023, in the fifth part of the prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel. Assi spoke with Raseef22 about her arrest after October 7. It was significantly more violent and humiliating than her first arrest and detention in 2020, which lasted for 21 months.

Shortly after the start of the war on Gaza, the IOF blew open the door of Assi’s house in the town of Beit Liqia, west of Ramallah, in the West bank, and stormed inside. Family members were separated into different rooms, and Assi was arrested without being allowed to say goodbye to her family or even wear a jacket. 

Occupation forces tied and blindfolded her, before dragging her into a military vehicle. The female soldier assigned to her spoke loudly and aggressively in Hebrew, intentionally provoking her. She also threatened to send her to Gaza to torture her there. After Assi arrived at the Israeli camp, still bound and blindfolded, a group of soldiers approached her, taunting her and insulting her.

She was later transferred to the Hasharon Detention Center, where she was subjected to a strip search by two female guards. “If the prisoner refuses [the search], she will be severely beaten,” Assi explained. Eventually, Assi was placed in solitary confinement at Damon Prison. She shared:

There was not enough food or water. We were deprived of bathing and subjected to violent oppression without any prior justification and at any time. We were deliberately neglected in terms of medical care, and existing health conditions were not taken into account. Even when we were preparing to be released after our names were included as part of the exchange deal, we were subjected to strip searches.

Many testimonies from released female prisoners reveal torture, abuse, beatings and threats, include threats of rape, as well as being taken hostage in order to pressure family members to turn themselves in. Palestinian civilians are also subjected to these methods of torture during home raids, at Israeli checkpoints, and during visits to detained family members.

A longstanding policy

Strip searches are not a new tool of suppression and humiliation for Israel, but they have recently emerged as an integral part of the ongoing violent crusade against and genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

Ismat Mansour, a former prisoner and expert on Israeli affairs, told Raseef22, “In Gaza, we saw how men were stripped down and filmed, in order to strip the person from within and instill a sense of inferiority and helplessness.” Mansour labels strip searches a tool of the occupation used to violate the privacy and desecrate the space of Palestinians, while diminishing their humanity. It is a deeply intentional measure.

The Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association similarly confirmed to Raseef22 that the policy of strip searching is not new. However, since the start of the ongoing war on Gaza, the violence accompanying physical inspections has blatantly increased, according to testimonies from released female prisoners. 

Workers at Addameer confirmed, “Female prisoners are subjected to a strip search at the moment of their arrest and at the detention center, and sometimes they are ordered to sit in a squatting position. Male prisoners are also subjected to this– a tool to seize control of the detainee’s body and humiliate and violate their dignity.” Testimonies recorded after October 7 indicate that female prisoners have been threatened with rape and verbal harassment.

Hassan Abed-Rabbo, spokesman for the Commission of Detainees’ Affairs, believes that “this is primarily intended to undermine and harm national and human dignity, as well as to send a message to all Palestinian women that anyone thinking of acting against the occupation will have her dignity violated and her privacy invaded.” He emphasized, “it is an attempt to pressure women and sideline them from their role in the struggle.”

Who will hold Israel accountable for violating women’s bodies?

Dr. Dalal Iriqat, an international law specialist, explained to Raseef22, “When violations against prisoners are systematic and repeated, and laws safeguarding prisoners’ rights are continuously violated, the policy, according to international and legal definitions, escalates into a war crime against humanity.”

Iriqat emphasized that the policy of strip searches violates international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, stressing that the violations are not limited to this policy but also include depriving female prisoners of basic rights, such as food and a healthy environment. “The Israeli authorities took advantage of the preoccupation of human rights organizations about war crimes in Gaza to further abuse and torment the prisoners,” says Iriqat.

The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor called on the international community to pressure Israel to reveal the fate of Gazan women who have been arrested and whose whereabouts are unknown. Approximately 3,000 Palestinian detainees from Gaza have disappeared, including children and minors. The Human Rights Monitor claims that the Israeli army continues to arrest dozens of women, girls, and infants, all of whom are subjected to humiliating detention conditions, strip searches, the forced removal of their hijab, and threats of rape.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club and the Commission of Detainees’ Affairs state that the intensity of the crimes committed against women is one of the most prominent and dangerous aspects at this stage in the war. This violence is an extension of a long history of Israeli targeting of Palestinian women; Will this war on Gaza be much harsher than any of the previous wars in the history of the occupation?

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When Palestinians “Die” and Israelis get “Killed” in the same War https://www.juancole.com/2023/11/palestinians-israelis-killed.html Wed, 22 Nov 2023 05:02:44 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=215527

Word choices in the Israel-Gaza conflict reflect systemic media bias

Written bySafa
Written byMariam A.

Federal Building, San Francisco, October 20, 2023. Hundreds of people from many backgrounds came together outside Senator Nancy Pelosi’s office, to paint a giant street mural. The message: BIDEN, PELOSI: DON’T AID AND ABET WAR CRIMES, and calling for a CEASEFIRE! With Jewish Voice for Peace Bay Area, The Peace Poets, Climate Justice Street Mural Arts Project. Photo by . Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED).

( Globalvoices.org) – Amidst the chaos of Israel’s war on Gaza, truth becomes a casualty in the battleground of information, entangled in a maze of misinformation and biased narratives, eclipsing the reality of the crisis unfolding in Gaza.

In news reporting, every semantic choice, nuanced omission, prioritization, and bias holds the power to shape how readers interpret and absorb information. Systemic issues and marginalized voices are obscured beyond headlines. Cognitive and algorithmic biases manipulate information access, notably in the “fog of war,” as seen in Gaza.

The complex information landscape is shaped by not only misinformation but also by the different narratives employing defamation and dehumanization, mirroring pattern in main stream media coverage of Palestinians and other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

Palestinians don’t just die, they get killed

The choice between “died” and “killed” in describing fatalities in Israel’s war on Gaza reflects a subtle yet impactful semantic difference because it shapes how information is perceived.

Merriem-Webster defines “to die” as an intransitive verb, implying an indirect action, potentially linking fatality to natural causes, like old age. Conversely, “to kill” is a transitive verb, suggesting a more direct action, often tied to an unnatural or violent manner of death, such as an airstrike, for instance.

In 2022, Laura Albast wrote in an opinion article in The Washington Post, “This is a pattern we have seen over and over again in media coverage of Palestine. Palestinians are not killed; we simply die.”

This sentiment was echoed recently by journalist Yara Eid when she responded to a Sky News presenter, “I think language is really important to use because, as a journalist, you have the moral responsibility to report on what is happening. Palestinians don’t just die, they get killed.”

Journalist Yara Eid, explains the importance of the use of language when talking about the Israeli war on Gaza. Screenshot from eid_yara Instagram video. Fair use.

News media actively make choices about using passive or active voice, demonstrating a hierarchy in terminology beyond the die/kill dichotomy. Examining language within a news piece exposes framing that reveals inherent bias or perspective.

In one particularly confusing example, a CNN news anchor ambiguously described Palestinian fatalities by saying: “One hospital in Gaza says it received 22 bodies during the intense overnight bombardment along with hundreds of people injured.” There was no further clarification provided about whether those bodies were deceased, who was responsible, and from whom they were received.

The New York Times headline on the November 5 Israeli airstrike hitting the Al Maghazi refugee camp used indirect language, stating, “Explosion Gazans Say Was Airstrike Leaves Many Casualties in Dense Neighborhood.” This phrasing, such as “leaves many casualties” and “dense neighborhood” instead of specifying “a refugee camp,” was ambiguous.

Furthermore, the language used casts doubt about information sources, stating “Gazans say,” without explicitly attributing the airstrikes to Israelis. In the context of Israel’s month-long bombardment on Gaza, such ambiguity seems unnecessary. Notably, this strike was one of three airstrikes hitting refugee camps in Gaza within a 26-hour window.

In a CBS News article, the authors used intense language to describe Hamas’ attack on Israelis as a “murderous rampage.” However, when referring to Palestinian fatalities over the first nine days of the war, they employed comparatively lighter terms like “killed” and “death toll.”

This created a notable hierarchy in the portrayal of violence, which may diminish the impact or severity of the suffering of Palestinians. This discrepancy in language can influence readers’ impressions and create an imbalance in how violence is perceived.

Revealing a systemic issue in newsrooms

Bristol Friends of Gaza protest on the front lawn of BBC Bristol’s headquarters on Whiteladies Road about biased reporting of the 2014 Israel-Gaza war. Photo by Rwendland, July 23, 2014. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Revealing a systemic issue in newsrooms, this hierarchy of terms and narrative shaping is not unique to Palestinians. The U.S. news media has long faced criticism for racism, particularly in its coverage of police violence against Black Americans, exemplified in the murder of Breonna Taylor.

Author and editor Adeshina Emmanuel pointed out, “Newsrooms often fixate on the moment of death, leaning heavily on police narratives, and — as those narratives often do — assassinate the characters of police violence victims.” This implies a narrow focus on the immediate and often dramatic events rather than the broader context.

The media’s coverage of the war in Ukraine has also raised concerns about racism. Scholar H.A. Hellyer highlighted the racist language used by reporters, emphasizing the dehumanization of non-White populations and its impact on their right to live in dignity. Beyond overtly racist coverage, other major humanitarian catastrophes, such as the war in Sudan, receive minimal attention from mainstream media.

Political influence and pressures on newsrooms significantly influence media narrative-shaping. In May 2023, it is unsurprising that a majority of US journalists expressed concerns about press freedoms. These concerns are supported by instances where numerous journalists were dismissed for expressing pro-Palestinian remarks, a trend that has intensified in recent weeks.

Amid the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken requested the Qatari Prime Minister “to tone down Al Jazeera’s rhetoric” regarding Israel’s action in Gaza. This sentiment was reflected in other newsrooms, as reported by The Intercept: “Leadership at Upday, a subsidiary of the Germany-based publishing giant Axel Springer, gave instructions to prioritize the Israeli perspective and minimize Palestinian civilian deaths in coverage, according to the employees.”

A group of Jewish writers drafted an open letter condemning the notion that criticism of Israel is inherently anti-semitic and noted the pro-Palestine suppressions: 

“Now, this insidious gagging of free speech is being used to justify Israel’s ongoing military bombardment of Gaza and to silence criticism from the international community. […] Israeli journalists fear consequences for criticizing their government. […] We refuse the false choice between Jewish safety and Palestinian freedom; between Jewish identity and ending the oppression of Palestinians. In fact, we believe the rights of Jews and Palestinians go hand-in-hand.”

Global calls of solidarity


People in their tens of thousands rally in Melbourne, Australia, in support of Palestine and in solidarity with the Palestinian people. October 15, 2023. Photo by Matt Hrkac, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Despite the biased coverage by mainstream news media, the public has become aware of the genocide faced by civilians in Gaza, largely due to on-the-ground journalists providing coverage in English on social media platforms. Journalists such as Motaz Azaiza, Plestia Alaqad, and Bisan Owda, to name a few, have played a significant role in disseminating information.

Since Israel’s war on Gaza began, hundreds of thousands of protestors across major cities, including LondonNew York, São Paulo, Cape Town, and Kuala Lumpur, have regularly voiced solidarity with Palestinians. They have stepped in to address the failure of mainstream news media to raise awareness about Israel’s war crimes and disproportionate attacks on Palestinians.

These demonstrations align with a growing rift between the Global south and the West, exemplified by a chorus of accusations of hypocrisy from the global south directed at the West. The criticism underscores contrasting policy and media response, highlighting the West’s condemnation of an illegal occupation in Ukraine while staunchly supporting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

As awareness of media biases grows, people around the world are driven to scrutinize information, demanding a more equitable representation of diverse perspectives. This collective effort signifies a pivotal shift where an informed public actively challenges biases, fostering a space where truth prevails, and marginalized voices resonate.

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Iran’s Women, Digital Rights and Human Freedoms https://www.juancole.com/2023/10/digital-rights-freedoms.html Mon, 02 Oct 2023 04:04:13 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=214631

A year after Mahsa Amini’s death, Iran intensifies surveillance on women

 

This piece was first published by Alliance for Universal Digital Rights (AUDRi), on September 16, 2023, and was written by Emma Gibson, the global coordinator for AUDRi.  An edited version is republished here with permission

( Globalvoices.org ) – September 16, 2023, marked a year since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the Iranian government’s “morality” police. In the week leading up to the anniversary, human rights organizations Equality Now, Femena, and Centre for Supporters of Human Rights (CSHR), made a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Committee expressing “deep concerns about the condition of women and girls in Iran regarding the continued prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, and sex-discriminatory personal status laws in the country.” 

In recent years, protests against the mandatory hijab or the so-called “morality police” in Iran have made international headlines. The bravery of women, often leading the charge, cannot be overstated. However, these protests are often met with severe consequences, increasingly driven by the government’s sophisticated digital surveillance apparatus. 

A controversial new hijab bill includes 70 articles that prescribe harsher penalties for women, as well as severe sanctions against public figures, businesses, and service providers who support them. The bill proposes the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to enforce dress code violations, reflecting a disturbing manifestation of gender-based persecution.

In today’s digital age, Iran’s government has been wielding a two-edged sword: the same technology that has the potential to empower voices is being used to silence them, especially when those voices call for gender equality. Using advanced facial recognition software and tracking online interactions, the government identifies and harasses those who dare to dissent

This technological might is disproportionately used against women, whose demands for equal rights are seen as direct threats to the state’s ideological foundation.

It’s not just about cameras on street corners or drones in the sky. The real Orwellian nightmare lies in the shadows of the internet. Popular platforms are censored, and encrypted messaging apps, on which protesters often rely to organize, are blocked. Bloggers, influencers, and even ordinary citizens face intimidation, arrest, or worse for simply expressing their opinions online.


Iran Protests,’ Ottawa, Canada, September 25, 2022, by Taymaz Valley on Flickr (CC BY 2.0.).

Perhaps most disturbing is the state’s increasingly invasive eye into private spaces: the cars and walking routes of private citizens. 

A chilling testament to this is the fact that, within a mere span of three months, almost a million women were texted warnings from the nation’s police force. Their crime? Being captured by ever-watchful cameras without a hijab, as detailed by a harrowing report from Amnesty International.

According to the report, the police issued 133,174 SMS messages requiring the immobilization of vehicles for a specific duration, confiscated 2,000 cars, and referred more than 4,000 ‘repeat offenders’ to the judiciary across the country.”

From Iran to the world: An international call to action

Digital rights are, at their core, human rights. A society where individuals cannot communicate freely, privately, and securely is one where fundamental freedoms are under assault. 

Digital rights exist alongside the right to peaceful protests in multiple ways. Encrypted communication tools can offer activists and protesters a way to communicate without the fear of government interception or retribution. When mainstream media is censored or muzzled, social media platforms can allow for the rapid dissemination of information, rallying supporters for a cause. Furthermore, the digital realm offers an expansive library of resources on peaceful protest tactics, rights awareness, and international solidarity efforts.

Iran is far from being the only regime restricting digital freedoms while using technology to suppress dissent or co-opting its surveillance. In India, for example, police have made use of an app which allows them to access privately-gathered CCTV footage.

In China, mass surveillance has been used to gather information about the movements and activities of private individuals in a form of predictive policing.” Across all these examples, there is evidence that surveillance and infringement on privacy rights disproportionately target individuals and groups whose identities make them vulnerable, such as women or minorities, or whose political activities challenge the status quo. 

But here lies the challenge: As governments like these become more adept at quelling online dissent, how can activists stay a step ahead?

The international community can play a crucial role. Tech companies must be pressured to safeguard user data and prioritize end-to-end encryption. Digital rights organizations and civil society should be consulted on the threats posed by state-led digital surveillance and censorship and the implications of the technology being produced. 

Most importantly, the global community should consistently spotlight abuses, ensuring governments understand that the world is watching. And regulation of the digital space along human rights principles will ensure that this does not become a new environment in which Iranian women, or any others, are vulnerable to abuse and harm. 

While the Iranian government’s tactics are emblematic of a more significant global issue, the world must remember and uplift the unique bravery of Iran’s women, who stand tall even when shadows loom large. For Mahsa Amini and countless others like her, we must persist in our shared fight for digital and human rights. Their courage deserves nothing less. 

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Facebook’s News Retreat: A Death Knell for Independent Mideast Local News https://www.juancole.com/2023/09/facebooks-retreat-independent.html Thu, 28 Sep 2023 04:04:06 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=214563

Facebook algorithm change hits MENA independent media audiences hard

( Globalvoices.org ) – Google and Meta, commonly referred to as the duopoly of the internet, dominate online access to information. In a recent showdown with authorities, these tech giants are set to block news on their networks in Canada in response to a new law mandating payment to news publishers.

The decision coincides with broader challenges confronting the media industry worldwide, such as dwindling advertising revenues and heavy reliance on social networks for readership. 

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for example, Facebook’s evolving relationship with the news industry, algorithm adjustments, and their repercussions on local media outlets add complexity to the landscape of news dissemination, particularly affecting smaller, independent publishers.

Facebook uncertain relationship with the news industry 

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has faced numerous criticisms for disseminating fake news and hate speech. The recent withdrawal from news is part of a broader shift towards prioritizing user-generated content. However, this is not the first time Facebook has vacillated over the role news should play on its platform. After going as far as collaborating closely with the news industry, injecting millions in funding, and providing media training through its Journalism Project, Facebook backpedaled.   


Image by Saoussen Ben Cheikh. Used with permission.

In 2018, under public and regulatory pressure, Mark Zuckerberg first announced they would be “making a major change to how we build Facebook,” resulting in users seeing less public content, such as posts from businesses, brands, and media outlets. Over the years, the platform has been notoriously opaque about when and how it changes its algorithm, the set of rules that defines what posts are seen in what used to be called the newsfeed, its central feature section. It was renamed “Feed” in February 2022. 

Echobox, a social media management company, reported that the most recent significant Facebook algorithm change occurred in February 2023, and accelerated in May 2023. This change resulted in content from publisher pages nearly disappearing from user feeds. This sudden shift significantly reduced traffic to media websites, disproportionately affecting audiences and publishers in the Global South, including the MENA region. These regions heavily rely on social media referrals for news access. 

Facebook’s disproportionate influence in the MENA region

Social media are widely popular in the region. Despite the rise of new platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat, Facebook remains a pivotal force in the MENA region. For many, it represents the internet itself. Arabic is the third most used language on the platform. In a MENA survey conducted in 2022, around 72 percent of respondents reported daily Facebook usage.  Notably, Libya (100 percent), the UAE (93 percent) and Qatar (90 percent) have exceptionally high Facebook reach relative to their population. Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria also rank in the top 10 countries for the fastest-growing Facebook user base.

A more vulnerable media landscape 

Unlike their Western peers in more enabling environments, media outlets in the MENA region have long struggled with challenges such as digitalization, limited resources, and political repression. These unique obstacles have rendered their reporting and survival fragile. In an increasingly frail digital news landscape, publishers find themselves at the mercy of third-party platforms, where algorithmic changes beyond their control have led to news shaping and, in some cases, layoffs or even business collapse. 

Kamel, the founder of Raimh Post, an online local news outlet covering a remote marginalized region in Yemen, described to Global Voices the abrupt consequences of these shifts:

Overnight with no pre-warning, insights and preparation our content was not shown any more on Facebook, our main channel of distribution. We have lost nearly 80 percent of our audience who used to come from Facebook to our website. It’s very frustrating. We are in crisis as we have lost our audience and business.

Pay or you will not be seen by your audience

In a classic commercial play, Facebook initially enabled organic reach for news content, making itself indispensable, before imposing a price tag for visibility. News content that once appeared organically in user’s feeds, must now be sponsored for a chance to be seen. Additionally, posts with external links are downgraded as Facebook aims to keep users within its platform. 

This shift has frustrated users like Hassen, a young unemployed Algerian, who reported to Global Voices, “Facebook should ask us what we want to see. I used to follow updates from the news and international organizations who post opportunities for jobs, training, and learnings resources, etc. I noticed that they don’t appear on my feed anymore. I only see posts from friends which are often not very interesting or useful.” 

While larger websites, often funded by states or political entities, have more capacity to adapt and pay to promote their content, the impact is more dramatic for small independent publishers due to their limited resources. 

Wael Sharhah, the founder of Awafi, a non-profit newsroom in Yemen dedicated to public health education, criticized Facebook’s aggressive push to charge for content that was once freely accessible. He told Global Voices:

It is very aggressive and irresponsible of Facebook to push us now to pay for what used to be free. We are creating the social value of the platform by empowering the public with information. While we were already struggling, it is more difficult in our region to generate revenues and report independently.

The TikTok-ization of Facebook  

Since the internet’s inception, written content has been the primary medium for conveying information. According to the Reuters Digital News Report 2023, the majority of online users worldwide still prefer reading the news over watching or listening to it as it offers faster and more convenient access to information. 

However, the habits of younger generations, who grew up with social media and smartphones enabling easy video creation and sharing, have evolved. These social natives now consume a significantly higher number of short videos, often presented by influencers rather than traditional journalists. This shift has propelled the success of more visually-oriented social networks like YouTube, Instagram, and, more recently, TikTok, in contrast to more text-focused networks such as Facebook or Twitter. 

In response, Facebook and Instagram have aggressively promoted short-format video content, modifying their algorithms to prioritize video over text-based content. The downplay of text articles has badly impacted publishers. Many journalists critique the value of short videos, expressing concerns that TikTok-ification of news trivializes important issues. 

Mabrouka Khedir, the head of Cosmos Media, a Tunisian digital media outlet focusing on the environment, emphasized the challenges of providing context and explaining complex stories in short videos. She said to Global Voices “Written news helps convey greater complexity and detail. We are already stretched, and it takes much more resources to create a good video compared to text.”

The deeper issue: Supporting a free press in challenging contexts 

As advertising revenue and audience increasingly shifted toward social media platforms, numerous local media are struggling to survive, some have already disappeared. In the MENA’s highly repressive environment, there is a risk of regions turning into “news desert,” where there is no free, independent information, and human rights violations go unreported.

Most MENA countries are languishing at the lower end of the RSF’s global freedom of expression index. Despite their predominantly youthful population and the eagerness of women to participate, there is a dearth of local platforms that can amplify their voices and contribute to shaping public policies.

The ongoing debate about the responsibility of social media platforms and the media industry highlights a far deeper global issue. Societies all over the world, particularly in contexts of conflict, are grappling with the fundamental importance of safeguarding press freedom. Press freedom is the foundation of democracy, peace, and development.

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