Palestinian activists are increasingly using online activism to share their stories about the everyday repression they encounter at the hands of the Israeli state. They are using every means possible to tell the world the reality of their lives, including their experiences of forced eviction from their homes and restrictions on their freedom of movement. Growing online activism is being met with backlash by the Israeli state, including through attempts to sow disinformation, manipulate discourse and censor social media. Social media companies should resist Israeli state pressure and ensure that Palestinians are able to tell their unfiltered truths.

The enduring Israel-Palestine conflict has seen thousands of Palestinian people displaced, injured, killed and disenfranchised. It is only through the hard work of activists that human rights abuses are being highlighted and brought to the world’s attention. In the face of awesome Israeli power that is forcing many out of their homes, Palestinian campaigners are increasingly fighting back through online activism.

Life under occupation

Many Palestinians experience repression in an incredibly direct way: through the destruction of their homes, a practice that contributes to the displacement of hundreds each year. In East Jerusalem, Palestinian homes are being demolished to make way for Israelis. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that Israeli forces destroyed roughly 8,400 Palestinian-owned structures between 2009 and 2022, displacing more than 12,000 people.

The situation seems set to worsen following a recent Israel supreme court decision in the government’s favour. The court ruled that the government can evict people from an area of the West Bank it declared a ‘firing zone’. The result of the decades-long legal battle will likely see over 1,000 people forcibly removed.

Demolitions and illegal settlements – developments in occupied land beyond the internationally recognised border, funded and built by the Israeli government – are pushing Palestinians into enclaves, their communities divided up in ways that make a Palestinian state increasingly unviable.

Laws on planning and zoning also discriminate against Palestinians and limit the land they are able to lease. In many areas, the Israeli government’s refusal to recognise Palestinian housing units prevents occupants accessing vital services like water, electricity and internet. Palestinians without official status also face further difficulties accessing education.

Laws relating to nationality work to erase Palestinian people and their identity. The Palestine passport, issued to residents by the Palestinian Authority, is recognised by the Israeli government only as a travel document, not as proof of citizenship. Arab residents of Israel are essentially second-class citizens who cannot obtain an Israeli passport and do not have access to the same services as Jewish people.

The government also asserts excessive control through military checkpoints, roadblocks, earth mounds, fences and other structures. Millions of Palestinians have lived under a blockade in the Gaza Strip for around two decades, with disastrous effects on their lives and livelihoods. Current procedure only allows travel in one direction – West Bank to Gaza – with visits in the opposite direction only allowed in special circumstances. Travel within the West Bank and into Israel territory is also problematic for Palestinians, who are sometimes prevented from using crossings and must pass through several armed checkpoints before reaching their destination.

Daily security force aggression at checkpoints and violence during raids are the most insidious ways Palestinian people experience harm at the hands of the Israeli government. Since 2000, over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and thousands more injured. Most devasting have been attacks on the Gaza Strip, which have resulted in high civilian casualties, including children. Some 4,600 Palestinians are being held in prison, in many cases on the basis of arbitrary arrests and false charges.

Decades of this treatment have left Palestinians angry, despondent and frustrated – but nonetheless, they have continued to be their own best advocates.

Resistance under pressure

Palestinians have used traditional forms of resistance since before the Israeli occupation began, taking to the streets to speak out against Israel and its administration. These actions can help get the attention of the government and international community, and sometimes have resulted in change, as was the case with 2017 protests against increased surveillance, which led to the government withdrawing its measures. At the same time, protests are generally met with an aggressive and sometimes deadly response from Israel security forces.

Prisoners have repeatedly gone on hunger strikes to protest against the state of detention facilities and Israel’s use of administrative detention orders, which allow the state to arrest and hold Palestinians without charge, in violation of international human rights standards.

Resistance has also taken subtler forms aimed at reducing the threat of retaliation. For instance, Israeli security forces target people who display the Palestinian flag, so people have taken to displaying the flag’s colours in their apparel or use other items with similar colours – such as a watermelon – as a symbol of their identity.

Palestinian civil society organisations (CSOs) have also established the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to encourage companies to cease operations in Israel until they have improved conditions for Palestinian people. Few companies have taken up the call and risk backlash if they do so.

These forms of resistance come up against the barrier of active repression. The Israeli state has systematically targeted CSOs, recently stepping up its labelling of several as terrorist entities, a charge that can inhibit them from operating effectively, including by making it harder for them to receive funding. Journalists, lawyers and others who highlight human rights abuses by the Israeli administration are targeted. The media are vulnerable, as the shocking killing of famed Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May exemplifies.

Online activism as a tool against injustice

In response to these limitations, Palestinian activists have increasingly taken to using digital tools to advance their cause, with growing success.

They are making an impact by posting about their lives and the daily injustices they face. Viral videos convey the experiences Palestinian people have been speaking about for years but make the evidence of abuse much harder to ignore.

Digital activism is key. When you experience human rights violations on a daily basis, the camera becomes a tool of resistance. For many Palestinians, it is the only defence from soldiers and violent settlers attacking them constantly.


Social media pages like Times of Gaza and Eye on Palestine, dedicated to posting Palestinian news, have gained millions of followers across Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. When then-President Trump unveiled his nonsensical plan on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Free Palestine hashtag became the top global Twitter trend, generating around 60,000 tweets shortly after the announcement.

A week-long Israeli campaign of destruction in Gaza in May 2021, which resulted in over 200 Palestinian deaths, again saw the Free Palestine hashtag trending, with 12.3 million hashtag exposures per hour as people shared videos of bombings. The online movement translated into street presence as pro-Palestine marches were held in solidarity around the world. For the first time, prominent US officials made comments denouncing the actions of the Israeli government and some even called for the US government to stop funding Israel’s military. Even if they came from a small minority, these calls were a complete novelty. Also significant was the attention given by western media outlets, which provided unusually sympathetic coverage of the Palestinian issue.

Following on the footsteps of prominent social justice campaigns such as #MeToo and #BlacklivesMatter, #FreePalestine comes with potential to produce tangible real-world action.

Limitations and restrictions

Unlike other global movements, however, the movement for a Free Palestine operates under an oppressive regime aided and abetted by technology companies. Israel has successfully pressured some companies to censor Palestinians. Algorithms and content moderators at social media sites often suppress and remove content by Palestinians and their supporters. Facebook acknowledged doing so during the May 2021 hostilities but never explained why it had. Legitimate news organisations also face online censorship.

Voices from the frontline

Nadim Nashif is executive director and co-founder of 7amleh: The Arab Centre for Advancement of Social Media.


Social media platforms use the available technology, their algorithms and search engines, to cooperate with the Israeli authorities by monitoring speech and deleting content when certain keywords come up. For example, Palestinian political movements are considered by the USA and Israel to be terrorist organisations, so their names are banned from social media.

They have constantly tried to silence the Palestinian narrative and raise the Israeli one, by criminalising Palestinian activists and sending them to jail. There are cases in which you don’t even understand why someone is in jail.

I remember the case of a young teenager from Jerusalem who posted on Facebook some phrases about Palestinians needing to go to Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it from Israeli settlers. He spent one and a half years in jail because of this, which was not a call to violence at all. He just said, ‘Hey, this is our holy place, we need to protect it’. You can be sent to jail for saying something about protecting a place! This example is just one of many.

Israel is pushing many laws and regulations to be able to do this. One of them is the so-called ‘Facebook law’ that they are trying to pass. Officially, it’s meant to help deal with harmful content. But it aims to grant Israeli courts the power to demand the removal of user-generated content on social media platforms that can be perceived as inflammatory or as harming the security of the state, of people or the public. It is so vague that anything that the Israeli authorities don’t like will be sent to the courts, without those affected being able to defend themselves. Using ‘secret evidence’, Israel can order companies to take down content they consider to be illegal. This would obviously be used exclusively against Palestinians.

Many tactics of online repression are already being used, including lots of online brigading –coordinated actions by groups constantly reporting certain social media content to the Cyber Unit. Palestinians are under surveillance 24/7, especially on social media. Accounts are continually under surveillance and reported to social media companies. These companies are taking down almost 90 per cent of what the Israeli government asks them to.


This is an edited extract of our conversation with Nadim Nashif. Read the full interview here.

The Israeli government has responded with its own digital measures. One tactic involves online brigading: a coordinated campaign to make its own position seem more popular and downplay the Palestinian cause by manipulating actions such as comments, quote tweets, retweets and complaints. In doing so, the Israeli government acts as an agent of disinformation.

Surveillance is another key component of the government’s tech response. Spyware has been placed on the phones of Palestinian and Israeli activists, including the Pegasus software made by Israeli company NSO and only supplied to governments. Facial recognition technology is increasingly being used to monitor activity in occupied territories and trigger arrests. Activists thus face enormous obstacles in reaching their target audiences, while trying not to make themselves a target. Challenges seem set to get worse.

Looking ahead

Israel has recognised the power of technology and digital media in highlighting the Palestinian cause, which is why it is attempting to restrict the ability of Palestinian people to speak out and post about their experiences online. The new ‘Facebook law’ it is currently proposing, which would grant Israeli courts broad powers to remove content determined to be as harmful, has the potential to diminish Palestine advocacy severely.

These escalating measures are no surprise. A recent report by the independent commission set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council found that the Israeli government is seeking complete control over Occupied Palestine Territory and has no intention of reversing its position. In the face of such an obdurate opponent, Palestinian people have fought long and hard to highlight their plight by any means available and will continue to do so. If they are to have a fighting chance in such an unequal struggle for their fundamental rights, they will need as much support as they can get.


  • Social media companies must stop censoring Palestinian activists and their supporters.
  • The United Nations must hold Israel accountable for human rights abuses.
  • The Israeli government must stop targeting journalists and CSOs and must allow them to operate freely and openly.

Cover photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images