Press freedom in Palestine is a disaster, but the internet offers Palestinian youth a space to find their voice

In a situation of conflict, under an occupying power and with the constant internal political struggles between Fatah and Hamas, it can often be difficult to know what media Palestinian youth can trust. Working on a youth project in the West Bank, I am constantly told by my Palestinian colleagues of the frustration and disillusionment they feel with the politics here and the narrow narrative they are fed by the media. But the internet offers a unique opportunity for young people in Palestine, to access unrestricted information that has not been interfered with by Hamas, Fatah or Israel. Even better, the internet is a global platform, enabling the youth of Palestine to reach out to people across the world, a countermeasure to traditional media fed only by images of conflict and controlled by a wealthy global elite. The internet could be the resource that sees young Palestinians rise above the squabbling of their political parties, and broadcast their experiences of occupation and messages of peace to the world. All this is possible, but only if they can harness the power of the internet effectively.

The unique political situation in Occupied Palestine represents an assault on press freedom from all angles. Journalists face harassment, detentions, assaults and restrictions; circumstances that contribute to a disastrous press freedom score of 83 (100 being the worst) according to respected press freedom monitor, Freedom House. Reporters without Borders ranks Palestine as 153 out of 179 countries for Press Freedom, below Iraq and Afghanistan. The ranking was a drop on previous years, influenced by attacks on journalists and the illegal takeover of the journalists’ union in Gaza City by Fatah.

All three powerful authorities are to blame for the poor state of press freedom. Hamas and Fatah have both banned broadcasters and publications associated with the other in their respectively controlled territories. Hamas has been accused by Human Rights Watch of torturing journalists accused of organising demonstrations against it in the Gaza Strip. Israel, as the occupying power, also contributes significantly to press restrictions in the Palestinian Territories, including harassing and detaining reporters. They have been repeatedly accused by local and international press organisations of assaulting journalists, including routinely firing tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and even occasionally live ammunition at them, or placing them under arbitrary detention. Israel also ranks at 92 on the list for media freedom within its borders, because of significant prior military censorship of its media, a climate that leads to biased reporting against Palestinians and increases a culture of racism and ignorance.

With all this media censorship and a lack of press freedom, it can be difficult for young people in Palestine to know what media they can trust. But there is something positive to take from the Freedom House report; the internet is “not subject to restriction”. It is the internet, for example, that enabled me to find the Freedom House report easily, and to know the restrictions that are placed upon the press here!

The internet can also be utilised as a key tool of resistance. The internet “is a way to achieve effective non-violent resistance,” says Saif Abukeshek, a non-violent Palestinian activist from Nablus, now living in Madrid and running the Pal-youth.org internet portal, which connects Palestinians from around the world. Israeli forces may be able to build walls and restrict movement, but it is impossible to restrict movement on the internet. And Palestinian youths don’t have to affiliate themselves to a political party in order to be activists online, with experts estimating as many as 60% of Palestinian internet activists are politically independent.

It’s not just Palestinians who can be connected over the internet either. Online platforms provide Palestinians with the ability to connect with people from other countries who might otherwise lack access to a balanced view of the struggles people face here. Electronic Intifada, an internationally respected website that reports on the struggle for human rights in Palestine and receives funding from the Dutch government is one such outlet designed to counteract the often Israeli-sympathetic media.

Twitter too, offers an opportunity for online discussion and the promotion of Palestinian human rights issues that would otherwise go ignored internationally. In the UK, for example, the recent scandal of a supermarket food magazine supplement sponsored by the Israeli tourist board that claimed falafel, hummus and shakshuka as Israeli food was brought to the attention of national newspapers through activism on Twitter. For the first time in human history, any person, anywhere in the world can reach an audience of billions; all they have to do is own a computer. The potential for a shift in global attitudes towards human rights in Palestine because of the internet is almost unlimited, as long as it can be utilised effectively by Palestinian youth and their global network of allies and defenders of human rights.

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