Shazmeen Khalid is a writer and blogger from Birmingham, currently based in London. Shazmeen publishes non-fiction work on the experiences of People of Colour, along with her own poetry, via her blog Misrepresented.
Over the past few weeks, many have become more aware of the ongoing occupation of Palestine. Though the occupation of East Jerusalem has been happening since 1967 following the 1948 Nakba, Palestine often comes to light on media and social media platforms during heightened attacks. During the holy month of Ramadan 2021 (May), social media became flooded with the hashtag #SaveSheikhJarrah after journalists and citizens in Palestine, including young Palestinian citizen and activist Muna al-Kurd began campaigning about imminent occupational threats and eviction of Palestinian families by IDF forces in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Over 540 native Palestinian villages have already been destroyed, and Sheikh Jarrah has been previously targeted for forced evictions to house Israeli settlers in 2002, 2008 and 2017
The current responses from young people on social media around Palestine have been focussed around protest, re-writing misinforming narratives and sharing content from Palestinian sources along with calls to action.
Occupation, not conflict.
Young people on social media, including some public figures, were quick to recognise damaging narratives from news headlines, notably ones that termed the occupational attacks as ‘conflict’ between Palestine and Israel. Instagram users posted screenshots of headlines like ‘Clashes continue between Palestinians and Israeli police at Al-Aqsa Mosque’ to critique and explain that approaching the occupation of Palestine as a ‘conflict’ or two-sided war denies the agency of the Palestinians, their victimisation, loss, cleansing and ongoing occupation.
Discourse around the use of the word ‘conflict’ harboured a combination of anger, frustration and lack of trust in television media to portray current affairs in a fair and honest manner. Vague language around conflict can often deny Israel as an aggressor, and presents unarmed civilians as ‘just as bad’ as armed Israeli military forces.
Popular YouTube ambassador, actor and author Humza Arshad shared his take on the use of language with a series of screenshots of headlines. The narrative extended to other uses of language in media. Blogger and designer Subhi Taha, who has Palestinian heritage and is known to speak candidly on misrepresentation online recently shared a video highlighting bias reporting of death counts. In the video he notes his observations of linguistic bias, he explains that a ‘blatant example of how western media favours Israel and vilifies Palestine is how they report deaths on both sides. For Israelis they will say 10 Israelis were massacred by Palestinian rockets, and then for Palestinians they will say 10 Palestinians died…How’d they die?’ Taha is one of many young people taking to instagram and twitter to call out hypocrisies in media narratives.
Muslims VS Jews?
Palestine is very important to Muslims, Masjid Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam, and many Muslim individuals and organisations have been campaigning for the liberation of Palestine for years. A post circulated on Instagram educated those who were not previously as informed about the true origins of the occupation, and to dismantle the presumptions and stereotypes of it being a ‘fight’ between Muslims and Jews, or a religious or political battle of any sorts. Instead, the post conversationally breaks down misconceptions about Palestine’s oppression and highlights misinformation that is often perpetuated to overlook Israel’s settler colonialism.
The post also dismantles assumptions about the political relationship between Palestine and Isreal, and reasserts that Isreal is a settler colony that receives political and arms support from the UK and other countries of political power. Similar posts in support of breaking down presumptions about religious involvement include photographs from protests in major cities in the UK and US, including protestors with signs reading ‘Jews agains Zionism’ and a popularly re-shared video on socials has been from @doseofsociety where an orthodox Jewish man is interviewed at a Pro-Palestine march, he remarks that he is here ‘to support Palestinian rights…they shouldn’t give up…Palestine will be free.’ The support from Jewish communities also reinforced the assertion that being pro-palestinian is not an inherently anti-Semitic stance. Though there have been isolated instances of anti-semetism, which were highlighted by conservative MP’s, many circulated information and statements to reiterate that anti-semitism has no place in the Palestinian cause.
Performance and Passivity
Combatting misinformation around Palestine became a hot topic among young people online. Social Media users pointed out – in line with findings from our Time and Time Again report – that activism ought to be authentic and useful to the cause, not a trend or something performative. As well as circulation of charities, educational resources and non-monetary calls to action, instagram users shared sentiments of frustration at users with large platforms demonstrating passivity around a campaign that relied heavily on public pressure and sharing of otherwise censored information. Model, Gigi Hadid – who shares a Palestinian heritage from her father, became popularised for sharing her support candidly and also sharing the sentiment that the human rights violations of Palestinians had been overlooked for far too long.
Others focussed on calling out influencers and celebrities that remained neutral around the cause, shared open support for Israel or posted about why they shouldn’t have to post something.
Though there were feelings of insincerity around some of the dialogue and social media activism, organisations and activists took to Instagram to share their forms of action and to inform others on how their support and solidarity can cause change. From boycotting brands that profit off occupied land, to public demonstrations – online activism showed how social media can be a powerful tool. Namely, Palestine Action shared their active resistance at Elbit, the largest Israeli Arms factory in England. By besieging the source of the manufacturing of arms in the UK, Palestine Action were able to draw attention to the UK’s involvement in Palestine’s occupation, and the power of disseminating from the source was echoed far and wide.
Instagram and twitter users shared posts and stories from pal action documenting their occupation of Elbit, and shared commentary from rapper Lowkey who remarked ‘This needs to be replicated across the world. If not now, when?’ in response to an article about pro-palestinian dock workers in Italy refusing to load arms shipments headed to Israel.
The range of responses and heightened social media attention towards the Palestinian occupation is just one example of Gen Zs unrelenting desire to tackle issues across the world and to stand for what they believe in. This is echoed by our new Institutions of the Future report, where 98% of young people said they care about the problems that the world is facing.
It seems that of all the dialogue around Palestine on social media, the sentiment that resonated the most with young people was that we are no longer in the ages of remaining neutral and saying nothing or being passive towards such important issues. Instead, Gen Z and Zillenial media is a place where young people increasingly expect each other to be present, to share information and to take a stance on something. And why shouldn’t they? With evidently more democratic access to information and a wider pool of sources, young people today aren’t afraid of tackling worldly affairs, and with more accessible information we can also place emphasis on staying informed on varied thoughts and opinions on the side you might not agree with.
It’s equally important not to desist when things begin to change, as there’s still a long way to go for things for truly change in Palestine.
Charities, organisations and action links that you can support include but are not limited to;
If you’re not in a position to donate money, there are other ways you can help.
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This article was written by Shazmeen Khalid for Beatfreeks. It draws on data collected by National Youth Trends from 2000 young people across the UK. You can read more about their thoughts, feelings and innovations by clicking here, and having a mooch about.