On June 6, I woke up to a notification on WhatsApp: Muna el-Kurd had been detained by Israeli police in Jerusalem. I watched the video of Muna being taken from her family’s home as Israeli police told her parents that they would return “every hour, every minute” until her twin brother, Mohammad, was detained too.
For months, the 23-year-old el-Kurd twins had become the faces of Palestinian resistance in Sheikh Jarrah, broadcasting on Twitter and Instagram how they and seven other families refused to be forcibly expelled from their homes by Israeli settlers. These detentions were just the latest example of digital violence against Palestinians, a practice that both amplifies and reinforces the violence we face in the physical world.
These current events are not flashes of mistreatment, but emblematic of an entrenched state of apartheid and systemic persecution by Israel. In the digital world, this violence takes on a new resonance. I was terrified for Muna and Mohammad, my fear amplified by knowledge of how sinister, unafraid, and brazen the Israeli legal system can be in fabricating charges and turning Palestinian voices, posts, and words into criminal acts of incitement. One of the charges brought against them was that “their nationalistic sentiment” posed a threat to “state security.” In other words, expressing their identity as Palestinians online was seen as a crime.
This practice is by no means new. In 2015, I recall receiving updates from Palestinians on Twitter when Israel detained Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour over a poem she posted on Facebook and YouTube. The poem had a line that repeated: “Resist, my people, resist them.”
The word “resist” terrifies Israel. But for Palestinians, resistance is survival. Resistance is our people’s refusal to be silenced in the face of physical, psychological, economic, social, and political violence.
Israel has become increasingly adept and unforgiving in inflicting digital violence against Palestinians, whether by using our social media profiles to incriminate us for crimes of expression or erasing us from virtual spaces with the acquiescence of tech companies. It’s the same practice we witness in real life.
During the settler-violence at Sheikh Jarrah earlier this month, for the first time in recent memory, Palestinians were able to use social media — namely Twitter and Instagram — to freely show the images, sounds, videos, and words that are largely censored, diluted, or decontextualized under the media’s illusion of objective reporting. Yet, as in previous instances, this freedom proved fleeting. Either by admitted pressures or unfortunate “glitches,”Palestinian voices were once again diminished online — their reach limited, their presence erased. Even when I was simply reporting updates about Israeli violence towards Palestinian protestors near the illegal Israeli settlement and military base of Beit El, Twitter temporarily suspended my tweets.