Reports have been coming in about the messaging app WhatsApp that it has blocked the accounts of dozens of Palestinian journalists following this month’s fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
Two journalists in AFP’s Gaza City bureau received notices from WhatsApp in Arabic informing them their accounts had been blocked, shortly after a ceasefire went into effect at 2:00 am on Friday (2300 GMT Thursday) ending 11 days of deadly conflict. Same was the case with journalists in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank as well as Gaza.
After lodging a complaint with WhatsApp owner Facebook, the accounts of a crew from Qatar-based satellite news channel Al Jazeera said their accounts had later been restored.
The vice president of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Tahseen al-Astall, said “around 100 journalists” in Gaza had seen their accounts blocked.
A necessary part of reporting on both sides of the conflict requires Gaza journalists to receive Hamas statements, including via WhatsApp, even though the Palestinian militant group has been blacklisted by the European Union and the United States, accused of belonging to “groups and entities involved in terrorist acts”.
According to the Arab Center for the Development of Social Media, the blocking of WhatsApp accounts was not an isolated incident.
A new report by Israel’s third city Haifa documented that between May 6 and May 19, 500 cases were reported in which Palestinian “digital rights” had been violated.
“Content and accounts were removed, reduced and restricted, hashtags were hidden, and archived content deleted.”The report said
Around “50% of these reports were about Instagram, 35% Facebook, 11% Twitter, and 1% Tik Tok.”
“Companies did not provide an explanation for the deletion or suspension in the majority of their responses to users.”The report said.
“However, the reasons presented to users included hate speech, violation of community standards, requesting proof of identity among others.”
We have seen an “escalation against digital rights of Palestinians” in recent weeks, 7amleh campaigner Mona Shtaya told AFP.
In the midst of this chaos, social media remains an important tool for Palestinians since many of them believe that the traditional media coverage does not sufficiently capture the reality of the crisis.
Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian and two Thais, medics say. Some 357 people in Israel have been wounded.
Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire on Gaza killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded over 1,900 people in 11 days of conflict from May 10, the health ministry in Gaza says.