It appears social media is fanning the flames of Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens that has escalated over the last month, sending messages praising the perpetrators by calling them “heroes,” encouraging others to carry out similar attacks and warning of more attacks in coming days.
Popular Arabic hashtags such as “The Intifada has started,” “The third Intifada,” The Jerusalem Intifada,” “The Knife Intifada,” “Poison the Knife before You Stab,” and “Slaughtering the Jews” are trending on social media platforms, according to a report by the Middle East Media and Research Institute.
“In previous conflicts between these groups, there was only the media—a handful of newspapers, TV stations and websites—and it was controlled,” said Steven Stalinsky, executive director of MEMRI.
“With social media there is no control and it reaches a larger audience, particularly among the youth. In the West Bank and Gaza they are all connected through their cell phones, so they’re seeing these posts,” Stalinsky said.
These accounts also serve to mobilize Palestinians for additional attacks, according to the MEMRI report.
A Hamas-backed news site, Alresalah.net, posted an image on its Facebook page depicting a young man with a knife approaching two religious Jewish men at a Jerusalem bus station. The photo bears the hashtag “knife Intifada,” referring to the latest wave of stabbing attacks launched against Israelis.
There has long been a debate in the counterterrorism world as to whether these accounts should be taken down from American-owned platforms or whether the presence of these groups gives authorities valuable intelligence about their activities and location.
“Hamas is very active on social media, in particular on Twitter and YouTube,” according to Stalinsky, who says these accounts have not been removed.
“Even in the past when these accounts get taken down, they come right back with multiple accounts, and nothing is done to track them,” Stalinsky said.
Over the past 30 days, eight Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in attacks, most of them stabbings. During this time, 31 Palestinians were killed attempting attacks or in clashes between stone-throwers and Israeli forces.
On Monday, 13-year-old Ahmed Mansara and his 15-year-old cousin, Hassan stabbed and critically injured two Israelis, including a 13-year-old boy, in Jerusalem. Hassan was shot dead by police immediately, and Mansara was run over by a car after the incident.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas began a heated exchange of words between Israeli and Palestinian leaders today after falsely claiming that Israel had “executed” the 13-year-old boy who is recovering and was treated in an Israeli hospital.
Abbas, who is being criticized of inciting more violence at this very sensitive time, accused Israel in a televised speech late Wednesday of the “summary execution of our children in cold blood,” at that time claiming that the 13-year-old was among those killed.
In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of “lies and incitement.”