In recent years Israel has been invested in creating Arabic social media accounts, targeting Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in an attempt to “humanize” its image and spread “consciousness operations” using psychological warfare tools to manipulate and shape the public opinion.
According to the Haaretz newspaper, the content on Israeli social media is strategically designed and managed by a team comprising psychologists, marketing experts, scholars in Arabic studies, and Israeli intelligence staff, all aimed at promoting their desired online persona. Regular and consistent content is uploaded including cartoons and animation, videos, documented images and presumably accurate information from the ground field.
Although the general text and discourse is very similar to the Zionist propaganda used for over a century, the number of Palestinian followers of “Israel speaks Arabic” Facebook page reached about 1.4 million 2020, whereas Facebook page of Avichai Adraee, the spokesperson for Israel has around 1.6 million followers.
bidna neish [we want to live] Facebook Page
2018 witnessed an active presence of at least 20 Shabak officers who begun addressing Palestinians directly and personally through social media. Famous for the torture and killing of Palestinian detainees, UN condemned Shin Bet several times, most recently in March 2022, for its systematic practice of torture and ill-treatment against Palestinians, including children. This article intends to focus on bidna neish (we want to live) Facebook page, the content it uploads and how it presented Israel during April and May 2023.
According to recent research conducted on Israeli intelligence activity on social media, “the lone wolf intifada,” a series of attacks against Israelis executed by young Palestinians, which started in September 2015, was the reason behind this new and direct approach. What was noteworthy about Palestinian executors during that time is their lack of political affiliation to common Palestinian political parties as well as their young age.
The name of the Facebook page is rather interesting: it is a common expression in offline Palestinian street reflecting the frustration most Palestinians feel towards the current stagnant political situation and the desire of experiencing a normal life. The expression is also extensively used online as well, with at least 60 different pages titled bidna neish.
Shabak page introduces itself as a media agency that provides exclusive images and videos about current events in the West Bank. Another slogan targeted to Palestinians reads “You’re better off, concentrate on improving the quality of life than dealing with politics.”
Accompanied with an image of Israeli soldiers on the ground, the Shabak page published the following post on 25 May, 2023, the same day several news agencies including Wafa Palestinian official news agency, documented injury of at least 8 Palestinians with live Israeli bullets during a raid of Aqabat Jaber refugee camp located 3 km of Jericho. Shabak decontextualized the event, without mentioning any injuries or live bullets. Instead, they blamed ‘activists’ of obstructing the daily life activities in the camp.
Ayman Al-Rafati (2018) noted that Israeli social media incorporate psychological warfare to affect Palestinian thinking style, morale, and beliefs. The primary messages Shabak sends Palestinians reflect desire to foster collaboration and collect information for the “common good” sometimes texts include direct threats with intimidating language towards Palestinians other times it illustrates potential rewards for Palestinians, an example was posted 24 May:
"You are also in danger. About a month ago, an operation was carried out in Wadi al-Haramiyah towards Ain Sina. Know that we have not forgotten this operation, and we are working to arrest the perpetrator who escaped from the scene. And know that whoever provides assistance to the executor during his escape, his judgment will be the same as that of the executor. Do not help this perpetrator."
Israeli psychological warfare
The general discourse evident in the posts, reaffirms the Israeli military superiority over Palestinians. The word Palestinian, or Palestine is completely absent from Shabak’s vocabulary, instead, Palestinians are addressed by the name of the city, refugee camp, village etc.
One commonly used tool in the psychological warfare is defamation of Palestinian figures particularly members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for The Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)as well as activities and Palestinian social movements. Defamation, which has been used by Israelis for over a century, is now presented as a way to educate Palestinians on “terrorist” schemes that aim to destroy Palestinians, their families and even Palestinian society.
In a video posted March 2023 titled “There is no end to the exploiters because they are changeable, do not be like them,” the video starts with a countdown for a rocket ready to be launched then gets destroyed with flash images of Hamas leaders. Then, the video focuses on an Israeli officer behind at least 8 monitors surveying different including Ramallah and Gaza. The caption reads: “Over the past months, we revealed to you new ways of exploiting people of the West Bank, which harms your lives, kind residents of the West Bank. And now we want to reveal a surprise to you.”
A person appears wearing a scarf of Hamas with a blurred face, the background is full of green flags of Hamas as he says: “Peace be upon you. During the month of December, we were recommended by Sheikh Khaled Najjar, nicknamed Abu Ubadah, to the brothers in the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Operations Room in the Gaza Strip. During communication with them, they asked and insisted on carrying out operations against Israeli targets, and accordingly, money and weapons were transferred to carry out operations. You requested an operation on Route 60, you asked for the killing of many Jews and a river of blood. Do you understand me so far.”
Then the accent of the officer changes from a Palestinian accent to a Lebanese one as he continues while walking towards an office. Two photos in the background feature Isaac Herzog president of Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The script continues: “Until this moment, you think that you are talking to a religious young man from Silwad, who belongs to the Hamas movement, and you took advantage of his good heart for your criminal goals, but the truth is otherwise. You are talking to an Israeli window officer. First, I want to thank you for handing over the money and weapons that you sold them, because they are helping us in the fight against terrorism against you. Your continued stupidity, and on top of you is Khaled al-Najjar, nicknamed Ubadah. This should be called Abu Kharabah, because he ruins life for the residents of the area, and because of the arrest of innocent young men, you asked for a river. We will always work with an iron fist against your failed attempt, and we will always be on the lookout.”
The video ends with personal images of Saleh Al-Arouri, Farah Hamid, Ahmed Eid Jawad with a caption: “These are the ones responsible for exploiting hundreds of innocent people.”
Another common psychological warfare tool is the extensive and common use of the images of the young Palestinian prisoner which is illustrated with documentary footage. Since 1967, Israel has imprisoned more than 700,000 Palestinians from West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the prison experience is familiar to Palestinian families. Expected penalties, weeping Palestinian mothers or/and homes demolitions are also common themes.
Similar posts urge Palestinian mothers to keep their sons out of harm’s way: “If you suspect that your son has anything to do with these attacks, let us know.”
Posted on 24 May 2023 with a cartoon image for different (PFLP) in Gaza, prison and Lebanon driving several young Palestinian men into Israeli prison. The text reads: “It is important for you to know that the senior members of the Popular Organization in prison, abroad, and in the Gaza Strip are working illegally and carrying out acts of sabotage in the West Bank. They are making the youth of the West Bank pay a heavy price for their orders. They enjoy the pleasures of life while the young man in the West Bank pays the price for his deeds.”
Shabak’s use of social networks is unique and distinctive in regard to presenting misinformation about current events happening in the West Bank. The psychological warfare methods as intimidation as well as presenting Shabak as a benevolent organization for peace and economic prosperity for Palestinians is clearly not effective. This is most apparent and evident in the comments criticizing their content. For one reason, many Palestinians encountered Shabak officers and have first-hand experience with their interrogation style or/and torture. Another compelling reason is Shabak’s unswerving way of directly asking people to foster collaboration and collect information.