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Bella Hadid
via Instagram (@bellahadid)

Info Wars: How the Hadids are influencing the Israel-Palestine crisis

At a time when social media is paramount in the support of Palestine, celebrities and influencers are standing up to the Israeli state’s digital propaganda

Supermodel Bella Hadid, of Palestinian heritage, was vilified by Israel’s state Twitter account who falsely accused her of advocating for ‘throwing Jews into the sea’ after she attended pro-Palestine protests in LA over the weekend.

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” Bella chanted with the crowd of protesters. Israel’s officially verified Twitter page claimed it was a call for the elimination of Israel, of drowning Jews. 

Protests have erupted in major cities across the world over the last week, calling for an end to the ongoing bombardment of Gaza by Israeli military forces, and the forced dispossession of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem. Over 200 Palestinians including 52 children have been killed by Israel’s bombing of Gaza and ten Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets fired into Israel. A further 12 Palestinians protesting in the West Bank have also been killed, and hundreds of arrests have been made.

Social media has been paramount in the movement to support Palestinians, with residents of Gaza and East Jerusalem tweeting and live streaming events that may not have otherwise been seen or picked up by mainstream media outlets.

Influencers and celebrities have also spoken out against the violence, with some criticised for failing to take a clear stance against Israel’s ongoing military bombardment of Gaza. And some who have spoken out, like Kendall Jenner and Paris Hilton, swiftly deleted their posts offering solidarity with Palestinians. Behind the scenes it appears that the stakes are high, even among the rich and famous, for those who choose to speak up for Palestinians.

Among those who have spoken out to condemn Israel’s actions are supermodel sisters of Palestinian descent, Bella and Gigi Hadid. A far cry from generic, soft-touch celebrity statements calling for ‘peace’ in the vaguest of terms and ‘both sides’-ing, the pair have shared information about the plight of those living under occupation, as well as the history of the ethnic cleansing and ethnic displacement of Palestinians.

Their father, Mohamed Hadid is a wealthy real-estate developer born in the city of Nazareth in what was then Palestine. He was made a refugee following the creation of Israel. He often speaks about his culture and yearning for his homeland on his Instagram page.

With Bella and Gigi’s combined Instagram reach of 108 million followers, the significance cannot be understated of two of the biggest ‘It Girls’ in the world being Palestinian women who have publicly denounced Israel and called for an end to a military occupation that has been normalised in mainstream political opinion, and supported by successive Western governments.

The Israeli government’s tweet accusing Bella Hadid of violent antisemitism was mocked, Twitter ratio’d, and meme-d en masse – but the cyber-attack showed the tyranny of a state that targets and brazenly lies about a young Palestinian woman for daring to speak out, subjecting her to widespread backlash and threats, as well as a panicked attempt at shifting the narrative away from the pursuit of Palestinian freedom.

This was confirmed when Yair Netanyahu, the controversial far-right son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also tweeted in outrage at the ‘antisemitic propaganda’ shared by the Hadid sisters. He goes on to complain that the only Israeli celebrity with a similar following who could challenge them publicly is Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot, “who chose to write a neutral post as if she were from Switzerland”. Gadot, a former IDF soldier, has been staunchly pro-Israel. In 2014, she shared a Facebook post containing pro-IDF, anti-Hamas statements, before declining to discuss her time in the military in interviews after then.

The perceived threat of losing mainstream support among young people due to the activism of the Hadid sisters is clear in Israel’s frenzied digital propaganda – and despite billions in foreign aid and widespread political support, public opinion is still dearly important to Israel.

The continued occupation relies in many ways on positive PR and normalisation; this is how Israel is able to violate humanitarian law repeatedly and quietly support settlers in taking Palestinian land and homes, while Western leaders praise their commitment to peace.

Israeli military and state presence on various social media platforms show a desire to engage young people in English-speaking countries. Their Twitter and Instagram pages are full of polished videos with dramatic sound effects and pastel infographics providing ‘context’ and unverified justifications for the indiscriminate bombing of buildings in Gaza. Where we’ve seen brands metabolise activist discourse, influencerdom, and infographic culture in the last year of protests and against a backdrop of social upheaval, actual states have done the same. On TikTok, beautiful women soldiers of the IDF join in dance challenges, presumably in between full-scale military operations that brutalise the occupied population.

“The continued occupation relies in many ways on positive PR and normalisation... Israeli military and state presence on various social media platforms show a desire to engage young people in English-speaking countries”

The quest for a polished public image seems all the more sinister alongside the bombing of a 15-storey building in Gaza on Saturday, housing the offices for the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. The blast has been condemned as an attack on press freedom and an attempt at censorship. The IDF claimed the building housed Hamas military equipment, but did not provide any evidence to support this.

Many young pro-Palestine activists have also reported having their Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook posts deleted and their accounts blocked or shadow banned for sharing information around what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza, especially when using the #SaveSheikhJarrah hashtag in both English and Arabic.

“Social media companies are silencing Palestinian voices while they’re fighting for their survival on the ground,” Marwa Fatafta, a policy member of the think tank Al Shabaka, told Al Jazeera. “This is not a one-off incident, it’s a sequel to wider systematic censorship and discrimination targeting mainly those who are marginalised and oppressed, often at the behest of oppressive regimes.” Last year, 7amleh, the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, found that Facebook has complied with 81 per cent of Israel’s requests to take down content.


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♬ original sound - צה"ל

Censorship may be muddying the waters, but the information war has not yet been won. Snapchat’s Maps feature, which shows users Snapchat videos and images from selected location tags, currently lays bare the stark difference on the ground in Israel and Palestine: in Tel Aviv people are filming themselves watching TV and going about their daily lives, while in Palestine, the scenes are of bombed buildings and, terrifyingly, air strikes happening in real time.

In past years, it may have been controversial to use the word ‘apartheid’ to describe Israel’s occupation, institutional racism, a criminal justice system that sees Palestinians tried in military courts and Israeli Jews tried in civil courts, or the separate roads for Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank. 

However, with global conversations around white supremacy and colonialism dominating mainstream discourse last summer surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, coalitions of solidarity seem to have helped shift the paradigm of thought surrounding Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. Now more than ever, digital solidarity and resistance is vital to cultivate.