Gruesome Facebook posts set agenda for new Palestinian terrorism

Scornful of their leadership, mistrustful of mainstream media, young assailants impacted by pages filled with grisly images and caricatures encouraging attacks

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

A caricature by Hasan Abadi encourages Palestinians to stab Israeli soldiers [Facebook image]
A caricature by Hasan Abadi encourages Palestinians to stab Israeli soldiers [Facebook image]

Less than 48 hours before he boarded a Jerusalem bus Tuesday morning and opened fire on its passengers, killing two, Bahaa Allyan was busy castigating mainstream media on his Facebook page.

On Sunday morning, a fellow resident of his village of Jabel Mukabber, Israa Ja’abees, was badly wounded in an explosion when she tried to detonate gas canisters in her car en route to Jerusalem. The alertness of an Israeli policeman who stopped the car for inspection prevented a massive terror attack in the capital, Israeli media reported. The woman yelled “Allahu Akbar” (God is most great) and set off the explosive detonator in her car, a police statement said

But on Allyan’s Facebook page, filled with posts utterly hostile to Israel and derisive of the Palestinian Authority, the story was dramatically different. A graphic designer by profession, he had been in touch with Ja’abees’s family who, he wrote, told her that her car had malfunctioned on the way to Hebrew University. The Israeli forces, they said, mistook an electric short for a terror attack and opened fire, “killing her in cold blood.”

“I am posting news on my [Facebook] page due to the absence of real media, and also to refute Hebrew media which some consider credible but is certainly not,” wrote Allyan, who was 22. “Without real media our truth will be lost.”

Jerusalem terrorist Bahaa Allyan Bahaa Allyan Facebook page
Jerusalem terrorist Bahaa Allyan (Bahaa Allyan Facebook page)

It was not only in official media that Allyan felt he had no voice. Palestinian leadership, be it local or national, had failed the people, he emphatically argued.

“Let the Palestinian Authority know that a ceasefire [with Israel] is in the hands of the people, not in the hands of any of its rulers,” he wrote on Saturday. The following day, he added: “The reassuring thing is that the leaders are out of the equation. The opportunists and those who love to appear on television will soon be marginalized.”

On October 4, Allyan had complained that Jabel Mukaber, a Palestinian village of 32,000 residents annexed to Jerusalem in 1967, was not living up to its reputation. (The village produced the Abu Jamal cousins, who carried out the terror attack on a Har Nof synagogue that killed four Jewish worshipers and a policeman in November 2014).

‘Where are the patriotic forces in Jabel Mukaber?’ wrote Bahaa Allyan two days before the attack

“When you walk around Jabel Mukaber you find only one or two shops closed and everyone else open, as though they’re not concerned by the situation,” he wrote. “Where are the patriotic forces in Jabel Mukaber? My criticism is directed at the locals before the patriotic forces. Every shop owner should decide to strike on his own. Everyone tells me not to air our dirty laundry. No! Everyone should know that there are no patriots and only two or three shops are shut, unfortunately.”

“Don’t jump up and tell me ‘no one notified us.’ Things are clear and everyone knows that situation. No one needs to tell you to strike. Our martyrs deserve mourning. Commerce is futile in light of the events.”

Allyan, like other terrorists who have shared their thoughts and emotions on Facebook ahead of their deadly attacks, belonged to a new generation which despises political authority and deeply suspects any intuition other than its own. Inspired by the activism of Arabs across the Middle East, he had nothing but scorn for the inaction of his fellow Palestinians in the face of Israel’s perceived aggressive onslaught.

Approximately one third of Palestinian society in Jerusalem and the West Bank is active on social media, said Orit Perlov, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) who specializes in Palestinian social media.

“There are no borders in social media,” she said. “The same message resonates in Gaza, Jerusalem and Um al-Fahm.”

An image posted on the Facebook account of a Palestinian activist (Facebook image)
An image posted on the Facebook account of a Palestinian activist (Facebook image)

According to Perlov, the availability of the internet in Palestinian society makes it an equalizing and democratizing tool, granting a voice to women and youths who have no say in mainstream Palestinian politics.

In recent months, she added, Israel and the PA have been monitoring and arresting prominent Palestinian social media activists in Jerusalem and the West Bank, leaving the arena “like an octopus with tentacles but no head.”

Orit Perlov, a social media expert at INSS, October 13, 2015 Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel
Orit Perlov, a Palestinian social media expert at INSS, October 13, 2015 (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

ِAllyan had posted photos of Palestinian attackers, lying dead in puddles of blood in Jerusalem, after being shot dead by Israeli police. The photos were doubtless downloaded from a plethora of news sites followed by youth like him — sites that post videos and photos from attack sites within seconds of their occurrence — and which have all but supplanted newspapers and satellite channels as a main source of information.

Facebook pages such as Quds News Network (3.6 million followers on Facebook, 264,000 on twitter); Shehab News Agency (4.1 million followers on Facebook, 99,000 on twitter), and Urgent from Gaza (282,000 followers on Facebook) flood Palestinian computer screens with gruesome images of dead Palestinians and caricatures encouraging more attacks, often accompanied by a hashtag ordering “stab!” or warning “al-Aqsa is in danger!”

As frustrating as it may be for Israeli decision-makers, statements by Palestinian leaders have little effect on the perpetrators of deadly attacks. If anything, it is the leaders who follow the trend set by social media at the grassroots level, adopting hashtags invented by teenagers and online activists.

Last December, Allyan posted a chilling “will for any martyr” on his Facebook page, a document that has gone viral on Palestinian media following his death.

“I instruct the factions not to claim responsibility for my martyrdom. My death was for my homeland, not for you,” read article number 1. ” Don’t turn me into a number to be counted today and forgotten tomorrow. See you in heaven.”

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