‘Hacktivism’: Targeting Israeli Cyberspace In Support Of Palestinian Cause
Israeli websites, Youtube videos hacked in latest pro-Palestinian campaign
It may not be a new trend, but it appears to be gaining steam; that is, hacking Israeli websites to show solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Despite Israel having some of the most advanced cyber defense technologies in the world, earlier this month the home pages of Israeli schools, hospitals and municipalities were replaced with pictures of the Gaza Strip-based “March of Return” protests under the caption “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.”
Days later, so-called “hacktivists” expanded their reach, targeting popular music videos on YouTube including the most-watched video, Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito.” The hackers replaced that clip with an image of a gang of gun-toting hoodlums wearing red hoodies; whereas videos by top artists including Drake, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift all of a sudden included the message “Free Palestine.”
“It can be a response to Israeli violations against the Palestinian people or to restrictions on activists, including those who use cyber space as a medium,” Mahmoud Hribat, a Palestinian social media specialist, explained to The Media Line. “We have a lot of Palestinians in Israeli prisons because of content they posted online, not to mention the shutting down of Facebook pages and websites.”
Hirbat describes the phenomenon as “electronic repression” and believes that this has fueled an increase in pro-Palestinian hacktivism. He noted, however, that Palestinians themselves also can be effected by such efforts because it is difficult for the hackers to differentiate between Israeli and Palestinian sites given Israel’s near-total control over the Internet in the West Bank.
“Social media is the tool that enabled Palestinians and their supporters to grab the attention of the world,” Hirbat concluded, “by showing what is happening on the ground which does their cause justice.”
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According to Gonen Ben ltzhak, a former member of the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, cyber warfare is only one element of the overall, and ongoing, conflict between Israelis and Palestinian. “It’s a method among others, part of modern combat nowadays,” he contended to The Media Line, before adding that he does not believe the growing incidence of hacking is a response to any specific Israeli policy.
The latest multi-pronged attack—which many experts say bore the hallmarks of the collectivist hacking group Anonymous’ annual OpIsrael cyber campaign—also targeted the Israeli teachers’ union and national opera websites, displaying the phrase “we will not forget our fallen” in Arabic.
In this respect, a senior Palestinian official, who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity, stressed that hacktivists are reinforcing the reality that Palestinians will not let up until they achieve their full rights; the foremost being the establishment of a state along the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital. “Social media is a very important tool as it can be used to promote the Palestinian right to self-determination,” he elaborated, “as activists have the ability to speak their minds on social media, even while Israel is constantly trying to zip their mouths.
“Israel should not be worried about blocking people from expressing their political views unless it fears the truth,” the official concluded, “although, in doing so, Israel clearly wants to blur historical facts and Palestinian ties to this land.”