BEIRUT: Lebanese singer Elissa was drawn into a war of words this week with official Israeli spokesmen after she expressed her anger and grief about Palestine.
The singer, who has more than 13 million followers on the social media platform, tweeted: “The land of Palestine is slowly slipping away as we stand watching. What law and what decree has turned this land from a land of peace to a land of wars?”
Israel Defense Forces’ spokesman Avichay Adraee replied: “Yes, Hamas is responsible for all this painful situation. The photo of the house in the Israeli town that has been targeted by Hamas missiles is proof of the movement’s aggressiveness and gruesomeness, which drives the people of Gaza to inflict further violence.”
His response prompted the Lebanese singer to tweet back: “The only response to this insolence is pressing the block button #mohtal_waqih (#insolent_occupier).”
It also spurred support for Elissa, with Twitter activists using the hashtag #mohtal_waqih and calling on people to unfollow Adraee as he was “spreading lies and instigating strife against Arab and Muslim causes.”
Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman to the Arab media, Ofir Gendelman, weighed in on a Facebook post and mocked Elissa’s “pride” in her Lebanese identity while standing by “Palestinian terrorist organizations.”
He wrote: “Have you forgotten that a Palestinian terrorist organization (Fatah) destroyed Lebanon by triggering the civil war in 1975 and occupied South Lebanon in 1982?”
Citing an Arab proverb he added: “Certainly, those who were modest had died.”
Lebanon’s laws prohibit direct communication with Israel, which it considers an enemy state, but social media is harder to police.
An official source in the Lebanese Internal Security Forces said authorities could do nothing about cyberspace.
“Lebanon prohibits communication with the Israeli enemy. We are aware that Adraee addresses Arabs, and especially Lebanese people, and this is the least of our worries. Lebanese people can only use the block feature, and if the Israeli party said something that violates social media laws and regulations, like racist speech, the Lebanese party can report him/her to Twitter,” the source told Arab News.
Elissa’s decision to block Adraee was praised in Arab circles but the Israeli rhetoric, which activists believed to convey “many fallacies,” fell under the heading of “freedom of expression without restrictions.”
Media expert Dr. Ragheb Jaber said there was no technical or physical way of restricting speech in cyberspace. “Whatever attempts are made in this domain, the virtual space will continue to have no limits,” he told Arab News.
Dr. Ahmed Maghrabi, a journalist specializing in technology, said democracy had its challenges.
“One of the major challenges associated with social media is the censorship imposed by states, and this censorship is ineffective and is not the best solution because an individual has now become a global communicator,” he told Arab News.
“Artificial Intelligence cannot monitor content all the time, or else how could the New Zealand criminal freely livestream his crime on social media for 17 minutes? They could not stop him but resorted to people’s awareness and to Facebook, through which they called on people to abstain from circulating the video footage. This means that we must bet on people’s awareness and free will to make their own decisions.”
He added that while the daily interaction between Palestinians inside and outside Palestine through social media was a positive aspect of these tools, people had to share a counter-narrative as “blocking individuals is not enough.”