As Mohannad watched a stream of online videos showing Israeli settlers attacking Palestinians, he knew he had to join the mass protests engulfing the occupied West Bank.
Enraged and cognisant of the power of social media, he grabbed his phone and joined the hundreds of Palestinian protesters in his village, Kufr Ain, filming the clashes with Israeli soldiers and posting it on video app TikTok.
“If you don’t go out and challenge the settler harassment and suppression then the violence will come to you and you’ll be attacked anyway,” Mohannad, 30, told the Financial Times. “Everyone was posting about what was happening,” he explained, adding that their phones were “the only tool we had . . . our last option.”
He was among thousands of young Palestinians who have taken to the streets in the West Bank over the past two weeks to protest against Israel, opening up a second front as the Jewish state fought a 11-day conflict with Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip.
The violence, the worst in the West Bank in years, thrust a new generation of tech-savvy Palestinians to the fore. Born into Israeli occupation, angered by their treatment at the hands of the security forces and Jewish settlers, while disillusioned at the ageing Palestinian leadership, their explosion of anger was organic and widespread.
Youths burnt tyres and turned skips into makeshift barriers as they threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who used tear gas, rubber bullets and, in some instances, live ammunition against the protesters.
Any Israeli perceptions that decades of occupation and intransigence over the moribund peace process had helped pacify the West Bank — which, including East Jerusalem is home to 650,000 Jewish settlers — were upended.
The UN said Israeli security forces killed 30 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the past two weeks, with 700 more wounded by live ammunition and more than 6,000 hurt.
Israel said its security forces were attacked in various incidents, including two soldiers shot in the leg during protests around Ramallah last week — the first such incidents in the West Bank for years. On Monday, Israeli security forces said a Palestinian was shot dead in occupied East Jerusalem after stabbing two Israelis, including a soldier.
The bombardment of Gaza killed more than 240 Palestinians, almost half of them women and children.
Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets into Israel, killing 12, including two children. Fatah, the main Palestinian faction in the West Bank and the party of President Mahmoud Abbas, was largely silent throughout.
Mustafa Barghouti, a prominent Palestinian politician, said Abbas’s decision last month to cancel what would have been the Palestinians’ first elections since 2006 added to the frustration.
He believes the heterogeneous youth movement that emerged this month would be sustained despite the ceasefire last week that ended the fighting between Hamas and Israel.
“Today, Palestinian consciousness is alert — rejecting the same endless negotiations where the peace process became a substitute for peace, and negotiations became a substitute to a resolution,” Barghouti said. “Young people are taking to the streets and gaining leadership at the grassroots level.”
The scale of protests in the West Bank, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967, came as a surprise to the Israeli establishment.
The territory remained relatively quiet in 2018 as the US under president Donald Trump moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, whose status is disputed, and later recognised Israel’s sovereignty claims over the occupied Golan Heights. There was also a muted response in West Bank when Israeli forces killed dozens of Palestinians protesting in Gaza three years ago.
If the West Bank demonstrators were youthful, the sparks for this month’s unrest were decades-old: Israel’s planned expulsions of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, a predominantly Arab neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, and restrictions imposed around the compound housing al-Aqsa mosque. Jews refer to the site, which is sacred to both religions, as Temple Mount.
The anger of the protesters who came out in their thousands was aggravated by real-time reporting on apps such as TikTok and Instagram, as Palestinians of all hues rallied around Sheikh Jarrah.
This travelled beyond the occupied territories as many of the 2m Palestinians with Israeli nationality joined the cause, demonstrating and participating in a general strike last week — a rare display of unity among Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and within Israel.
Mariam Barghouti, a writer and researcher, said the Palestinian resistance was emerging within the context of the growing global justice movement that includes Black Lives Matter and the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
“Our voice echoes other struggles,” she said. “Israel is not sustained on its own but by racist regimes, including the US.”
Mohammed Abualrob, a digital media professor at the West Bank’s Birzeit University, said social media had proved vital in pushing the cause to a global audience. “We never saw such worldwide solidarity with aggression on Gaza before,” he said.
Bashar Murad, a 28-year-old from Sheikh Jarrah, said: “For the first time, Palestinians felt like they had a weapon — their phones.”
Indeed, the social media revolution has been so successful that many Palestinians now complain that their voices are being silenced by the tech giants.
Users complain their accounts have been restricted or closed for breaching “community guidelines” after posting content including words such as “resistance”, “colonialism”, “martyrdom” or “apartheid”. People have been misspelling or inserting random pictures of kittens into text to circumvent such restrictions, Palestinian officials and activists said.
Facebook’s vice-president for global affairs, Nick Clegg, has held meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian officials over hate speech and misinformation. The social network said its policies were designed to “give everyone a voice while keeping them safe on our apps”.
The youth-led resistance has also laid bare many of the misconceptions that underpinned the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan unveiled last year by the Trump administration.
It focused on economic development in the belief that this was the priority of the young generation, but was widely criticised for being pro-Israeli and sidelining the Palestinians.
Barghouti, the Palestinian politician, said: “These people are even more patriotic than their fathers and mothers because they themselves are persecuted, and they themselves are discriminated against.”