Khan Younis is a Governorate to the South of Gaza Strip that has been under blockade since 2007, this has a devastating impact on youth in terms of restricting their movement and activism. In such a restrictive context, social media provides a crucial platform for young people to access information, realize their potential and express their opinions. Yet there is a large effect of the existing legal and political environment on Palestinian youth’s activism online. Youth have experienced their content being taken down by de-facto Authorities, online harassment and interrogations for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Overall, this has led youth to practice self-censorship*.
Wala' in a policy dialogue with human rights activists addressing the right to freedom of expression (© Oxfam-Solidarity)
Wala’ al-Satari is a 22 year old young refugee woman from Khan Younis. Wala’ studied Civil Engineering in a local university and is an activist in her community, she finds space in these volunteering activities to express herself in light of the limited opportunities for youth in Gaza. Wala’ came across an announcement in March 2019 for the digital right project “Tabeer” led by Oxfam Solidarité with the support of the Wehubit programme of Enabel. She instantly applied:
“It was a first time for me to see a project that addresses the issue of digital rights. The project scope is so close to my heart, as I was called for interrogation by the de-facto Authority on the basis of my tweets on social media twice in 2017 and 2020”.
Wala’ explained that she was under interrogation for hours, her mobile was confiscated for 45 days, and she was obliged to sign a pledge entailing that she will not post what the de-facto Authority defines as criticism tweets. These incidents left her wondering whether expressing herself is a right or a crime!
“Being part of the project was a turning point in my life, it was a first to come across concepts such as digital security, right to freedom of expression and cybercrime law”.
In developing community initiatives after the trainings, Wala’ spread her gained knowledge to school students. Wala’ stated:
“I feel it is my responsibility to share knowledge on the right to freedom of expression and develop constructive content online for others to avoid going through what I did”.
The project granted youth with the space to have a visible role at local and national levels to bring about change.
“I am not only confident to express myself online but I am taking a leading role in conducting policy dialogue with human rights activists discussing the right of freedom of expression, cybercrime law and its impact on youth”.
Building on these successes, Youth and project partners are now preparing for a national awareness campaign that addresses the right to freedom of expression.
Wala' in a hashtag session dessiminating information about digital privacy(© Oxfam-Solidarity)
Wala’ believes that the project ended up in having 60 youth activists on digital rights in Gaza:
“If each one of us shared the knowledge gained in our communities then we will have 60 new areas in Gaza that are knowledgeable about digital rights. When we understand our rights, we become empowered to call for change!” explains Wala.
* Hashtag Palestine 2019, an overview of digital rights issues of Palestine, https://7amleh.org/storage/Hashtag_Palestine_2019_English_20.4.pdf