The Hebron Governorate in the South of the West Bank is the largest Governorate in Palestine. It suffers from a high rate of cybercrime and online gender-based violence. A 2018 study indicates that there has been an increase in cybercrime rates in Palestine following the technological development and spread in the use of internet and social media. The Governorate of Hebron witnessed the highest rates related to sexual extortion or blackmail of women and girls in particular. In a conservative society such as in Hebron, survivors of cyber violence often resort to remaining silent.
Hasan is a 19-year-old studying Building Management Systems at University. He is an active member of the youth groups established under the Wehubit programme that aims at building the capacity of 90 youths to advance gender justice in digital spaces (more info here). Hasan has shown unprecedented commitment to the project activities.
‘My story might surprise you. My commitment to this project is very personal. You will probably think that I am a survivor of cybercrime. However, the truth is that I used to be a hacker.’
Hasan is addressing the Ministry of telecommunications around their policies of digital security (© Oxfam-Solidarity)
Several years back, Hasan used his skills to hack accounts and crack software. He described himself as a white-hat hacker as he used to hack accounts to help friends and relatives in reclaiming back their stolen e-mails and social media pages: ’I did not know back then about other measures to counter cybercrime.’ Hasan added that he had never thought of the risks or harm that may result from his actions.
‘In March 2019, I saw a call for volunteers for this project. The project scope instantly attracted my attention as I’m passionate about information technology and digital security.’ The training that Hasan participated in was eye-opening. ‘It was the first time I came across concepts such as cybercrime law, digital rights and digital privacy. I was shocked to realise that even though I had good intentions when hacking accounts, I was in fact violating digital rights.’
While developing local activities after the training on digital privacy and digital advocacy campaigning, Hasan was keen to disseminate digital privacy techniques amongst school students, in addition to educating the local community about available services to survivors of gender-based violence in online spaces.
‘Some of the most interesting aspects of the project are the spaces and platforms offered to express our stories and advocate for change.’
Hasan has been actively blogging on different platforms, but what really got his attention is the You Know platform. Through this platform citizens advocate for accountability by sharing their voice and seeking answers from decision-makers.
This citizen participation didn’t happen overnight. Young people were encouraged to express themselves using digital platforms through workshops on positive criticism and by engaging policy makers and officials to make people comfortable and safe to publish their opinions and voices.
Social media influencers and public figures also published on the platforms and made it more popular. When youth see that other people are posting and expressing their opinions without any negative reactions against them, they become more encouraged to participate online.
Hasan and representatives from youth groups are visiting an internet service provider to address their policies and practices
on digital security (© Oxfam-Solidarity)
Hasan has been raising awareness on hackers’ techniques and forwarded his posts to the cybercrime unit within the Palestinian police to prompt dialogue regarding their obligations to counter cybercrimes. Hasan has posted on Hona platform* too about how to make the internet a safe space by simple digital security technique and shared his personal story of how the project has impacted his life by using his information technology skills to help people.
‘I was on the opposite side, I was a hacker and now I am working in my community and with stakeholders to bring change to fight cybercrime. My participation in the project is actually a life-changing experience.’
* Hona is an online platform for helping and motivating young Palestinians to share their stories, visions, ideas and actions through digital storytelling