How pro-Palestine digital activists in Latin America are offering an uncensored view on Gaza

Pro-Palestine activists use Spanish and Portuguese-language social media accounts like Palestina Hoy, Sou Palestina and Fepal to access news about Gaza. (AFP)
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Updated 09 February 2024
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How pro-Palestine digital activists in Latin America are offering an uncensored view on Gaza

  • The Spanish-language social media account Palestina Hoy curates and verifies news and multimedia from Gaza
  • In Brazil, Sou Palestina and Fepal have become influential Portuguese-language platforms for pro-Palestine content

SAO PAULO: Many pro-Palestinian activists in Latin America have been relying on social media to disseminate information about the war in Gaza that is generally left out by the region’s dominant press conglomerates.

Some activists have managed to attain audiences large enough to force the traditional means of communication to replicate or at least mention their content. 

The most important of such channels is Palestina Hoy (Palestine Today, @HoyPalestina on X), a Spanish-language account with over 566,000 followers. 

Created only four years ago, the profile has become one of the most visited in the world, ranking 32 on the list of top X accounts at one point since the war broke out on Oct. 7. 

It is now among the 140 most visited X profiles, according to one of Palestina Hoy’s administrators. 

“Before the attacks we had 200,000 followers, and it has grown exponentially since then. It could be even larger if it wasn’t for the censorship we suffer on the internet,” the administrator told Arab News on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns.

The administrator said the channel began with a website in 2020, conceived to provide information about Gaza and the West Bank. 

A team was established and the project began to grow. “We’ve been covering events in Palestine on a daily basis from the start,” the administrator said.




Members of the Palestinian community in Venezuela take part in a protest against Israel's military operations in Gaza and in support of the Palestinian people at Bolivar Square in Caracas on October 12, 2023. (AFP)

All content is taken from official accounts of Palestinian organizations, news agencies, and independent journalists whose work has been verified by the team. 

They take extra care to avoid publishing fake news, the administrator said, adding: “Those are sources that are available to anyone. We don’t have people in the field sending information to us.” 

Part of their effort is to translate Arabic-language content into Spanish. The group is not connected to any Palestinian organization, does “not receive even $1 from anybody to do that work” and is totally independent, the administrator said.

On Instagram and Facebook, Palestina Hoy has to deal with several restrictions. Videos showing Palestinians injured or killed are constantly blurred. Its content is not visible on users’ feeds, appearing only for followers. Live feeds are frequently interrupted. On Facebook, restrictions are even bigger, the administrator said.




People take part in a protest in support of Palestinians in Valencia, Carabobo state, Venezuela, on October 13, 2023 amid Israeli air strikes on Gaza in reprisal for a surprise Hamas attack on October 7, 2023. (AFP)

On Instagram, Palestina Hoy has two accounts and has more than 140,000 followers. On Facebook, it has 57,000 followers.

“X doesn’t eliminate our videos. Many times we post on it things we can’t publish on Instagram or Facebook,” the administrator said.

The account’s most viewed publication is a clip of a Palestinian toddler receiving medical attention at a hospital after being rescued from the rubble of her family’s house in Shati refugee camp, which was bombed by the Israelis. It has more than 16 million views.

Palestina Hoy has attained more than 200 million monthly views on X, and has become the most important Spanish-language profile on that platform. “No individual Zionist account is bigger than us. That’s why they’re so bothered about us,” the administrator said.

Palestina Hoy’s content has been mentioned by major newspapers and TV stations in the region on different occasions and is followed by several presidents and political leaders.

In Portuguese, the largest X account is Sou Palestina (I Am Palestine, @soupalestina on X), with more than 59,000 followers. 

Its administrator is historian Sayid Tenorio, a long-time activist of the Palestinian cause in Brazil and vice president of the Brazil Palestine Institute, known as Ibraspal in Portuguese.

The account started as Tenorio’s profile on Twitter. When the Gaza war broke out, he had about 30,000 followers. 

He realized that it was time to separate his individual account from the one in which he could publish exclusive content about Palestine and reach broader audiences.

“With the depersonalization of the account and the war going on, it has experienced great growth,” Tenorio told Arab News.

The author of a book about the Palestinian issue, he has contacts in the West Bank and Gaza. Members of Palestinian movements send him exclusive videos and pictures daily. 




Protesters rally in support of Palestinians at Camoes square in Lisbon on October 9, 2023 after the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an attack on Israel. (AFP/File)

He also redistributes material produced by news agencies and journalists from the Middle East.

“I have very little technical expertise on video production, but I have access to sources that most people don’t have,” he said.

Sou Palestina’s most viewed post over the past few weeks was about a petition signed by Brazilian celebrities and businesspeople against their government’s support for South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

The Jan. 19 publication displayed part of the list of signatories, which included Fabio Coelho, CEO of Google Brazil, and Fabio Barbosa, CEO of Brazilian cosmetics giant Natura. It was viewed by 231,000 people.

Posts containing footage of Palestinian children hit by Israeli bombs also used to draw many views, but Tenorio decided to cease publishing that kind of content.

“Many people would tell me that the disturbing images of the daily tragedy in Gaza were affecting them psychologically,” he said.




Palestinian children wait to collect food at a donation point in a refugee camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP/File)

Tenorio added that many Latin Americans from other countries get in touch with him, suggest content and share his publications despite the linguistic differences.

“Many messages come from Chile, the country with the largest Palestinian community in the region,” he said.

Politicians and famous artists in Brazil frequently share his posts. That has been helping the Palestinian cause to be discussed in wider circles, Tenorio said.

“The Western media as a whole censors pro-Palestinian ideas. In Brazil, the mainstream press is clearly pro-Zionist. Social media can help us bypass that blockade,” he added.

Another Portuguese-language account that has been extremely active since Oct. 7 and has seen enormous growth in the number of followers is administered by the Arab Palestinian Federation of Brazil, known as Fepal on X (@FepalB).

With only 1,500 followers on X on Oct. 7, it now has 38,000. On Instagram, Fepal’s profile had 12,000 followers and is now followed by 58,000 people.

“As soon as Hamas launched its operation in Israel, we began posting information on human rights violations in Palestine and the apartheid. That helped us become a reference for many,” Marcos Feres, who is in charge of Fepal’s communications, told Arab News.

He said Fepal has never boosted any publication on social media, and all growth has been natural. 

With more visibility, more people began to get in touch with Fepal, including mainstream journalists.

“Our spokespeople have given interviews to many websites, newspapers and TV stations, despite the pro-Zionist stance of the Brazilian media,” Feres said.

Fepal has also been able to express its criticism of the biased coverage of the war in Brazil, including publishing an article about that in a major newspaper.

Footage and information posted on its social media accounts come from public sources, including news agencies, Palestinian organizations and independent journalists.

“The Palestinian cause has entered the digital era, with a new generation being introduced to it right now through social media,” Feres said.

“The Palestinian cause has a unifying power in the Global South. In Latin America, we’re used to the domination imposed by other nations, so it’s easier for us to identify with the plight of the Palestinians.”

 


Media watchdog condemns assassination attempt on Iraqi publisher

Updated 27 February 2024
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Media watchdog condemns assassination attempt on Iraqi publisher

  • Fakhri Karim was leaving a book fair with his wife when shots were fired by a group of unidentified individuals
  • Committee to Protect Journalists calls on officials to quickly pinpoint, punish those responsible

LONDON: Media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned an assassination attempt on prominent Iraqi publisher and politician Fakhri Karim.

Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said in a statement the assassination attempt “in a highly secure area of Baghdad sheds a bright light on the darkness Iraq and its journalists are increasingly facing.”

He also called on authorities to quickly pinpoint and punish those responsible.

A group of unidentified individuals — armed and masked — fired at least 17 shots at Karim’s car on Feb. 22 before fleeing in two trucks, according to reports from media outlets and statements on Facebook from his organization.

Karim, publisher and editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper, was leaving a book fair hosted by the Al-Mada Foundation for Media, Culture, and Arts in Baghdad.

Karim and his wife, Ghada Al-Amily, were uninjured in the attack.

The incident occurred at about 9 p.m. in the Al-Qadisiyah district of Baghdad, a heavily guarded area that houses Iraqi government security agencies and officials close to the Green Zone, where foreign embassies are located.

In a Facebook statement on Feb. 23, Al-Mada called it a “cowardly assassination attempt” and called for a criminal investigation.

Iraq’s Interior Minister Abdul Amir Al-Shammari said that he had instructed a special security team to enhance security and intelligence operations in order to apprehend and prosecute those responsible for the crime.

Karim is a well-known politician and journalist who worked as an adviser to former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. He was a strong critic of former Iraqi dictator and President Saddam Hussein. His newspaper, Al-Mada, is considered one of the few remaining independent newspapers in Iraq.


Berlin mayor decries ‘antisemitism’ over Berlinale speeches on Palestine solidarity

Updated 27 February 2024
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Berlin mayor decries ‘antisemitism’ over Berlinale speeches on Palestine solidarity

  • Politically charged edition of film festival saw many artists, including many of Jewish heritage, expressing solidarity with Palestine
  • Mayor Kai Wegner called promotion of ‘antisemitism’ during festival an ‘intolerable relativization’
  • Israeli Yuval Abraham, co-director of winning documentary ‘No Other Land,’ said he received death threats after speech

LONDON: Berlin Mayor Kai Wegner has accused the Berlin Film Festival of promoting “antisemitism” following speeches expressing solidarity with Palestine during the closing ceremony on Saturday.

Wegner urged the state-backed festival management to “ensure that such incidents do not happen again.”

In a post on X, he said: “What happened yesterday at the Berlinale was an intolerable relativization. Anti-Semitism has no place in Berlin, and that also applies to the art scene.”

Although Wegner did not specify the particular aspect of the ceremony or the artists he took issue with, he emphasized Berlin’s commitment to freedom and its “firm” support for Israel.

A member of the Christian Democratic Union party, Wegner assumed office as mayor in April 2023. Throughout the recent crisis in the Middle East, he has consistently voiced support for Israel, attributing “full responsibility for the deep suffering in Israel and the Gaza Strip” to Hamas.

During the 10-day festival, numerous artists used the stage to express solidarity with Palestine, including Yuval Abraham, director of the documentary “No Other Land,” who called for a ceasefire as he received his award on Saturday.

Accompanied by Palestinian fellow co-director Basel Adra, he said: “In two days, we will go back to a land where we are not equal. I am living under a civilian law, and Basel is under military law. We live 30 minutes from one another, but I have voting rights, and Basel (does not have) voting rights. I am free to move where I want in this land. Basel is, like millions of Palestinians, locked in the occupied West Bank. This situation of apartheid between us, this inequality, it has to end. We need to call for a ceasefire.”

Abraham, an Israeli journalist, filmmaker, and activist based in Jerusalem, accused Israel of a “massacre” and criticized German arms sales to Israel.

Abraham later posted the Berlinale clip to X, saying that he had received multiple death threats following the broadcast of the speech by Israel’s Channel 11.

“Our film ‘No Other Land’ on occupied Masafer Yatta’s brutal expulsion won best documentary in Berlinale. Israel’s channel 11 aired this 30 second segment from my speech, insanely called it ‘anti semitic’ — and I’ve been receiving death threats since. I stand behind every word,” he said in a post on X.

Other filmmakers and jury members, including American Jewish director Eliza Hittman, also used the closing ceremony to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The festival also faced an attack by anonymous hackers, who accessed the official Berlinale Panorama Instagram account and shared a series of infographics about the war in Gaza.

The posts highlighted Germany’s involvement in the conflict, criticizing what they perceived as the country’s exaggerated historical guilt toward Jews.

“From our unresolved Nazi past to our genocidal present — we have always been on the wrong side of history. But it’s not too late to change our future,” read one of the posts.

The festival promptly removed the posts and announced plans to “file criminal charges against unknown persons” responsible for sharing “posts about the war in the Middle East.”

In a statement, the Berlinale management clarified that filmmakers’ statements were independent and “in no way represent” the opinions of the festival. They emphasized that statements should be accepted as long as they “respect the legal framework.”

On Monday, a governement spokeperson said German officials will investigate how Berlin film festival winners made “one-sided” comments condemning Israel’s war in Gaza at the awards gala.

Amid the widespread anger at the comments at the award ceremony, Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Ron Prosor, said on social media: “Once again, the German cultural scene showcases its bias by rolling out the red carpet exclusively for artists who promote the delegitimisation of Israel.”

At the film festival, “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel discourse was met with applause”, he added.

This year’s Berlinale marked the final edition under the leadership of Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek. The next edition will be led by former London Film Festival head Tricia Tuttle, who was present at the closing ceremony and received recognition from Rissenbeek.


Billboard Arabia launches exclusive studio session ‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’

Updated 27 February 2024
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Billboard Arabia launches exclusive studio session ‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’

  • Series combines Arabic songs, modern music culture and innovative melodies
  • The inaugural session showcases Ahmed Saad performing his chart-topping hits

RIYADH: Billboard Arabia has announced the debut of ‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’. This exclusive studio session series combines Arabic songs, modern music culture and innovative melodies, offering fans of all ages an immersive audio-visual experience. 

‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’ is a journey of discovery, where Arab artists seamlessly fuse their most popular songs with new musical arrangements and rhythms. This unique fusion aims to captivate fans, inviting them to reimagine how language and lyrics connect, along with the blend of different melodies, musical styles and cultural influences. Each session concludes with an exclusive interview, offering insights into the artists’ inspirations and creative process, and showcasing their artistry.  

‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’ breaks the traditional mould by allowing artists to reinterpret their favourite songs in inventive ways. From acoustic and live percussion performances to blends of Latin, Arab, Khaleeji, and Afro-Caribbean inspired beats, each session is a celebration of musical diversity.

 

 

Ahmed Saad, who has been in the top ten of the Billboard Arabia Artist 100 since its launch, takes center stage in the first session, delivering a sensational performance of his most popular songs. Get ready to witness Saad like you have never seen him before, as he introduces a unique fusion of musical styles inspired by various cultures and backgrounds. Accompanied by talented musicians, his songs take on fresh and different meanings, creating new memories for music lovers.  

With the MENA region being one of the fastest growing music hubs globally, this announcement reflects Billboard Arabia’s strategic vision of providing a platform to spotlight established and emerging Arab artists, celebrate their creativity, and connect them with a wider audience. It also follows the launch of Billboard Arabia’s digital platform and flagship charts in December 2023, including the Billboard Arabia Artist 100 and the Billboard Arabia Hot 100 for Arabic music.  

‘Jalsat Billboard Arabia’ is now exclusively available on Billboard Arabia’s YouTube channel.  


‘Fascist Modi’ response by Google’s Gemini AI sparks diplomatic row

Updated 26 February 2024
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‘Fascist Modi’ response by Google’s Gemini AI sparks diplomatic row

  • Google AI model response said some of Modi’s policies were ‘characterized as fascist’ by experts
  • ‘Google’s response breached India’s law,” junior information tech minister said

LONDON: Google’s artificial intelligence model, Gemini, has sparked a diplomatic row with its response describing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government policies as “fascist.”

The controversy arose when Indian author and journalist Arnab Ray queried Gemini about Modi’s ideology, to which the bot responded that Modi was “accused of implementing policies some experts have characterized as fascist.”

This answer contrasted with responses to similar questions about former US President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who received more benign replies.

The controversial response sparked an immediate backlash in India, with accusations of bias and malice leveled against Google and its AI model.

Junior Information Technology Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar raised the issue, accusing Google of violating the country’s digital technology rules and various provisions of India’s criminal laws.

He emphasized that the unreliability of AI platforms could not be used as an excuse to exempt them from Indian laws.

“The Government has said this before — I repeat for attention of @GoogleIndia … Our Digital Nagriks (citizens) are NOT to be experimented on with ‘unreliable’ platforms/algos/model … ‘Sorry Unreliable’ does not exempt from the law,” he wrote on X.

Google responded by stating that it had addressed the problem and was working to improve the system, clarifying that “Gemini is built as a creativity and productivity tool and may not always be reliable.”

This incident comes after Google had to issue an apology and suspend some of Gemini’s tasks last week when the model depicted specific white figures, such as the US Founding Fathers, or groups like Nazi-era German soldiers, as people of color.

This move was seen by experts as an overcorrection to long-standing racial bias problems in AI, prompting fresh concerns about the issue.

In a similar incident earlier this month, social media platform X stated that the Indian government had ordered it to take down posts expressing support for farmers in north India demanding higher crop prices.

While complying with the orders, X expressed disagreement, citing concerns about curtailed freedom of expression.


Netflix-AFAC’s Women in Film training program deemed big success

Updated 26 February 2024
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Netflix-AFAC’s Women in Film training program deemed big success

  • ‘Truly inspiring’ initiative concluded with visit to production facility in Madrid
  • 37 women took part in project that aims to support development of industry

LONDON: The inaugural film industry training program launched by Netflix for young Arab women has garnered praise as a “truly inspiring” success.

In collaboration with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, the Women in Film: Introduction to the Creative Process initiative concluded with a visit to Netflix’s production hub in Tres Cantos, Madrid, following a series of workshops across the Middle East region.

“The program was a great experience not only for the quality of information being taught, but also for meeting influential women from different areas in this industry and providing an interactive and fun experience,” said Maha Hani, a participant from Saudi Arabia, who was among 37 women recently concluding the initiative in Madrid.

“Seeing the drive and initiative by Netflix and AFAC to provide opportunities for great stories by talented women all over the world is truly inspiring,” she added.

The program began in November with three-day workshops held in Dubai, Jeddah, and Cairo, offering participants mentorship from established female directors in various aspects of filmmaking, including scriptwriting.

Participants visited Netflix’s content hub during the final leg, expanding their network through engagements with industry professionals and talks with prominent organizations and government bodies.

The participants also had the opportunity to have mentoring sessions with producer Emma Lustres (“Cell 211,” “Retribution”), and showrunner Gema R. Neira (“Nacho,” “High Seas,” “Farina”).

Netflix collaborated with AFAC to support aspiring female directors aged 21 to 27 as part of its broader commitment to promoting gender equality in the Arab cinema industry through its Because She Created initiatives.

Announced in August, the program welcomed candidates from the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait.

Rima Mismar, AFAC’s executive director, spoke of the organization’s ongoing commitment to breaking stereotypes and championing women’s voices across the Arab region.

She said: “We are extremely pleased with this renewed partnership with Netflix, through which we can build on this commitment and instill technical capacities in young women talents of the region.”

Nuha El Tayeb, Netflix’s content director for Turkey, the Middle East, and Africa, highlighted the program’s role in developing talents and supporting the growth of the industry’s next generation, adding: “We are proud of the impactful work we’re delivering with long-standing partners like AFAC, who have experience creating tangible opportunities for underrepresented voices and making the industry more inclusive and accessible.”