Radio, the Internet, and Palestinian Sumud

Radio, the Internet, and Palestinian Sumud


As of December 2023, over 18,700 Palestinians had lost their lives in the Gaza Strip within nine weeks following October 7, 2023. In addition to nearly constant airstrikes and military advances, the state of Israel has imposed a blockade on humanitarian supplies including food, water, gas, medical supplies, and essential survival supplies, resulting in an extremely dire humanitarian crisis that has left the international community in utter shock. 

This recent Israeli offensive has uniquely garnered an unprecedented amount of international attention and concern for Palestinians human rights. It has been made evident through widespread media discourse that this is the first time many people in the West are hearing about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Therefore, knowledge of the history of Israeli-Palestine conflict has become critically important. 

The dominant media narrative in the West largely framed the October 7, 2023 attack in such a way that suggested it was the first time Palestinian forces had resisted. These ways of framing the resistance are dangerous, as they allow misinformation and misunderstanding to spread. This phenomenon is a direct outcome of the historical suppression of Palestinian voices through the disproportionate settler colonial power Israel has wielded for the last seventy-five years. 

In this paper, I will explore how Palestine’s unique colonial situation has shaped the national media landscape and in turn shaped the ways Palestinians utilize media as a tool of resistance against their occupation. The format begins with a brief overview of the history of Israeli occupation in Palestine, reflecting on how Palestinian exasperation has accumulated through the decades of Israeli settler occupation. Then, I analyze how Palestinian resistance and efforts for decolonization have manifested several times in response, and specifically delve into the unique development of Palestinian media infrastructure from the late 1980s to early 2000s under occupation and, in turn, the unique utilization of media Palestinians employed during the Second Intifada. Considering that right now, the United States Congress is considering completely banning the use of the word “intifada,” or uprising, it is more imperative now than ever to consider the history of Palestinian resistance. Studying its intricate connection with media, particularly amid the unique emergence of media infrastructures in occupied Palestine, gives way to a deeper dimension of understanding of the broader historical context given the current situation in the Gaza Strip. 

The reality of the regional and national media landscape has had major implications on the Palestinian resistance movements. Media infrastructure development has been hindered under Israeli domination, and Palestine has fallen behind neighboring regions and the global standard since the systems in place must struggle to operate amidst the constant threat of Israeli suppression, censorship, or direct destruction at any time. This asymmetrical development has meant that traditional or “official” mass media was not available to Palestinians for much of the past seventy-five years. But within the last thirty years, access to media has expanded, albeit slowly and sporadically. However it is precisely within this irregularity and unpredictable context that Palestinian voices have adapted, resulting in countless instances of persistent resilience that merit thorough research. This paper will center two primary ethnographic sources: the story of one local Palestinian radio station that serves as an exemplification of this phenomenon and a research collection of interviews of refugees living in the region. The interviews aim to explore their perspectives on the Internet and its role in the context of Palestinian decolonization. But first, let us briefly examine the historical context in an attempt to elucidate how the current circumstances have unfolded.


Historical Context

While these latest measures taken by Israel in 2023 are unprecedented in their scope and impact, Palestinians are no strangers to surviving under severely oppressive occupational forces. The first Israeli occupation of Palestine occurred in 1948, in what Palestinians refer to as the first Nakba, or catastrophe. Here, the state of Israel was officially established, resulting in the displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians, or half the indigenous population of the land. Israel ultimately declared itself in control of 78 percent of historic Palestine.1 It is noteworthy to begin the historical context here because this time period of Israel’s settler colonial acquisition intriguingly coincided with the wave of decolonization in Africa following World War II. Countries like Algeria and Nigeria, among many others, were undergoing historic political upheavals concerning their decolonization efforts during this era. The parallel occurrence of Israel’s settler colonial acquisition with the major wave of decolonization sweeping Africa around the same time adds an interesting perspective worth mentioning. While one region initiated the very beginnings of autonomy from colonial domination while their neighbors endured the brutal beginnings that would go on and distinguish a period of modern colonial occupation that would last through the twenty-first century. 

Concerning the media within Palestine, Zionist forces completely destroyed and captured Palestinian owned newspapers and radio stations, killing journalists or forcing them into exile during the 1948 war. Then, for the next few decades following the Nakba, Palestinians in historic Palestine had little to no access to media communications. Beginning in the 1950s, Palestinians gained access to state radio from the Arab region, so through the 1950s to 1980s, Palestinian refugees in the diaspora took up broadcasting from outside Palestine in order to foster connection across borders by utilizing television and radio infrastructure in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, and Algeria. However, all of the available media was based and produced outside of Palestine for decades. Even the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s own broadcasting programming that began in 1965 was based in Syria. These cross border diasporic broadcasts did fill a gap created by the Israeli military’s rampant media censorship, but without the ability to create media for themselves, a significant void was left in the media infrastructure of Palestine. 

The next major acquisition of Palestinian land by Israel occurred in 1967 in the Six Day War. This began when Israel launched preemptive air strikes and staged a ground offensive against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. After six days of brutal fighting, Israel ultimately seized the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. The map in the Middle East was drastically altered, giving rise to consequential lingering geopolitical friction.

In terms of the impact on the media, the Israeli government imposed a ban on all broadcasting in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) in 1967, leaving Palestinians without a national radio or television station until the 1990s. Additionally during these two decades, Palestinians faced substantial communication challenges, as there were no phone connections between Israel and Arab countries.2 This degree of deliberate separation and division constitutes a hallmark of settler colonial occupation. In her Intimacies of Four Continents, Lisa Lowe writes “The repeated injunctions that different groups must be divided and boundaries kept distinct indicate that colonial administrators imagined as dangerous the sexual, laboring, and intellectual contacts among [colonized people].”3 While Lowe was discussing the colonial conditions within Trinidad in the late eighteenth century, the same colonial logic of “divide and rule” permeates Israel’s twentieth century methods of settler colonial occupation and domination in Palestine. The methodology of “divide and rule” operates on the logic of keeping occupied people separated, rendering them unable to communicate effectively. When communication is hindered, the ability to collaborate and organize resistance against their occupiers is compromised. The technique of sowing division persists throughout Israel’s settler occupation to this day. 

In the years following the Six Day War, political tensions continued to fester and grow as Israel continued to acquire Palestinian land. The culmination of these tensions reached a breaking point, manifesting in the outbreak of the First Intifada in December 1987, a youth and student-led uprising that endured through September 1993. During this period, Israel once again employed strategies to “divide and rule” to suppress the resistance. A notable instance of this strategy is seen in June 1989 when the Israeli military issued an order prohibiting the use of phone lines for sending faxes from the occupied territories.4 This measure was an attempt to block Palestinian contact within the outside world, undermining their ability to share their perspectives and opinions internationally. By deliberately isolating the Palestinians resistance from the rest of the world, Israel stifled further potential of the uprisings for decolonization.   

However, at the same time, the beginnings of the Internet were beginning to take shape in Palestine. Israel predictably did not allow Palestinians access to the internet for a long time. Orayb Aref Najjar writes, “Israelis fear new media because they understand there is a war over communication between them and Palestinians—a war that is played out daily in the occupied territories and in every medium of communication.”5 This “war of communication” relates back to the colonial logic of “divide and rule.” The emergence of the internet worldwide in the 1980s posed a threat to the Israel colonial project as a rapidly growing tool of connection. Ultimately, the Internet was established in Palestine, but not until 1990, and under complete Israeli control.6 While they allowed for the development of the technology, they maintained colonial control over the medium. 

The intifada ended with the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords, which marked the beginning of negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine. This “peace process” was intended to pave the way for an Israeli-Palestinian movement towards a two-state solution. Amongst the many provisions the Accords passed, notably was the acknowledgement of the Palestinian right to build and operate telecommunication infrastructure.7 While these talks sparked hope, the practical implementation of the policies outlined in the Accords lagged behind and often failed to materialize. To date, the Palestinian network is not totally independent; Israel still maintains a level of control that keeps Palestinian networks dependent on Israeli networks. 

The Palestinian telecommunications sector was established in 1995 and privatized in 1996 when the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) granted an exclusive license to the Palestine Telecommunications Company (PALTEL), empowering it to operate and develop telecommunications services in the West Bank and Gaza, effective starting in January 1997. The issue of this license essentially facilitated a private monopoly to take hold of the Palestinian media landscape. This can be attributed to the fragility of the Palestinian state. Consequently, the majority of progress and development in media has been overseen by private sector entities. As a result, Palestine interestingly boasts more independent radio and TV stations than any country in the Arab world.8 Najjar further speculates that the Palestinian government has largely refrained from intervening in the development of private independent media, partially because it wanted to reserve a more substantial portion of the broadcast spectrum in case Israel bombed government TV. This serves as a noteworthy example of how the Israeli occupation has manifested into varied implications in terms Palestinians’ media access. 

In 2000, the Second Intifada broke out. This time period constitutes the primary focus of this paper, characterized by a profoundly transformed media and political landscape, particularly shaped by the establishment of the Palestinian telecommunication network following the Oslo Accords and the emergence of the Internet in Palestine. 

A Case Study

Surprising and intriguing benefits have emerged from the privately-dominated market in Palestine, namely in the development of the radio station, Radio Tariq al-Mahabbeh, or TMFM. As the second Palestinian-produced station, this radio station—which still runs to this day—offers unique insight into not only how Palestinians viewed the circumstances during the Second Intifada, but also how Palestinians uniquely manipulated locally-produced media in the challenging context of occupation, bombardment, siege, and intifada. 

Situated in the city of Nablus in the West Bank, this radio station rose to the occasion during the Second Intifada, playing a significant role in local day-to-day survival and community building. This radio station’s story offers ideas surrounding alternative practices of Palestinian resistance that arose in response to the colonial modalities of control. Its founder, Amer Abdelhadi, speaks directly to this experience: 

TMFM, or “The Love Lane,” was established in 1997 in the West Bank city of Nablus. As only the second radio station established in the Palestinian territories, “right from the start it was clear it would be a community station.”9 When they first began broadcasting, they received hundreds of calls from Palestinians questioning: “Are you re-broadcasting for a foreign station?” and “Can there be a radio station in Nablus?” After decades of media censorship and the majority of media broadcasting originating from outside Palestine, the notion that a radio station could be based from within their own territory came as a surprise to many. The establishment of locally owned radio stations directly challenged Israel’s long-standing method of “divide and rule,” which had manifested in a largely foreign-dominated media landscape surveilled by the Israeli regime.  

Slowly, the potentials of community-based programming began to take shape. Abdelhadi writes that the station made a point to accept calls from listeners on the regular; they wanted to incorporate the community as much as possible. Abdelhadi intended to seek out reporters not just from Nablus, but from all over Palestine who “understood the traditions, particularities, and character of our community so as to be able to connect with the listeners.”10 The station quickly gained considerable popularity in the OPT. According to a poll conducted by PA General Statistics Board, Ratio Traiq al-Mahabbeh was the most listened to radio in the areas it covered throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Clearly, Palestinians were excited by the existence of a locally produced media broadcast. 

As the station expanded, a feeling of community developed, reminiscent of Benedict Anderson’s concept of an “imagined community.” Despite physical separation, an awareness of others tuning in simultaneously fosters a sense of belonging to this shared, “imagined community.” In her essay, “Radio and the Imagined Community,” Michelle Hilmes expands upon this idea arguing that radio not only has the ability to actively assert the unifying power of simultaneous experience but to communicate meanings about the very nature of that unifying experience.11 In the context of colonial division, this was entirely new to occupied Palestinians, who previously had experienced minimal to no locally-based sense of community through media. 

However, operating a locally-produced radio station in a colonially-occupied territory posed considerable challenges. Through Abdelhadi’s personal account, we see countless instances of Palestinian sumud, or “steadfastness” or “steadfast perseverance.” Despite running into obstacle after obstacle, the station continually created new solutions and innovations to keep the broadcast on the air. For example, in 1999, their broadcast station was raided by Israeli troops. All of their equipment was confiscated, and Amer Abdelhadi was charged with running an “illegal pirate radio station.” Supposedly, the house was in “Area C,” areas deemed by the latest Oslo agreements under full Israeli control. Palestinians were only allowed to occupy Areas A and B. This was a detrimental setback. All of the equipment and infrastructure they had worked so hard to build was lost forever. But Abdelhadi demonstrated sumud, writing, “there was nothing to do but carry on.” They found a new location for the station within Area A and replaced their transmitters with more affordable, less powerful ones. 

At the same time, post-Oslo tensions continued to grow. Israel roadblocks and checkpoints began to increase, Palestinian movement was being further and further restricted. Additionally, Abdelhadi writes that settlement expansion seemed to accelerate, with more and more settler-only bypass roads springing up as well. In September 2000, Palestinian frustration reached a breaking point when Israeli administrator Ariel Sharon visited the al-Aqsa Mosque accompanied by one thousand armed soldiers. Sharon did this to assert the Israeli right to visit the mosque. But Palestinians were fed up with the invasion of their sacred land. Palestinian resistors threw stones in resistance and were met with live bullets, and the violence spiraled out of control. Nablus became a center of the violence: Abdelhadi writes that the town had more martyrs than any other part of Palestine. Needless to say, the news began to dominate TMFM’s programming. 

Israeli shelling during the intifada affected the broadcasting station multiple times. When Israeli forces took control of the entire town of Nablus, they shelled the area, rendering the radio’s office completely destroyed. The main channel transmitter was destroyed as well as computer servers and archived files. However, within forty-five minutes, the staff members replaced their equipment with an undamaged standby transmitter. Unfortunately, four days later, the continued Israeli advancement destroyed the more powerful transmitter that reached beyond Nablus. But again, within only fourteen days, the staff installed another standby transmitter and broadcasting resumed on the air. Here, we see the absolute resilience, sheer determination, and sumud of these broadcasters. Clearly, the tool of the radio was too valuable of a survival tool to yield easily. 

Israel began imposing long periods of round-the-clock curfew, lasting for hundreds of days. The residents of Nablus were locked in their homes with no access to the outside world. The colonial logic driving these policies once again exemplify the strategy of “divide and rule.” As a result, TMFM developed into an over-the-air community-board-like operation. People would call in to report events they had witnessed which garnered more calls from other neighbors, enabling them to compare notes. Abdelhadi writes that “people used the call-ins as an opportunity to analyze the events, to which others responded, initiating what amounted to indirect on-air dialogues.” Often, people would call in with specific requests—for example, families would report running out of medicine or baby food—and the radio would, on live air, request for any surrounding neighbors to help and also directly call their contacts in these neighborhoods seeking support. While this was not always successful, this type of support and communication became a critical tool of survival. Isolated in their homes, the immateriality of the radio allowed for greater communication and connection.

Through this on-air invitation for call-ins, the radio’s staff members began to establish a network of reliable informants who would call in with updates on the violence. While in the beginning, many leads turned out to be not reliable, over time they established a reliable network of local informants. And through this vast network across the West bank and Lebanon, TMFM enabled Palestinians to prepare direct survival strategies. While the impact may seem trivial given the mounting invasion, maintaining this level of connection proved crucial not only to civilian survival but also mentality and sumud. This resulted in a type of local solidarity only made possible through the structure of radio. Now, the “imagined community” created by the radio was very quickly becoming a real-life community facing real, high-stakes life-or-death situations. In the process of creating a locally-run broadcast for the first time in decades, TMFM transcended beyond an “imagined” community of listeners and actually created a tangible community based in solidarity looking out for neighbors’ needs. 

Interestingly, the context of the all-out siege interestingly made it so the radio station was far less confined to political censorship than it had been before, given the IDF had its attention focused elsewhere, affording it the opportunity to take a direct political stance on a critical issue: the reopening of schools. Through interviews, talk shows, and on-air telephone conversations, TMFM determined that the general consensus was that parents wanted to defy the curfew to send their children to school. TMFM leveraged this sentiment to advocate for the reopening of schools, speaking to the governor of Nablus and the head of the board of education. The station convinced them to open the schools for a few days to see what would happen. The day when the schools opened, the streets were filled with sixty thousand students and their parents walking to school. Israeli forces did retaliate, firing hundreds of tear gas canisters and sound bombs towards the children, even firing tear gas into classrooms at some schools. However, the schools remained open. From the second day, the violence slowed down, and by the third day, most children were more safe in classrooms. The act of sixty thousand students returning to school, accompanied by their parents, had a transformative impact—streets were teeming with life, businesses reopening, and companies recalling employees to work. Life began to open up again. And then one week later, the Israeli army withdrew from Nablus. And while the situation did not return to completely normal, a semblance of normalcy was achieved. TMFM created their own solutions to defy the occupational forces. By taking an issue-oriented stance as simple as opening up the schools, the radio station played a major role in reopening the economy and life, people could once again move around and conduct day-to-day business. 

This exemplification of radio’s influence in fostering resilience within community is reminiscent of radio’s impact in the Algerian Revolution. In his A Dying Colonialism, Franz Fanon writes about how the radio station, Voice of Fighting Algeria, garnered revolutionary support in Algeria: “In making of the radio a primary means of resisting the increasingly overwhelming psychological and military pressures of the occupant, Algerian society made an autonomous decision to embrace the new technique and thus tune itself in on the new signaling systems brought into being by the Revolution.”12 While reopening the schools under occupation does not compare to the complete decolonization of the country of Algeria, this historical example connects to the real-world impact radio can inhibit. 

In conclusion, in this brief history of one radio station spanning three years, we see instances of bravery, resilience, and sumud repeatedly over and over again. Their story reveals how the tool of radio uniquely holds the capability to transcend political boundaries amid the context of the material restrictions of the occupation. Radio stood as a distinct tool in fostering local solidarity, community connection, attitudes of resistance, and even of action to make change. Investigation of this primary source material reveals the vast possibilities of radio as an alternative method for resistance and survival. 

Internet in the OPT

While TMFM and radio stations foster a sense of community on a regional level, the Internet serves as an alternative media structure, enabling communication and connection on a global scale. It poses a threat to Israeli domination because it enables the amplification of suppressed Palestinian voices. The emergence of the internet in Palestine in 1990 played a significant factor in the growing sumud and fervor of resistance that characterized the Second Intifada. Following the expansion of Palestinian infrastructural autonomy in the Oslo Accords, Israelis felt threatened by the broadening of communication channels now available to Palestinians. The internet would exponentially compound this access, not only bridging people within the OPTs but also fostering connection with the outside world. 

The Internet was finally established in Palestine in 1990. Professor Miriam Aouragh conducted an ethnographic study ten years after this establishment, investigating how this impacted Palestinian sentiments towards their resistance and decolonization. It expanded their conviction in the potential for decolonization, molding and manifesting new dimensions of Palestinian resistance. Through her ethnographic research, Miriam Aoragh reveals how the internet gave birth to a new dimension of discursive resistance within Palestine. Conducting interviews in the OPTs from 2001 to 2002, her research coincided with the Second Intifada, making for a uniquely interesting insight into Palestinian perspectives amidst ongoing resistance efforts. The internet allowed for the emergence of a new sense of Palestinian self-assertion and nationalism. In Aouragh’s interview with a refugee named Maher in the Shatila camp in 2003, Maher said: 

If I tell you a story that I didn’t really experience myself, you will not be affected as much as when it was indeed my experience. And maybe you will be more compassionate with me on a human basis. What happened to us as Palestinians is that others are continuously talking about us or on our behalf.13 

Referring to the ability for Palestinians to tell their own stories on the Internet, this reflects a shift in narrative power facilitated by the Internet—this tool capable of transcending geopolitical boundaries could amplify historically silenced voices. In Maher’s perspective, the internet functions as a means for Palestinians to exert greater influence by sharing their own narratives, thereby functioning as a tool of empowerment. Another refugee from the same camp, named Shiraz shared: “Normally we can’t feel strongly against them, when I watch the news on television I feel I can’t do anything. But like this, on the Internet, I feel like I am facing an Israeli myself.”14 This sentiment underscores the ability of the Internet to enable Palestinians to articulate their convictions with an entirely new sense of immediacy and personal engagement, unlike ever before. 

While the Internet functions as a crucial means of empowerment, it also functions as a very direct tool to cultivate attitudes of resistance. Aouragh’s interview with eighteen-year-old Nahed from Beirut shows how he viewed his internet activities as if they were naturally a part of his national duty: 

What is taken from us by force we should regain by force but we don’t have any power. We have to make contact with the outside world because if they start their own resistance against their governments [that support Israel] we will be helped. Everyone has a responsibility and should be a part of the resistance. If everybody shares we can make a big difference. For us, media is the best tool, and the internet the only effective weapon. 

Speaking regarding online engagement with the Palestinian diaspora, we see here the direct intention to use the internet as a weapon of resistance. While Palestinians were granted access to the Internet relatively late in comparison to the rest of the world, we see the hidden counter practices of Palestinian internet activists who immediately saw the potential of the media structure to aid in their fight towards decolonization. Their words and actions make up the grassroots practices of everyday resistance. 

We see here the radical potential the internet presented to Palestinians. The internet also helped defy the repression of everyday life in Palestine by overcoming the limitations of checkpoints and occupation and thus generating feelings of mobility and political autonomy.

Considering the current situation in Palestine today, it is abundantly clear that finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict is a formidable challenge, to say the least. The material conditions on the ground for Palestinians still prove inescapable and restraining to this day. Israel has sporadically cut off phone and Internet access throughout their latest offense. Their airstrikes have damaged communication lines and towers, and the fuel shortages have forced closed Internet and telephone services, making communication with Gaza next to impossible. However, we do see another instance of sumud through the use of eSIM cards, for example. These are pieces of software that act like traditional SIM cards, allowing people to activate a new cellular plan with phone and internet access on their existing phone. Minute but influential practices of resistance like this will continue on in Palestine no matter the extent of Israel’s genocidal project. 

Studies of on-the-ground issues such as these remind us of Palestinans’ incredible fortitude. We see how radio and the Internet function as tools for occupied Palestinians to exert autonomy and self-determination, connect with the outside world, and consider questions surrounding decolonization. In the face of what increasingly feels like an impossible situation, we must steadfastly honor the profound history that underpins the plea for Palestinian decolonization, and the enduring legacy of sumud. Let us not undermine the collective endeavors of Palestinian resistance throughout history; rather, let us remember their ultimate aspiration: a free Palestine.

  1. G. King, “Palestine: Resilient Media Practices for National Liberation,” Arab Media Systems (2021): 38, Open Book Publishers.
  2. O.A. Najjar, “New Palestinian Media and Democratization from Below,” in P. Seib ed., New Media and the New Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 194.
  3. L. Lowe, “The Intimacies of Four Continents,” in Ann Stoler ed., Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History (Duke University Press, 2016), 203.
  4. King, “Palestine,” 194.
  5. Najjar, “New Palestinian Media,” 191.
  6. King, “Palestine.”
  7. M. Abudaka,”The Effects of the PA’s Dissolution or Collapse on Telecommunication and Postal Services,” Palestinian Center for Policy & Survey Research (2013): 1,
  8. Najjar, “New Palestinian Media,” 207.
  9. Amer Abdelhadi, “Surviving Siege, Closure, and Curfew: The Story of a Radio Station,” Journal of Palestine Studies, 34, no. 1 (2004): 53.
  10. Abdelhadi, “Surviving Seige,” 54.
  11. M. Hilmes,“Radio and the Imagined Community,” in Jonathan Sterne, ed., The Sound Studies Reader (Routledge, 2010), 352.
  12. F. Fanon, “This is the Voice of Algeria,” A Dying Colonialism (Grove, 1959), 84.
  13. M. Aouragh, “Everyday resistance on the internet: The Palestinian context,” Journal of Arab & Muslim Media Research 1, no. 2 (2008): 118.
  14. Aouragh, “Everyday resistance,” 124.
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