Hack Tel Aviv, hack it!

Palestinian songs, poems, and literature have for more than a century stressed the desire for a liberation of the homeland under Israeli military occupation. It was then, perhaps, only a question of time before Palestinian hackers fed into Palestinian culture of resistance. With fast-paced rhythm, synthesized trumpets, and a chantingmale choir, there is nothing aesthetically particular about this 2012 single by Palestinian Qasim al-Najjar. Yet, tuning more closely to al-Najjar lyrics reveals something a little out-of-the-ordinary. The first few words of the song feature al-Najjar singing: “Hack Tel Aviv, hack it.”

A remix of a previous song of his (“Bomb Tel Aviv”), al-Najjar praised a new weapon—hacking—in the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence. While “Bomb Tel Aviv” referred to the rockets sent from the Gaza Strip by militant Palestinian groups during heightened tensions in November 2012, “Hack Tel Aviv” references the spree of hacks carried out by both Palestinian and Arab hacktivist groups in the same period.

Soon after Israel began bombing Gaza in November 2012, various hacking groups made roughly 44 million hacking attempts against Israeli government websites. According to Reuters, a significant number were successful. Small independent Palestinian and Arab hacktivist teams, along with the operations of armed factions such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, took down Israeli websites, deleted databases, and leaked email addresses and passwords. Hacking an Israeli government website and allegedly obtaining 5,000 top Israeli military and government official email accounts, PIJ sent them the following menacing message: “Gaza will be the graveyard of your soldiers and Tel Aviv will be a ball of fire.”

Palestinian and Arab hackers are thus currently expanding the repertoires around hacking, to resist military operations. While western societies reflect the emergence of hacking-as-dissent through the production of TV series such as “Mr. Robot” and “Who am I–No System Is Safe,” Palestinians do the same through their popular music. Meanwhile, Palestinian depictions are countered in rival media production; the Israeli television series Fauda featured a Hamas hacker falling into the grips of the Israeli occupation forces.

Although hacking is still an exception in the Palestinian cultural landscape, al-Najjar illustrates how hacking rapidly has become recognized as a relevant player in an always-developing conflict.

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