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Palestinian news network suspended by YouTube over Gaza war footage

Gaza-based al-Quds tells MEE its YouTube channel was terminated without warning over footage showing Hamas fighters during 2014 war
Members of the Hamas Qassam Brigades parade in Gaza (AFP)

The YouTube channel of a prominent Palestinian news website was on Thursday suspended over a video it posted during the 2014 Gaza war showing members of Hamas's al-Qassam Brigades.

In an editorial posted on its website, the al-Quds network, which is based in Gaza, claimed the suspension was the result of an Israeli government campaign to pressure technology and social media companies to shut down Palestinian media outlets.

The al-Quds network, which began as a Facebook page before launching its own website in March 2011, describes itself as "first Palestinian news society".

It relies on young reporters and volunteers using phones and other digital devices to cover local news across the Palestinian territories, often reporting on violations by Israeli soldiers and settlers in the illegally occupied West Bank and Gaza. 

Its content is widely circulated, with around six million people following the channel on Facebook. Al-Quds said its YouTube channel had gained almost 10 million views prior to being suspended on Thursday.

Ahmed Jarrar, the editor-in-chief of al-Quds, told Middle East Eye that YouTube had suspended the network without any prior warning.

"YouTube's decision was based on a video we uploaded during the last Gaza war in 2014. It is not the first time our network has been suspended and the content removed. It happened in 2011, and we had to create a new channel from scratch," he said.

YouTube said it had based its decision on the network's "violation" of community guidelines.

Al-Quds staff received a notification from YouTube informing them that they had been assigned a "Community Guidelines strike" (screengrab)

In a message to al-Quds, YouTube said the video, which was titled "Al-Qassam Brigades send their message to the Israeli army and settlers in Hebrew language", had been flagged for review.

"Upon review, we've determined that it violates our guidelines. We've removed it from YouTube and assigned a community guidelines strike to your account".

Commuity guidelines strikes are a system which YouTube uses to warn and impose restrictions on users posting content which it considers in breach of its guidelines.

"Each strike will remain on your account and expire three months after it was issued. Each strike expires separately. If your account receives three community guidelines strikes within a three-month period, your account will be terminated," YouTube says on its website.

Al-Quds staff attempting to log in to the account on Friday were directed to a page stating that the account had been terminated because of violations of YouTube's community guidelines.

Al-Quds staff attempting to log in to the network's YouTube channel were directed to a page telling them their account had been terminated (screengrab)

YouTube's commuity guidelines prohibit "gratuitous violence, dangerous and illegal activities, inciting others to commit violent acts, and brandishing weapons". However, it says that content posted in a news context should not be affected.

Al-Quds' channel featured news reports and archive footage from the December 2011-January 2012 and August 2014 Gaza wars, as well as reports covering a string of stabbings and car-ramming attacks in Jerusalem and elsewhere since 2015.

Al-Quds' Facebook page had been suspended in the past, but the network has since been certified as a news page by the social media network.

Al-Quds is not the first Palestinian news outlet operating in Gaza to fall foul of YouTube's regulations. In August, television channel Filisten al-Youm TV was also suspended by the Google-owned video website. 

YouTube had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Palestinian journalists and activists regularly complain that they face censorship both by Israel, which has lobbied social media companies to remove pro-Palestinian content, and by the Palestinian Authority, which passed a cybercrime law in July allowing it to censor and scrutinise social media posts.

Several journalists were subsequently arrested as a consequence of the law, prompting protests by Palestinian human rights activists and NGOs, who marched in Ramallah earlier this week.

YouTube has previously apologised for mistakenly removing videos relating to the war in Syria which had been posted by news websites, including MEE.

It blamed the removal of those videos on the switch from using humans to flag content to a system based on artificial intelligence technology.

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