The Guardian / July 15, 2020
The model posted a picture of her father’s passport only for it to be removed. Sometimes asserting your humanity as a Palestinian is portrayed as an act of aggression.
Is the word “Palestine” hate speech? Instagram seems to think it may be. The social media platform recently removed a post by the model Bella Hadid celebrating her Palestinian heritage. According to Hadid, Instagram deleted a photo she’d shared of her dad’s US passport, which listed his birthplace as Palestine; Instagram said it violated “community guidelines on harassment or bullying” and noted the platform doesn’t allow “hate speech”.
“Are we not allowed to be Palestinian on Instagram?” Hadid demanded. “This, to me, is bullying. You can’t erase history by silencing people.”
According to Facebook, which owns Instagram, the post’s removal had nothing to do with Palestine – rather, the platform doesn’t allow people to put personal information online. (That way, anyone could take your data, not just Facebook!) However, as the passport number was blurred out, Instagram acknowledged the post was mistakenly deleted. While this explanation makes sense, its policies don’t seem to be evenly applied. A quick search for #passports pulls up multiple posts that should, according to the guidelines, have been removed – including a page shamelessly selling counterfeit driving licences and ID cards.
I have no idea whether Instagram censored Hadid for being Palestinian, but I can tell you that being Palestinian means having your identity marked as “hate speech” and erased every day, online and off. Like Hadid, I’m half-Palestinian and I’ve lost count of how many times people have informed me Palestinians don’t exist. Simply asserting your humanity as a Palestinian is often twisted and portrayed as an act of aggression – just look at the outraged reaction last year at calls to boycott Eurovision, which was hosted by Israel. In the US, rightwing activists have tried to push laws on public university campuses that would suppress any criticism of Israel; some states have tried to prohibit the boycotting of Israel as a condition of public employment. Personally, I’ve found that talking about Palestine can be so fraught and exhausting that sometimes I just end up self-censoring; erasing my own history by silencing myself. Good on Hadid for refusing to do that. She’s not just a supermodel she’s a role-model.
Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist and brand strategist based in New York