The Child of Bethlehem

Twitter's reaction to the arrest of 16-year-old Palestinean Ahed Tamimi

The Christmas Clashes

Despite Bethlehem being the centre of attention around Christmas time, the protests across Palestine, particularly on the West Bank, put has been met with brutal force, with reports of rocket fire and air strikes.

At least 13 people are reported killed, more than 2900 injured, and 500 jailed in the clashes following US President Donald Trump’s announcement earlier in December on moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, controversially recognising the city as the capital of Israel.

In the early morning of December 19th, 16-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi was arrested in a night-time-raid in her home on the West Bank by Israeli soldiers. Being a minor, she was detained with her mother. Additionally, they arrested her cousin, after Ahed had confronted the soldiers who earlier had entered their back yard, with video footage showing the unarmed teenager attempting to slap one of the heavily armed soldiers, shortly after her two-year-younger cousin had been shot with a rubber bullet.

Ahed is not new to standing up to the Israeli occupation, and has for many become a symbol of a new generation of Palestinian liberation activists, having been in media attention since only 11 yrs when her cousin was shot and killed by Israeli forces in 2012. The reactions to the arrest and detention were to the eager observer unsurprisingly divided by the wall: some praising her as a hero of liberation, others applauding the Israeli actions. The detention of the 16-year-old has been argued extended, due to Ahed to 'posing a danger' to state representatives and could 'obstruct the functioning of the state'. Whilst the teenager is looking at up to ten years in prison, Jewish-born Yifat Alkobi walks free after committing the same crime.

Twitter Scrape

Through the Twitter Search API, I gathered a set of 9037 tweets from the morning of December 19th, when #FreeAhed hashtag arose, until December 26th, the day after her release was delayed. The tweets came from 6583 individual users.

The python code used to scape twitter is adaped from a code written by Bashkar Karambelkar in order to overcome the Twitter API limit to get a more realistic picture of Twitters response to the arrest, though the amount did not surpass the initial limit.

Additionally, finding a strong correlation with the frequently tweeted hashtag #FreePalestine, I scraped this to harvest tweets from the same period to able measuring the impact the #FreeAhed hashtag had on the debate on Twitter.

The First Tweet

The first tweet in the dataset was by user Issaamro. Issa Amro is according to his profile a Human Rights Defender from Hebron, Palestine, and his tweet was the first to use the #FreeAhed hashtag.

He appears five other times in the dataset, and by analysing his profile it is clear he has been tweeting actively about the Christmas Clashes. On his latest tweet in the set he had 4965 followes. This was also had the most retweetet tweet in the set.

The Top 10 Tweeters

  • Tweets
  • Total original content (without links)
  • Retweets on their original content (including tweets with links)

A common signifier for many of the top tweeters is their pro-palestine stand in the conflict. None of them are spesifically influencial accounts, with only three users having more than 1000 followers: @lucillalucio7 with 2020, @WitsPSC1 with 1194, and @PalsJustice with 5787. The two latter being users are organisations.

However, the top tweeter @LaylaBe4 stands out from the crowd. In the period covered, this user had both the most original content and original content, although was only retweeted four times, making the influence of the user questionable.

Half of the top ten users had as many orinigal tweets as total tweets, reinforcing their political stance through retweets and making influencers more influential. Although imporantly, like the top tweeter, most of their original content was not retweeted. Meaning their peronal impact of the tweets on the debate was not great.

Out of the Top 10, @berinceylan and @WitsPSC1 were the most influential, with the largest proportion of their content being retweeted. Noone but @berinceylan had more retweets on their content than amount of tweets. Only 0.03% of all the tweets in the dataset came from the Top 10 tweeters.

Bot or not

The dataset appeared to have very few bots, possibly because of the urgency of the hashtag meaning it was new. Only three of the top 15 most active users scored more than 50% on, and only one of these were in the top ten.

Sheikpeare_34 scored 62% on the botometer (later changed username to @presiencykorea), and had no tweets without links. This user did not retweet, thus came up with a lot of ‘original content’, but seemed all tweets were merely extractions of text in link with making certain things hashtags, place names especially.

@178kakapo scored 55%, and at first glance seemed to be a bot, but after looking into the profile and its history it became clearer that this was merely a very active user. Much of the content is original, though retweeted when there was a ‘happening’, like #FreeAhed. Although did Retweet themselves to such a large extent that this could be automated.

@WitsPSC1 scored 53%, but on analysing it became clear this is not a bot. This user is an organisation at a university, and has original content without links. Additionally, several of those with links have original text.

Where were people tweeting from?

Looking at how many people had geocode enabled and had shared a location, we can understand where people were tweeting from.

Location can be set by the users themselves and is thus not definite. Although looking at who had geocode enabled combined with time zones, which can also be set manually, it is likely that 222 of the users were located in Palestine. 16 were in Israel. Most of the tweets came from various places the Americas.

It should be noted that measuring related hashtags based geocode and location on Twitter is problematic, as Twitter does not cover any of the large Palestinian cities through their trends search, and recognises Jerusalem as an Israeli city.

How many of the tweets were original?

Looking at the amount of retweets in this data set, it is clear this is not a topic people produce much original content for, meaning key influencers such as Issaamro gets their content out to a wider audience.

Only 0.02% of the retweets came from the top 10 most active retweeters.

Timeline Comparison

Analysing the dataset it became clear the #FreeAhed hastag was closely connected to #FreePalestine. 18% of all tweets in the #FreePalestine dataset also contained #FreeAhed.

Comparing the timeline of the first days of the #FreeAhed hashtag, it is evident the hastag sparked outrage amongst the pro-palestine political camp, also evident in the top tweeters.

We can also read from this that the arrest gave life to #FreePalestine for longer than the more short lived #FreeAhed

Tweet Frequency

How many times did people Tweet either #FreeAhed or #FreePalestine in this timeframe?


Unsurprisingly, the users and tweets generated from the hashtag, along with the related hashtags are majorly pro-Palestine in the Israel/Palestine conflict. A bit more surprising, except for the intitial tweet, there is a lack of very key influencers. In this data set individual activists and organisations rule. Though some produce a large amount of tweets, especially noticed upon following the top tweeters the days after the scrape, at times they are tweeting into a void. The data set is only covering the early early days of the hashtag.

Twitter as a platform for political debate has also been proven controversal, as in a conflict partly related to land and sovereignty, location of users and events is highly related to identity politics

This report lacks sentiment analysis, as the language in tweet data set would not fairly represented through this, considering the sentiments held towards the different parties in the conflict are subjective and positioned (Siapera, 2013).


  • - "Tweeting #Palestine: Twitter and the mediation of Palestine." Eugenia Siapera, International Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol 17, Issue 6, pp. 539 - 555 Access here
  • - "The Rise of Social Bots", Farrara Review Articles. Access here