The Palestinian Internet of the 90s Is Being Preserved, One GIF at a Time

'Palestine Online' is reviving the history of Palestinian life at the turn of the millennium, amidst the ongoing siege on Gaza.
Janus Rose
New York, US
A screenshot of an old website about Palestine containing text links, animated GIFs of Palestinian flags, and an image of the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Courtesy of Amad Ansari

To many Palestinians, Israel’s ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip is destroying not just buildings and human lives, but a people and their history. With Israeli strikes expected to continue after a brief pause this week, one artist is trying to preserve that history with a digital archive that gathers remnants of the Palestinian internet as it existed in the late 90s and 2000s. 

The project, called Palestine Online, began as an attempt to show the historical struggle of the Palestinian people using their own words and media, from a time when the internet was first starting to take root as a medium of self-expression. This history is written throughout the vibrant, GIF-heavy, Geocities-era web pages, revealing a personalized and intimate side of Palestinian life that is often overlooked.


The project is particularly relevant now, as Palestinians in Gaza struggle to stay online and communicate with the outside world amid internet blackouts, destroyed infrastructure, and dwindling fuel supplies. 

“Whenever something happens in Palestine, I always see this disparity between what is being shared by people, especially Palestinians on social media, and what is being disseminated by the big news sources,” Amad Ansari, a digital archivist and creator of the project, told Motherboard. Using the Internet Archive’s “GIFcities” search tool, Ansari was able to uncover Palestine-related media files and reconstruct pages originally hosted on old web platforms like GeoCities, Angelfire, and AOL Hometown.

Ansari started collecting materials for Palestine Online shortly after Israel began its ongoing bombardment and siege of Gaza, which has killed more than 15,000 people in the aftermath of the October 7 attack by Hamas, which killed an estimated 1,200 people. Media reports indicate that entire family lines have been wiped out after weeks of continuous bombings by Israeli forces, which have targeted hospitals, refugee camps, and a United Nations-run school in the densely-populated Palestinian territory.


Journalists, human rights activists, and artists like Ansari have sought to contextualize recent weeks' events within the 75-year history of the region's occupation by Israel, which began with the violent expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 during an event commonly known as the Nakba.

After posting an initial preview of what he had found preserved on the Internet Archive, Ansari’s project attracted thousands of interactions and reposts from users on social media.

“I wanted to do some research into how Palestinian online identity and presence was ten years ago, twenty years ago,” said Ansari. “It was really eye-opening to see what has changed, and what hasn’t—how Palestinians have used their voices to express and show their occupation, and also at the same time show their culture and show their history.”

Left: Photo of Ansari sitting behind a CRT monitor in a crowded room as people browse the Palestine Online Archive on a CRT monitor. Right: Close up of a CRT monitor displaying one of the webpages and a person's hand on a computer mouse.

Amad Ansari recently presented the Palestine Online archive along with the School For Poetic Computation at Software For Artists Day, an event in Brooklyn.

Ansari recently presented the project at Software For Artists Day, an art and technology event in Brooklyn, displaying the archive on an old CRT monitor. The archive showcases a wide variety of different web pages from the early Palestinian internet, from the deeply personal to more lighthearted topics and memes. Several pages serve as spaces for anger and remembrance, using animated GIFs that show evidence of atrocities and mourn the loss of friends or family members killed by Israeli forces. Other pages contain digital magazines created by Palestinian students, writings and news articles documenting the occupation, recipes for traditional Palestinian foods, and other artifacts of Palestinian life from the 90s and 00’s.


“I just started clicking a lot of links and seeing what was available in the archive and what wasn’t,” said Ansari. “I was trying to present these cohesive sites that could be shown without being too jarring or disjointed or losing too much information.”

A web page titled "The Farm and I" created by a Palestinian farmer, documenting the encroachment of Israeli settlements.

A web page created by a Palestinian farmer in the occupied West Bank, documenting the encroachment of Israeli settlements.

Browsing the archive’s diverse digital artifacts reveals a fascinating, and often disturbing, historical record. One page displays a GIF depicting the murder of Muhammad al-Durrah, a Palestinian boy who was shot and killed by Israeli forces in front of news cameras in 2000, during the second Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation. Another page is a daily news site featuring a photo of a uniformed Israeli soldier aiming a weapon at a Palestinian woman and two small children, along with a cheeky caption: “Spare a thought for the brave Israeli soldier who has to put up with Palestinian terrorism on [a] daily basis.”

“The basic idea of this website is to make the world realize what is going on in Palestine,” reads the intro text of another site, which begins with a pulsing animated GIF of the words “Welcome To Reality” in flaming text. “The media has been hiding all this, specially from the US residents. But what is right cannot be hidden. My objective is to bring this truth to the world.”


“The aesthetics of it feel very jarring,” said Ansari. “It has this weird dissonance where this is very serious, devastating content, but it’s surrounded and populated by these colorful GIFs, and it has this jarring effect to it that I’m interested to see how people will receive.”

Before a negotiated pause that began over the holiday weekend and was extended into this week, the number of Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza had reached over 15,000, with some estimates reporting as high as 20,000 killed. Thousands more are suspected to be buried beneath rubble, and more still have died of starvation and malnutrition after Israel cut off access to water, fuel, electricity, and medical supplies. Israel has also launched raids in the occupied West Bank since the October 7 attack, doubling the number of Palestinian prisoners in its custody to over 10,000. 

The ongoing siege of Gaza has inspired a steady cadence of mass protests and civil disobedience actions in cities around the world. Activists demanding a permanent ceasefire recently organized disruptions at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, blocked ships delivering weapons to Israel, and blockaded the Manhattan Bridge in New York on Thanksgiving weekend, during the busiest travel day of the year. Support for the Palestinian people has also gained significant popularity on social media, particularly on TikTok

In the initial weeks of Gaza’s bombardment, Ansari saw a surge of interest in Palestine Online after posting about the project on Instagram. He hopes that the archive will show that what’s happening in Gaza is not just an isolated news event, but part of an ongoing, multi-generational struggle.

“It just comes back to making the Palestinian experience as loud as possible,” said Ansari. “From the opposition we’ll always hear that this is fake news, that Palestinians are lying, that this isn’t happening, all of that. But when you say, here’s this blog from 1999, here’s this news website from 2002—these are the same stories we hear today. These are the same stories that people have written and shared across the years. This is real and it’s happening, and you can not escape that.”