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Words by Leil Eltawil
Artworks by Mloukhiyyé

Over the past months [November and December, 2023], an influx of Israeli users have appeared on dating platforms in Egypt, Lebanon, UAE, Palestine, and Jordan. While the initial flood has slowed down, users across the region are still encountering a significant number of Israeli profiles on dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble and Grindr.

The large Zionist structure of colonial violence has many arms. It employs anything it can to stifle Palestinian existence. From the very architecture of occupation on the ground, to its deployments of dehumanizing propaganda and spreading misinformation over social media, Israel’s state, military and Zionist champions have merged into one mega-imperial project. Understandably, the sudden appearance of Israelis on dating apps in the MENA region raises suspicion about whether this is another attempt to infiltrate and collect data to feed the project further. 

Resulting fear reverberated throughout the region, as the Israeli occupation has a known track record of using spyware and rigorous surveillance, which has increased significantly in the region since Israel began its genocidal campaign on Gaza after the Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7. Pegasus — spyware made by Israel-based cybersecurity company NSO Group — has been used in the past to target the phones of activists, rights workers, and journalists. Currently, NSO Group is using this very same spyware in Gaza.

This article includes interviews with three people in Egypt and one in Palestine, all of whom have used dating apps over the last couple of months, to ask how they’ve experienced the sudden change in the apps’ demographic. Despite different geographic realities and online access, these conversations reveal patterns about the occupation and militarization of Palestine. In all, this case reflects the ability of Zionism to contort and manifest in digital and in-person spaces, and raises concerns about digital security and surveillance.  

Hate speech and use of military status in dating apps in Jerusalem 

Amr*, a 27-year-old Palestinian lecturer of media studies living in Jerusalem, said that while he sees Israelis on dating apps on a daily basis, he has noticed a recent increase in numbers in his area. He attributed this to the surge of settlers from other areas like Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to seek academic or work opportunities. Explaining the significance of geographic location on Palestinian experience with the colonizer, Amr added:

… If I were from Haifa, it would be different to being from the West Bank or Jerusalem. I am from Jerusalem, therefore I am a Palestinian citizen. I have an Israeli residency, but I don’t have a passport. So, I am in a very direct relationship with the colonizer, our existence together is that there’s someone who came and took our homes, that’s the relationship we have to each other, it is very clear and known.

The reality of the rampant military violence in occupied Jerusalem is reflected on the app through language and visual cues. Amr said that, since the Al-Aqsa Flood, it’s been common to see Israelis use derogatory and genocidal statements in their dating app bios, including “Death to Arabs,” “No Arabic you bitches,” and “We will wake up to no Gaza.”  And, that military clothing is worn to signal Zionist supremacy and nationalism.

This “digital invasion” described in Egypt is merely one iteration of the ongoing settler colonization of Palestine, and the Zionist machine, which infiltrates all aspects of life, even beyond its “borders.”

The extent of Israel’s militarized society is reflected in the kinds of relations Israeli users seek. Amr reported seeing Israelis use “soldier” and “I wear uniform” in their titles or bios, and some directly disclose that they are “looking for soldiers.” He also noticed numerous social media posts of Israeli women boycotting sexual relations with men who are not in active service in the military, or who do not wear the uniform. He has even seen memes and jokes about Israeli men pretending to wear the uniform so they can have greater sexual opportunities with women.

While the prevalence of these linguistic and visual cues have recently increased, Amr clarified that signals of sexual desire and desirability linked with military service and outfits have always been present. He continued that military outfits are worn to play into these gendered norms of “sexiness”: for women, uniforms are “very form-fitting and tight,” and for men, they are “meant to accentuate masculinity and make you look huge.” 

These embodied representations of hegemonic femininity/masculinity are a tool of colonial “collective” sexual fantasy, and occur within a wider context of promoting Zionism as “sexy.” This can be seen in the TikTok trend of Israeli soldiers dancing in their military uniform, and the constant production of sexualized and/or romanticized war content. These play on desirability and “sexiness” to distract from the obvious violence of the Occupation, while promoting the military through co-opting the entertainment industry’s approach of “sex sells.”  Similar to other Zionist campaigns to humanize or normalize the settler-colonies, such sexual tropes which often rely on racist binaries of Arabs as savages and Israelis as “sexually liberated” – “Zionism is Sexy” and “Hamas in ISIS.” 

The spike in Zionist tactics on dating apps – hateful rhetoric, romanticization of military – has temporarily overshadowed the prevalent fetishization of Arab men on apps like Tinder and Grindr, according to Amr, though these are now resurfacing despite Israeli fears to meet in public spaces amidst the “national security crisis.” 

Growing feelings of insecurity as Israeli profiles flood dating apps in Cairo

While some pin the influx of Zionist profiles in occupied Palestinian territories to the movement of Israeli settlers to their city, the sudden appearance of Israeli’s for users in Egypt has raised confusion and suspicion. This is especially true for queer people, who already use the app with caution. Nermine*, a 22-year-old marketing specialist living in Cairo who uses Tinder and Bumble, said that over the past two months, at least 4 out of 10 swipes are Israeli accounts. “This has never occurred before. Israeli profiles were only visible when traveling to Sinai, and they would still be hundreds of kilometers away.” 

Artworks by Mloukhiyyé

Tinder/Bumble user from Cairo, reiterated Nermine’s concern, saying that the unknown motives of the Israeli users raises suspicion, and has felt like a “digital invasion” of a seemingly private space. Salwa, however, is aware of already existing dangers of using the dating apps as a queer person living in Egypt, where security forces and civilians use the app to arrest and ambush people in the LGBT+ community. The addition of the Israeli accounts have added another layer of a fear of exposure and danger when using the apps. On the added suspicion created by seeing Israeli on dating apps, Salwa explained:

… I have quite a unique name and I also work in a unique field. I already feel vulnerable being on dating apps because of the risk of surveillance (from the government and also the general public) that come with people seeing my profile. On top of that, with the genocide happening, there’s another layer. To have them [Israeli users] on my phone feels unreal — it feels like a digital invasion. After coming across these accounts, I don’t want to expose myself.

Similarly, Nermine reported that, “as a queer person, you have to be very aware of who you talk to on dating apps, because the [Egyptian] government is always fishing queer people and arresting them. I’ve always been weary, and seeing Israeli people just adds a level of danger and unsafety.”  

These layered fears are causing some people to avoid using the apps, despite the ways they make queer dating in Egypt more accessible. Fear was already increased due to spikes in Egyptian state censorship and surveillance, especially on social media, which queer communities feel acutely as the government targets and scapegoats them. 

Many of the Israeli users that live in “Tel Aviv” or occupied Palestine, appear to be located within a few kilometers away from Cairo. Nermine said, “when I see these profiles, I think they are either Israeli or Egyptian spies.” These concerns are not unfounded. As recent as 2021/2022, spyware manufactured by Cytrox (an Israeli firm based in Athens) infected the phones of journalists in Egypt and the EU. That this spyware continues to be used by the Israeli occupation in Palestine and beyond its borders is alarming, as the ties between spyware companies and the Israeli military “cannot be understated.” Multiple human rights and digital rights organizations, such as 7amleh, have investigated Israel’s rising surveillance industry and digital forensic technologies. According to the Carnegie Endowment “Israel is the leading exporter of spyware and digital forensics tools, with Italy and Germany a distant second and third.” 

Repercussions of GPS interference by Israel

Shady Noor, a New York-based filmmaker and activist from Cairo, who sought to investigate the unusual entrance of Israeli users on dating platforms across the region. He said that many Israeli accounts that appeared in Cairo reported being unaware that they were appearing there. Though initially suspecting that these profiles were an attempt to normalize or create empathy between Egyptians and Israelis, Noor concluded that – after speaking to users in Dubai, Lebanon, Syria, and other locals – it’s “more likely to have been a glitch caused by Israeli GPS spoofing, a deliberate inference of GPS signals to deter or intercept airstrikes.”

A data visualization published by Intel Sky revealed that Cairo experiences a high level of GPS interference, like other cities proximate to the settler colony.  Although it has not been confirmed that this GPS interference could be responsible for these geodata glitches in more distant cities like Cairo and Dubai, an October 15th statement by the Israeli Occupation Forces stated that GPS services had been “restricted in active combat zones in accordance with various operational needs.” The statement continued that Israelis should also expect “temporary glitches in location-based applications” like Google Maps.


While the spike of Israelis on dating apps likely results from a glitch in the GPS system, seeing Israelis on dating apps adds to both feelings of vulnerability and unsafety for users, especially for some marginalized groups. The increase in Zionist propaganda and censorship online, in addition to Israel’s reputation and historical use of spyware, has kept people on guard when seeing Israeli content online, which already causes suspicion in the region. 

This “digital invasion” described in Egypt is merely one iteration of the ongoing settler colonization of Palestine, and the Zionist machine, which infiltrates all aspects of life, even beyond its “borders.” The increase in representations of Zionist military desirability and explicitly violent speech across these dating apps, and Israel’s (newly visible) expanding reach across regional geographies raises important questions about the multifaceted digital threats that users face. 


Data security while digital dating

Tactical Tech, an international non-profit organization specialized in the intersection of technology, human rights, and civil liberties, created The Data Detox Kit that includes a toolbox (in English and Arabic amongst other languages) on how to navigate data security on online dating apps. 

A researcher at Tactical Tech explained that, while the Data Detox Kit will not provide blanket protections, it can help readers make more informed choices and offer privacy and safety tips to follow while dating digitally.

*All the names in this article have been changed to ensure the anonymity of individuals interviewed.