Palestinians should not give up on Peace 2.0

October 25, 2010 by Raffe Gold
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The internet has changed dramatically in the last ten years.

Raffe Gold

During the 1990s when many people in the western world were beginning to take their first forays online the internet was simply a device to absorb information. Since the development of YouTube, Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook the internet has been filled not just with users but contributors. With so many people of different races, creeds, nations, sexual preferences and genders there are unparalleled opportunities for grassroots movements and individuals to make contact with anyone in the world and strike up a conversation. With the breakdown of social, national and ethnic barriers anyone who wants to can jump online  and meet their supposed enemies and hopefully that could lead to a lasting friendship. It appears that, provided people are willing to engage, we can be heading into a world without the ethnic strifes that have defined our age. However it appears that this is not happening in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and it is defining the Palestinian rejection of peace.

A few days ago a report was released by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies that examined Palestinian social media usage over a nine week period from May to July 2010. Entitled P@lestinian Pulse the report examines websites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, RSS feeds, wikis, internet forums and a variety of other social media sites in both English and Arabic from residents of the Palestinian territories. Due to the fact that Palestinian internet usage is often anonymous and unfiltered (in the West Bank it is provided by an Israeli ISP and in Gaza Hamas filter primarily adult-based websites) the report provides a remarkable insight into the minds of Palestinian internet users. A lot of the findings were obvious; Hamas is against peace with Israel, Fatah is in disarray and Iran holds significant control over the Palestinians. When the issue of peace with Israel was discussed on these forums there was almost universal agreement, across factions and age groups, that the Palestinians are not ‘fully receptive to the renewed diplomacy (of the Obama administration) launched in 2010’. The FDD study was able to give a unique, though not exhaustive, glimpse into Palestinian views online.

Compare this with their Israeli counterpart. Whilst a similar study of social networks has not yet been conducted in Israel there is little need for anonymity in Israel like there is in the territories. Many Israelis are more than happy to outline their thoughts or disagreements over political parties and the Palestinians. Over the course of the last decade there have been innumerable peace marches in Israel with thousands of Israelis parading throughout the country with the sign ‘Shalom Achshav’ or ‘Peace Now’. As Israel is a high-tech country receptive of social media, just ask Twitter wunderkind Ashton Kutcher who was recently in Tel Aviv, how these views are often translated into the online arena.

With the oppressive Iranian regime exercising more and more control over the Palestinians the internet should be a place in which people can express their fears, doubts and hopes. Internet for Peace, a grassroots web campaign to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the Internet, believes that the internet is an ‘effective antidote against hatred and conflict’ and through connecting men and women from every corner of the globe it can be used to sow the seeds of non-violence. If these figures from the FDD are correct then it shows that the Palestinian people are ignoring a chance to meet their enemies, computer to computer, and discuss their mutual differences. There are already a number of movements on the ground, such as Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), that have managed to foster dialogue and discussion between the two peoples. However TULIP faces the difficulty of navigating checkpoints, roadblocks and numerous other physical barriers whilst someone online would not face such obstacles. Palestinians should not squander the opportunity at their disposal of presenting themselves to the Israelis who live just a stones throw away.

When the current round of peace talks started there was much skepticism about how long they would last until they collapsed. A peace process can be developed and implemented from the top down. Netanyahu and Abbas can get in a room and discuss settlements, Jerusalem and refugees and come up with a workable solution that sees the creation of a Palestinian state. However it is the grassroots movements that will truly end the conflict and the years of hatred. Only through mediums like the internet can Palestinians connect with their Jewish neighbors with ease and see the creation of a peaceful environment. Online collaborations such as businesses between Israelis and Palestinians could foster an attitude of harmony as could a game of FIFA 2010 played between the two peoples. It would be difficult for Netanyahu to convince a war-weary public to dismantle the security barrier or the checkpoints but hopefully with these online exposures many Israelis could, over time, come to trust their neighbors.

Palestinians should have an understanding of the power of internet communications and how it could lead them to a peaceful coexistence with Israel. The barrier that was constructed to keep out suicide bombers should not be used as an excuse not to engage with their Israeli neighbors. This conflict will not be solved by boycotts on Israel which is why this latest report is so troubling. By pursuing a course of internet isolationism, or at times internet warfare, with Israel they are ensuring that the divide between Israeli and Palestinian extends into the online world. Palestinians should not, once again, miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Comments

2 Responses to “Palestinians should not give up on Peace 2.0”
  1. PH says:

    The report above is inaccurate.

    http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/10/28/attitude_problem_what_social_media_can_t_tell_us_about_palestine

    “We don’t understand the extent to which Palestinian social media is popular or is representative necessarily of the wider Palestinian population,” Schanzer, a former counterterrorism analyst at the Department of the Treasury, told me by phone. “What we do understand is that somewhere between 4-20 percent of the Palestinian people use the internet, the percentage of those who actually engage in discussions in online media could be much smaller.”

    It’s quite a tautology. These selected online threads shed light on a single cluster of Arabic-speakers: those who air their laundry on the internet.

    Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, was skeptical as to whether one could approach a study of Palestinian blogs in a scientific manner: “The idea of having a representative sample by looking at the internet is absolutely ridiculous.”

    To be sure, Palestinians are questioning of the peace process as it is and are not confident that a Palestinian state will be established in the near term. Yet a majority of Palestinians prefer a two-state outcome with a state of Palestine alongside Israel. By focusing solely on “rejectionist” posts from so-called “Palestinian” social media, the political landscape is distorted.

    Still, the exponential rise in access to technology in the West Bank and Gaza, compounded by the difficulty of movement between Palestinian locales, highlights the importance of social media and the need for further study.

    Adel Iskander, a global communications expert at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies suggested that the expansion of internet usage in the Palestinian territories is directly correlated with their desire to communicate with the world. “The only way to understand the Palestinian online presence is to look at in anthropological terms — what is it that they are doing online and what are they looking for — rather than how we can define policy around them.”

    Indeed, Fatah and Hamas activists are competing for attention and attempting to build communities in cyberspace. But for Schanzer and Dubowitz to say “ConStrat analyzed the Palestinian social media environment,” is in itself a leap of judgment: there are, of course, numerous communities and no monolithic “Palestinian social media environment.” Beyond that, to assume that online conversation reflects public attitudes only contributes to the misreading of Palestine’s “pulse.”

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