Is new media strengthening the Palestinian cause?

IRFAN RAJA
Published 15.11.2019 01:49

New media is a powerful platform for people living in oppression, and can help with issues such as the mobilization of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation for years

In recent years, Palestinians have gained enormous attention and sympathy, mainly on the new media platforms around the world. For many writers and researchers, social media is changing the landscape of the Palestine issue despite crackdowns in various forms and government monitoring.

In contrast, most sections of the mainstream media are evidently less accommodating of the Palestinian cause; this has been documented in several academic studies. Mariam Barghouti has argued that the mainstream media has not only misunderstood Palestine but also that the portrayal of Palestinians in Western mainstream media hasn't changed much since the colonial era.

No doubt, social media has emerged as a blessing for the Palestinians. The best research articles show that the Palestine issue has gained more popularity after the invention of Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, which many believe has become a battleground among unarmed Palestinians and Israelis. A YouGov survey shows that British people are now more inclined to support the Palestinians, but this in contrast to the French and the Americans.

The world has begun to see live podcasts, audio, visual images and videos from concentration camps, streets, hospitals and mosques which show civilians under attack, the demolition of Palestinians homes, stopping children from going to school and forcefully separating children from their parents.

Outside the Middle East, a number of campaigning groups and individuals are actively taking the fight to social media to boost the cause to free Palestine. A list of new media platforms includes Jewish Voice for Peace; Gaza Hummingbird Project; U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights; Palestine Solidarity Campaign; and Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East which are a few illustrations of social media movements in favor of Palestinians.

Also, in the world of entertainment and sports, Palestinian celebrities have considerably enhanced their reputation on the global stage. Ra'fat Al-Dajani's piece "Hollywood, social media are transforming the Palestinian issue" is a stunning illustration of the increasing support for Palestinians among reputable people.

Several writers have detected this trend; Al-Dajani writes that, "The proliferation of social media, the support of many entertainers for the cause of Palestinian justice has found a new platform and a wider, receptive audience among young American adults, including among young American Jews."

The new power

The reason why social media is becoming a powerful platform for people living in oppression is that they can speak their mind freely. Paul Mason investigated the reasons "Why Israel is losing the social media war over Gaza" and demonstrated that a comprehensive media crackdown is not working as far as the Israeli government is concerned, because of the active presence of alternative media outlets.

Another point is the restriction of mainstream media reporters, particularly in conflict regions. Therefore, social media is the only viable and alternative platform for Palestinians to show the rest of the world how they are living under constant siege.

Patrikarakos noted the ever-increasing use of social media platforms for Palestinians means that "more tragedy" equals "more outrage" and this is earning Palestinians sympathy in the Western world.

This year's "Great March of Return" videos, images and live podcasts aired from the Gaza-Israel border captured the heinous crimes of the Israeli army that moved millions of people of all faiths and perspectives across the world.

The Israeli army shooting of Yasser Murtaja, an on-the-ground photographer wearing a press badge, is yet another example of media control. A CAMERA analyst Gilead Ini examined the mainstream Western and American media coverage of the Gaza March and concluded that NPR reporters used a particular language to brand the protest as a "riot" and presented protesters as "terrorists" and Hamas supporters.

Along with many other critics and writers, Tareq Baconi has branded the Gaza March as a "wake-up call to the world". Daniel Estrin noted that the "Israeli officials argue that content on Palestinian sites, some with millions of followers, is driving the current violence."

The above lists of examples are enough to understand why "for young Palestinians, social media is the leading source of news" because "social media reflects reality" rather than creating it.

Changing narratives?

In brief, piles of evidence support the argument that new media is "changing the narrative on Palestine" and this is very apparent on social networking sites, especially Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Take for instance, an example from England where political activists, campaigners, academics and university students used new media platforms to raise awareness, protest and campaign for the Palestinian cause.

Long before the Labour Party had the adopted IHRA antisemitism definition in full there was a long "trial" in the media of its leader Jeremy Corbyn, who it should be said, has consistently advocated for the rights of oppressed, including the Palestinians.

Many trade unionists, activists, campaigners and writers of the Stop the War Coalition and other organizations, including John Rees and Lindsey German, have also taken on this issue on the social media front.

A powerful nation like Israel may well gain control over social or new media sites. However, it must also be remembered that the Arab Spring in its neighboring countries was strongly driven by the new media and such waves can begin anytime soon.

The point is that racism, discrimination and ill-treatment of human beings in any form is immoral whether it is against Jews, Christians, Muslims or any other religious communities. For it to be not tackled would be to hand over to the next generation a rather conflicted world.

So what's next? Will the British public tolerate such discrimination against the Palestinians?

* British-Pakistani political analyst and human rights activist based in the U.K.

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