By Rami Mehdawi
RAMALLAH, West Bank: A few months ago I was standing at the Qalandia checkpoint near Ramallah, waiting for an Israeli journalist from Israel’s Channel One Television who was scheduled to interview me about the Facebook revolution. The wait was long. She on one side, and I on the other. In the end the army did not let her pass through the checkpoint, and we had to cancel the interview.
The incident gave me pause to think about the ways in which the Occupation does not only sever Palestinians and Israelis from one another physically, but creates a wall between them that is also intellectual, informational and emotional.
I realized that restrictions placed on Israeli journalists wishing to cross into the Palestinian National Authority territories result in a real deprivation in stories about the “other” — the Palestinian — in Israeli media. And although there are a small number of Israeli journalists who have made it their mission to get to know Palestinians and their society, they are few and far between.
I find it very important to reflect on ways in which one can circumvent these restrictions and penetrate this “second wall” which prevents our voices from reaching Israelis.
When people ask me: Don’t Israelis know what is happening here? I answer that they are physically insulated by the wall and checkpoints, from what takes place in the real Palestinian world, and they are psychologically insulated by the media.
But I believe that we have the capacity to break through this barrier with “popular media”, which is perhaps one of the most significant peaceful and non-violent means at our disposal.
Who could have imagined only a few months ago the death of a young man in Tunisia, reported on Facebook, would instigate wide-scale demonstrations? Is this not a massive success, and proof that the youth are capable of using modern tools brilliantly? Is this not clear evidence that the internet is not simply a virtual world, but that its heroes are using it to bring about real change?
There is a difference between the way social networking tools are used by the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. In these countries the internet is being used to galvanize and coordinate young people with a clear agenda to bring about social and political change. As Palestinians living under occupation, with barriers that prevent us from knowing other societies, we are using web-based tools to connect us with the global community. It offers us the ability to see what people in other societies think and feel, and the chance to shape our own judgments and opinions.
At the moment there are few websites, unfortunately, that connect Palestinians and Israelis, if any. Palestinian youth, specifically university and college graduates, have a responsibility to take the lead in using the internet as a way to circumvent mainstream media and reach Israeli society.
We are no longer reliant on ready-made media. We have turned into critics and participants — analyzing and making our own judgments, taking part in and shaping public discussions.
The emergence of popular new media represents an important step on the road to building bridges. As long as there are those who will listen on the other side, we have a chance of breaking the monopoly of mainstream media establishments over the knowledge, thoughts and opinions of people on both sides of the wall.
Among all the dramatic developments of the past few months, the role of networking sites in bringing people together is perhaps the one that gives me most hope about the potential to reach understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.
Rami Mehdawi has a Master’s degree in democracy and human rights. He established the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Forum (PNGOF,) an online and open venue for Palestinians to voice their opinions freely. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews), www.commongroundnews.org.