Hashtags Won't Save Palestine In War Of Words And Clicks


It’s the flowery peacenik logic of Cat Stevens songs and Miss Universe contestants who want 'world peace.'

The hashtag #JewsandArabsRefuseToBeEnemies is circulating on social media and news sites, trumpeted as an inspirational campaign amidst the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict.

Like most social media activism, it is a well-intentioned whitewashing, an own goal in an uneven war fed by propaganda.

It misconstrues the true nature of what is happening in Gaza. Created by two Hunter College students, #JewsandArabsRefuseToBeEnemies is the ultimate Kumbaya, hands clasped around the campfire as different voices join in song.

But in reality, the voices are muffled and blocked out by strict military borders, Israel's West Bank Barrier and its Iron Dome, one of the world's most successful air defense systems.

They are drowned out by the sound of rockets falling, houses caving in and Palestinians dying, skittering across the tiny Gaza Strip with nowhere to go, like insects being pesticide-bombed.

This hashtag is about as effective as that brief ceasefire in bringing about change. It frames the current conflict as two equally matched sides who hate each other.

All that is needed is for them to kiss and make up, and in a burst of humanity see that the other is a person too, like the plot of a picture book.

The truth is this: Jews and Arabs who "refuse" to be enemies are taking a shallow stand.

Gaza is currently being invaded by Israel, which already occupies most of Palestine illegally.

It has no military, navy, or real means of defending itself from attack.

Its citizens live as they are on a strip of land spanning 360 square kilometres, many with intermittent electricity, water and limited access to supplies.

More than 1000 lives have been lost in almost three weeks.

An aggressor refusing to hate its victim, and vice versa, is not a solution. It is rather akin to a bully shaking the hand of the bullied, and then stealing his lunch money afterwards.

This bully has also managed to colonize the victim's square of playground through a system of discrimination, oppression and pushing him off it.

Hashtag-happy Jews and Arabs may be high off the fumes of satisfaction, but it is empty social justice warrior grandstanding. Making nice and mugging for the camera are all very well, but this is an uneven conflict.

There is a Superpower on one side, funded by international aid and goodwill, and a land on the other, being systematically purged and its people murdered.

If the Arab Spring was the Twitter Revolution, Israel's invasion of Gaza is a tug-of-war unfolding on social media with which traditional outlets can barely keep up.

Breaking news feeds are no match for the constant unspooling of deaths, gruesome photos and heart-rending accounts on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and even the image-based Instagram.

A message by Palestinian student and Gaza resident Mohammed Suliman was recently retweeted more than 12,000 times: "I look forward to surviving. If I don't, remember that I wasn't Hamas or a militant, nor was I used as a human shield. I was at home."

Short and to the point, his Twitter feed is a comprehensive capsule of life under fire, recording the deaths of family, friends and pithy messages more evocative in 140 characters than a hashtag can ever be.

There is no glad-handing of the other side, or softly-softly exhortations to not "put undue emphasis on Israel," as BBC editor Raffi Berg supposedly emailed his colleagues to do last year, according to a pro-Israel site which published his correspondence.

It is past the time of fair play and gentlemanly conduct on the cricket pitch. Israel has even outsourced its propaganda, paying students to circulate messages on the Internet without the need to identify themselves.

A cartoon shared by Israelis on social media recently depicted Gaza as a woman in a niqab with high-heeled legs splayed.

It reads, in Hebrew: "Bibi [the nickname for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu]– finish inside this time! Civilians for invasion."

For his part, Netanyahu also waded in and slammed Hamas last week in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, claiming that: "they use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause."

It goes without saying that these piles of dead Palestinians, artfully arranged and spritzed with glycerine by Hamas, would still be alive if it were not for Operation Protective Edge and its indiscriminate bombing and shelling of Gaza.

Or as NYMag put it, "Israel is losing the American media war," through social media's humanizing of Hamas and Palestine.

This is where social media is at its most effective: shafting the Fourth Estate and showing the gory, violent reality of the Gaza invasion.

It gives the Mohammed Sulimans of the world a voice, and counters the drip-drip tap-tap of keyboard warrior kids being paid by the hour.

As a news source, it puts certain media outlets to shame, as they downplay atrocities and whisper the number of Palestinian dead.

As a tool for activism, social media is unvarnished and crude.

A hashtag such as #JewsandArabsRefuseToBeEnemies is sock-puppet advocacy for soft touches, the online equivalent of a pinky-promise.

But as an alternative to tremulous and traditional media, social media comes into its own.

* Aicha Marhfour is a freelance journalist based in Melbourne. She tweets here

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