Why is the struggle changing? Why are perceptions of it changing? In large part through the cellular work of social media.
A week or two back Joseph Dana, an American-Israeli journalist, came to New York and showed the sensational video of Adeeb Abu Rahmah confronting the soldiers in Bil’in– a video that has all the transformative power of the legends of the American civil rights movement.
Two days ago Dana gave a talk on the theme of social media at the Jerusalem Fund in Washington on Tuesday called Video from the Front Lines. Measured and factual, it was addressed to the new audience: “Everyone here in internet world.” For at a time when the peace process is dead in the water, this is an area of real progress.
Notice his description at 26 and 27 minutes or so of the nature of this collective punishment. The Skunk is a chemical the Israeli soldiers shoot randomly into Palestinian villages, it gets on to people’s skin with a noxious smell and they can’t wash it off for three weeks. He shows photographs of the Israelis’ repeated invasions of the occupied Palestinian village of Nil’in after they had killed a ten-year-old boy and the Palestinians had demonstrated their outrage at the killing.
Dana explained how Israel’s only recourse to Palestinian nonviolence is to crush resisting villages and try and make the response violent, so that the resistance can then be processed and contained. He showed this photo of the tear gas blanketing the sky over the village due to a new Israeli device that shoots off scores of tear-gas canisters in no time, inside the village itself.
“It’s really not fun… [Though] it’s quite pretty to photograph. It’s really chaotic…
“Oftentimes the Israelis are trying to paint these demonstrations as violent because of the stone-throwings.”
The villages’ popular committees are against youths’ stonethrowing, as it plays into the Israelis’ hands. But how to quell stonethrowing? Two months ago I went to Bil’in and watched the “cycle of violence:” I saw the occupying soldiers being aggressive against peaceful Palestinian villagers, I saw the young men crying Allahu Akbar as they took great risk to throw stones at the soldiers. I saw the international photographers rushing after them, wearing white vests so that the soldiers wouldn’t shoot them.
Dana pointed out that stone-throwing is inevitable given the brute force of collective punishment. The Israeli court system has a 97 percent incarceration rate when it comes to Palestinian protest, and an average trial length of 13 minutes. What an outrage. If they put your father away under such a process, what would you do? He said that most injuries caused by the stones are to Palestinians themselves, because there are usually activists between stonethrowers and soldiers. I’m not condoning; I don’t think stonethrowing achieves anything. But to think for one second that American teenagers would do any differently under similar circumstances… (And yes, if these demonstrations were happening in occupied Afghanistan, I believe we would read more about them in the mainstream than we do about the Israeli occupation.)
Palestinian protesters pulling down a section of the wall on the anniversary of the Berlin wall’s fall.
Dana also spoke of coexistence. How astonishing that despite the radicalized environment, the Popular Committees have called for the release of Gilad Shalit, and they regularly do so in Hebrew statements to the invading Israeli soldiers….
And this experience has transformed Dana himself:
“I’m going to Nil’in every Friday… If you ask me why I am doing this, I would say I’m against the occupation, these are my friends. It’s just that simple, it’s not some grand political platform I’m trying to disseminate. It’s that these are my friends. We talk about the sports, we talk about the weather.”
He is regularly invited into Palestinian homes in the midst of all this to eat and rest. “I ask myself if I would have the moral clarity to behave as the Palestinians do if I were in their situation.” Would Israelis do such a thing in Tel Aviv if Palestinian soldiers were gobbling their lands? (I think not; I think we are dealing with cultural issues here, including the Jewish history of ghettoization and, yes, the hospitality tradition…)
Yes the peace process is going nowhere; but Dana has noticed that the simple message he is bringing to the U.S. is having a profound effect on audiences. And it is difficult for him not to be hopeful when he sees their response to evidence of the grassroots movement of Israelis and Palestinians building friendships and a means of co-existence. The battle in the U.S. is to get these people oxygen, give oxygen to the new model of coexistence.
Look at the photo below that Dana showed, of an Israeli hugging a Palestinian (both men on the ground) to try and prevent the man from being arrested, and tell me that new ways of being are not emerging.