How social media has influenced the Palestinian drive for an Independent State.

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In 1974, the late chairman of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, stood in front of the United Nations General Assembly calling for the admission of the Palestinians to the United Nations, succeeding in a 95-17 vote. Thirty-eight years later, President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, assigned the same General Assembly to declare Palestine as an independent “state”, triumphing with 138 voting in favour, 9 against with another 41 – not-surprisingly – abstaining.

Palestinians assemble in the city of Bethlehem in the West Bank to watch the historic UN vote (activestills/ Flickr)

Unquestionably, the Palestinian Authority was tireless in their diplomatic efforts, but the credit surely cannot go to them alone. This vote was attributed, highly, to the resilience of the 1.5 million Palestinians living under siege in Gaza, the 2.5 million Palestinians living in what many call an “apartheid controlled” West Bank and the nearly 7 million Palestinians living in exile either in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Syria or farther afield.

Israel, historically, has been extremely successful in gaining diplomatic space over the Palestinians, but due to their arrogance in dealing with the Gaza Strip, this space has dwindled over the years. Most notably during “Operation Cast Lead”, a three week bombardment of Gaza leading to over 1,400 deaths and the destruction of an infrastructure that can be defined, at best, as substandard. The world got a glimpse of reality: Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world; it is surrounded by a 25-foot wall of pure concrete from the north and the east, a tightly-controlled border with Egypt on the South, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west that the Gaza authorities have little choice but to use to dump sewage.

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The situation in Gaza, along with continued settlement expansion, and defensive and inciteful rhetoric being echoed from Tel Aviv, made the prospects of any real dialogue with Israel rather grim and led to the Palestinians to seek independence through none other than the UN General Assembly in New York, ironically the same UN General Assembly that partitioned historic Palestine in 1947.

While Israel has been committing countless violations against the Palestinians for decades, with disingenuous criticism, Western media has successfully misled the public to believe that a people who have been forced from their homes, facing decades of exile, deportation, occupation and military oppression are the aggressors. Although mainstream Western media coverage of the conflict has remained status quo, the advent of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube has allowed anyone with a camera and an internet connection to report the realities facing them on the ground, either advancing or hindering their mission. These realities were highlighted in the recent Gaza attack that claimed over 150 Palestinians and 6 Israelis.

Child sitting in front of destroyed home in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. (EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection/ Flickr)

On November 14th, 2012, Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari lead to a mass twitter campaign with hash-tag ’gazaunderattack’ taking off, gaining major ground in every corner of the world. In 1984, in lieu of the lack of coverage supporting the Palestinians during Israel’s siege of Southern Lebanon, the late Palestinian academic Edward Said, in an essay titled “Permission to Narrate”, wrote; “I recall during the siege of Beirut obsessively telling friends and family there, over the phone, that they ought to record, write down their experiences; it seemed crucial as a starting point to furnish the world some narrative evidence, over and above atomized and reified TV clips, of what it was to be at the receiving end of Israeli ‘antiterrorism’, also known as “Peace for Galilee”. Naturally they were all too busy surviving.”

Thanks to social media, permission has been granted. The Palestinians in Gaza, under a brutal attack, were leading a Twitter campaign- tweeting air strikes and showing the world the damage done by the Israeli Air Force.

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On the other side of the fence, or better referred to as ‘the wall’ both literally and metaphorically, the IDF also took to Twitter. Before exploring their Twitter campaign it is important to introduce you to Sacha Dratwa, a 26-year-old Belgian who heads the IDF media desk. Until recently, Sacha’s personal Facebook page was open to the public. That is until a holiday photo of him surfaced with mud on his face with a caption that read: “Obama Style”. He was, without much surprise, quickly accused of being a racist – then leading him to deny the accusation and alter the privacy-settings of his page. I will leave it to you to decide whether or not he is, in fact, a racist.

Back to the Twitter campaign; the IDF actually celebrated the fact that with this tweet; “The IDF has begun a widespread campaign on terror sites & operatives in the #Gaza Strip, chief among them #Hamas & Islamic Jihad targets”. They were the first country to declare war on Twitter. They then posted a video on YouTube showing the murder of Ahmed Jabari and later tweeted, “we recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead”. Although Hamas did, superficially, get involved in the Twitter battle with the IDF by replying to the previous tweet with “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves)”, it seemed clear to some that through their very own messaging, Israel was responsible for initiating the violence.

The public opinion of Israel has dwindled internationally and, without question, social media has indeed played a role.

Outside of the Twitter world, many notable Israelis made their opinions, however nefarious, crystal clear, from the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who suggested that Israel uses the same tactics the American’s used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the Israeli Interior Minister’s threats to “send Gaza back to the middle ages” makes it very difficult, even for those who see it in their best interests, to support Israel’s actions towards Gaza.

The way I see it, the victory for the Palestinians in the UN was the international community’s tribute to those killed in Gaza.

Interestingly, the number of sovereign states, 138, siding with the Palestinians in 2012 parallels the total voting membership in 1974, thirty eight years earlier.

In another stroke of serendipity, the Palestinian ‘right of return’ is binding in Resolution 194. And, on 29 November 2012, the Palestinians took one more step in becoming the 194th member state of the UN.

View from Palestine’s seat at the General Assembly in New York (Ragnhild H. Simenstad/NorwayUN/)

Raed Ayad is from Toronto, Canada. A PhD Candidate at  London Academy of Diplomacy with an MA from International Business and Diplomacy.