I’m a Palestinian-American. Many people know their heritage but few get the privilege of being able to visit where they came from. I was one of the few that got to see the place where my ancestors lived. This happened when I was a kid, 10 years old to be exact. But like all things when it comes to Palestine, there was some complexity to this trip.
As both a Palestinian and an American citizen, I could see the Palestinian and Israeli realities in the region. This experience was a true twilight zone. Where the Palestinian side was laced with poverty and crumbling buildings, Israel felt like a scene from a fun movie set in Europe. This sort of difference is something that still sticks with me, even today.
The conflict between Palestine and Israel is something that I was taught early in life. My father and, by extension, his entire family were very passionate about being Palestinian and our Palestinian roots. My grandmother would often tell me stories of her childhood before the occupation and tales of the atrocities that Palestinians experienced as a result of the creation of the Israeli state.
Yet as an American I also saw the way that the American media has covered the conflict in my lifetime. As a kid, I was exposed to both CNN and Al-Jazeera, and the way they reported the same stories was night and day. Where Al-Jazeera would focus on 50 Palestinians killed, it seemed that CNN would run the same story but focus on 3 Israeli citizens being injured. Even then something felt off. As an adult, I have seen the first-hand after-effects of people being fed this approach. Many Americans I know assume that Palestinians are terrorists and Israel is without any fault because this is the narrative that was fed to them by news outlets. But today, it seems that the conversation might be changing, which might be thanks to social media.
The Gift of a Platform
Much has been written and said over the years about the negative impact that social media has had on society. Many have said that the platforms and ability to post whatever we desire have caused rifts societally between different classes of people. I have always thought, however, that all social media does is expose what was always there. If someone posts what is perceived as ignorant material on a social media platform, this person was always ignorant but now has allowed the masses to see it. In many ways, social media is a great exposer to each person’s reality.
This lack of a filter or agenda has made social media posts the vessel through which many people in the West are being exposed to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. In the past, my American friends have told me that Israel is the ally of this country and that they should support them for that reason. This mentality has been so ingrained in the American consciousness that any retaliation by Palestinians has been designated simply as acts of terrorism. For years as a Palestinian living in America, this became the accepted disconnect between myself and American friends and colleagues.
The reason for this steeped one-sided view of this conflict comes down to information that has been fed to the public. Historically, American media has reported on the issue in a very pro-Israel lean that has upset many Arab-Americans. But this has changed with apps like Twitter and Snapchat ushering a new moment of live reporting on this conflict. One of Snapchat’s most polarizing features that have been quite useful for understanding the conflict has been its Snap Map. This feature allows a map view to see where your friends are (if they are sharing their location), but more importantly, it allows you to go to other regions to see events that are happening worldwide on a public Snapchat Story.
Typically this is useful to see live reactions from a major sporting event or concert, a way to feel like you are a part of the experience from miles away. This feature is now being utilized to showcase the live happenings in Gaza for the world to see, completely unfiltered (see this video for an example). There is no spin control happening here at all, everything posted is live and unedited: a true showcase of raw reality. These videos have been getting noticed with people resharing them and condemning Israel on TikTok and Twitter. In many ways, this is the gift of social media. This sort of unfiltered content shows the true story, compounding with the massive lack of trust for mainstream media that has been cultivated in modern society. It would appear that a change is on the horizon as a result of this in the way that people think about the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Smells Like a Revolution
Over the past couple of years, there seems to have been an appetite for revolution in our world. People are dissatisfied with the status quo and attempting to do something about it to make their voices heard. These movements pick up traction on social media and become inflection points for a cause, for better or worse. The summer of 2020 in the United States saw Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd catch fire on social media. The protests became an inflection point in the modern history of the United States, and the voice of this revolution was fueled by social media influence. Conversely, social media helped to allow people dissatisfied with election results to storm the Capitol building and attempt a hostile takeover. The events of this failed coup attempt were also on social media to give the public a raw and unfiltered look at the horror and reality of an attempted uprising.
We have also seen this internationally in China. The ongoing treatment of China’s Uyghur population has been broadcast on social media to show the world what China has been trying to hide from the world. There have been various social media campaigns to liberate the Uyghurs from the oppression of the Chinese government. A similar movement happened when considering the way that mainland China has treated Hong Kong and the desire for its independence. These issues may have never seen the light of day due to China’s reclusive media policies, but social media has enabled these movements to have a platform.
These events have led to an awakening by the mass public to see injustices that are happening around the world. In a system that has always been agenda-driven, a new form of speaking out has risen to prominence that foregoes any sort of agenda. In regards to the Palestinian struggle, this means a more fair approach to commentary on a conflict that has been going on since 1948. Social media posts have enabled onlookers not deeply invested in Palestine or Israel to formulate their own opinions on the subject without an agenda getting in the way. This means that some Americans still believe in Israel and its actions but now they are getting a more complete picture of the Palestinian point of view. This is something that has never happened in the history of the conflict in the region since the traditional media reporting on the subject has always leaned to defending the ally, to defending Israel regardless of its actions. The great equalizer of social media has allowed that to happen.
Creating a New Conversation
As with many things, any time there is a change there will always be a ripple effect. The impact of social media on awareness of social issues worldwide has created new conversations. As a Palestinian, many of my American friends have reached out to me for the Palestinian perspective of the conflict after watching content on social media that condemned Israel’sactions. The confusion that has occurred due to this barrage of posts has been to fully understand the history. My fellow Arab friends have also had this happen to them and we have all collectively taken it as an opportunity to educate our friends about an issue that is so important to us.
Being able to have these conversations is a huge improvement over the accepted realities of the past. We have also seen this where members of the Black community are educating their colleagues and friends about the struggles of being Black in America. Overall, this is very good for progress and human empathy. The American experiment is unlike one that the world has seen. We are a diverse country filled with varying ideas and beliefs, yet find a way to co-exist with one another. There are times where there will be disconnects between us and hate will rise to the top, as we have seen in recent years. But at the same time, there are opportunities for knowledge to be gained.
I have lived in Michigan for over 15 years and have seen this firsthand. The state has a diverse collection of ethnicities and is a reflection of this American experiment. Being able to explain to people what it means to be Palestinian or what it means to be Black allows for people to change their worldview. This is due to the exposure that social media has provided to conflicts and causes that have previously been buried by traditional news outlets. This proliferation is a message that we as a people need to demand the whole story and a proper understanding of a complete situation. For all of its faults in regards to time consumption and data collection, social has proven to be an advocate for change in this regard. The platforms have become places where conversations can start and a place that I hope as a Palestinian will continue to happen for the greater education of everyone.