For those who are not familiar with TED, it is a wildly popular network of thinkers, doers and people who enjoy seeing the world in a new and more informed way. People in communities all over the world emulate TED by hosting what they call TEDx which are TED “like” conference generally focused on amazing ideas all over the globe.
TEDx Ramallah happened in April but their videos are just going up now. (sorry for any confusion this created because it seemed like the event was happening now and their website wasn''t really clear) I love TED but in my opinion what they are doing is more of an Anti-TED. From what I have seen so far, there are few new thoughts or enlightening ideas, it is just another platform being used by a certain sector of the Palestinian population which has an axe to grind against Israel. This is an affront to TED for two reasons:
1. Because they are using the TED name to further a political goal
2. Their material is trite.
There is nothing fresh or interesting about rehashing the same “evil Israeli” diatribe. I would love to hear about innovation coming out of Ramallah and it would be great if they could do it through TED but they clearly did not take the opportunity.
But what they did provide was an almost stunning example of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term for a very unique and illogical state of mind- one that increases commitment to clearly faulty thinking. It is understood that sometimes a person is so entrenched in a certain point of view that if it is challenged it becomes a threat to their self concept. In order to protect themselves against this psychic threat they actually increase their level of commitment (instead of abandoning their preconceived notions) and then twist reality so that it will meet with their desires and expectations.
One of the TEDx Ramallah lectures was done by a woman named Huwaida Arraf (watch her here) it was ironically called "Humanity has No Nationality."
She opened with an emotional entreaty to the audience to follow her through a speech which was different than the one she had prepared. She begins to speak in a moving way about the intifada, about her past and her good friend Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian activist that came to help the Palestinians and has been here for years working tirelessly for their cause.
As she tells it he was captured, kidnapped and then killed by a rival Palestinian group. Arraf then does the most bizarre thing at this point, she glosses over the cause of his death completely and begins to montage this guy’s life protesting the Israeli occupation. She did not address the issue that he was brutally murdered by the very people that he had come to protect. If you blinked for a second you would have thought that he had actually been killed by Israelis.
She did mention that she had seen the video which had been broadcast by “the group” who captured him but she didn’t say who killed him, she didn’t hold anyone accountable. She just went on, bashing Israel.
In fact, her friend was killed by a group called Salafis who oppose Hamas and want to impose Sharia law in Gaza and have ties to Al Qaeda. Arraf knew this, she also knew that they had created a video of Vittori with (according to Al Jazerra) Arabic text that accompanied the footage which said "the Italian hostage entered our land only to spread corruption" and it described Italy as "the infidel state."
Had Arraf taken the opportunity for self reflection it could have been a moving speech. Had she discussed the role of foreign nationals and their complicated relationships within the Palestinian community it would have been fascinating. Had she even touched on the tensions between the various factions- attempts to unify them and the inherent tensions it could have been brilliant. But all she did was focus on the Israelis. In the face of overwhelming evidence of the problems within her community she continued to look outward to the struggle against Israel.It might be time to admit that the biggest obstacle facing the Palestinians might not be the Israelis- it might be themselves. There are so many issues that his murder touches on and it is a shame that Arraf and TEDx Ramallah are simply towing the party line.