Tweeting the ‘Nakba’

As thousands in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring Arab countries marked the Nakba on Sunday, Palestinians and their supporters worldwide quickly harnessed social media for online protests as well.

Twitter homepage (photo credit: Screenshot)
Twitter homepage
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Some say it’s the voyeuristic nature of social media that makes them so addictive, but as the Nakba Day events rapidly unfolded Sunday, the constant flow of information, eyewitness accounts, photos and even some of the outlandish rumors surrounding the Palestinian protests made for gripping viewing.
Similar to the live tweeting from Cairo’s Tahrir square during the Egyptian uprising last February or the Tunisian revolt before that, the posts on social networking site Twitter helped give momentum to a commemoration that has never before enjoyed so much international attention or local ferocity.
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“Let’s make #Nakba the top trend of the day,” was a common call early on Sunday morning, or “#May15,” as it was commonly referred to in tweets throughout the day.
“There’s so many silly things that are trending, #Nakba deserves it.
Let’s make it happen!” urged ProjektOfficial, or Shabbir Aka Projekt, a “tweep” (Twitter user) whose ID describes him as a “Conscious Rapper/ Lyricist/Poet – Uncensored Records (Independent).”
So, while thousands of people in the West Bank, Gaza and Arab countries physically took to the streets or headed to the nearest border with Israel to protest what they term the biggest ongoing catastrophe for Palestinian people, thousands more – most further afield – took to their keyboards to tweet out messages of support, anger and hate toward Israel, its creation and its policies.
While some of the 140-characteror- fewer comments expressed a moderate approach to this sensitive issue – “It’s not like I Don’t support the #Palestine cause. But We REALLY could do w/ LESS protests & Nagging & add a lot more productivity #Lebanon,” read one tweet from Lebanese blogger FadyRoumieh – the majority were highly charged, with some bordering on obscene.
One specially created Twitter trend, or #(hashtag), was the sardonic #IamIsrael, with calculated tweets such as, “Hi #IamIsrael & I will justify the massacre of Palestinians by reminding u of the Holocaust. Oh the irony. #Nakba #may15 #Palestine #israel.”
Even though the cold voice of the #IamIsrael stream continued throughout the day, it soon became passé as demonstrations in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria turned into violent clashes with IDF soldiers, leaving at least one Syrian protester dead. Conflicting reports spoke of between three and 10 people killed and dozens more wounded along the Lebanese border, with the IDF stating that the Lebanese Army was responsible for those deaths.
Those killed in the demonstrations quickly became martyrs to their online supporters, and by the evening, Twitter had once again proved that in addition to being a powerful battleground with words as the ammunition, it was also at the forefront of a conflict often obscured by security issues and geographical and physical barriers.
“...they were met with tear gas. the army will try to tell you that the tear gas was a response to stone-throwing.
but it was not...” tweeted Myaguarnieri, a Tel Aviv-based writer and frequent contributor to Al Jazeera English, who spent the day at the Kalandiya protest. That protest turned violent early, leaving up to 80 people hurt by IDF-fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
ANOTHER STREAM of live tweets from Kalandiya came from local freelance journalist Joseph Dana, a blogger for the, who sent out some 8,000 tweets to his 4,045 followers around the world.
“It’s a usual day for me,” quipped the blogger, who often live-tweets from weekly demonstrations in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh.
“The tweeting battle is not necessarily a new one,” he said, describing his ongoing interaction on Twitter with the IDF Spokesman’s Office – which, he claimed, often responds directly to his posts.
“I think the Israeli public is very slow in reacting to this global trend,” observed Dana. “Twitter is being used in unarmed people’s revolution to document and quickly show the world what a violent reaction to nonviolence means.”
He pointed to Palestinian movements, such as the March 15th Youth Movement, that have lately been utilizing forums such as Facebook and Twitter to drum up support for their cause.
“It’s a direct lesson from Egypt and Tunisia,” continued Dana, adding that “Israelis are tech-savvy, but they have not taken as much of an interest in this platform. Now they are being forced to deal with nonviolence among Palestinians and they are scrambling to react.”
While Dana says his “citizen journalism” tries to present in a factual way only what he sees, he is aware that some use Twitter to spread rumors or tweet misinformation, even unwittingly.
“I try to maintain a strict standard and only write what I see; if I tweet something that I personally have not seen, then I always put in that it’s an ‘unconfirmed’ report,” said the journalist, who on Sunday attracted 300-plus new followers as he live-tweeted the Nakba protest.
“There is obviously a plus and minus of Twitter, but hopefully what I do is reflective of good journalistic integrity,” said Dana, adding, “The whole point of Twitter is that it’s quick and immediate and an effective tool for unarmed struggle. It’s a people form of media that does not go through barriers but goes directly to the consumer.”
WHILE “TWEEPLE” such as Dana succeeded in providing informative and documented eyewitness accounts, online the Nakba Day’s events seemed to include more of a wild mix of fact, fiction and frustration, serving less to inform but more to unite a dispersed Palestinian nation and drum up more supporters for their battle.
“There is no doubt that [online media] creates the potential for mass movements, it makes them feel as though they can succeed and are part of a larger entity,” commented Palestine Media Watch director Itamar Marcus. “Tweets create such a perception and allow the people to be more active in whatever they are doing.”
However, added Marcus, “it could be problematic with those who want to start violence using it to cause trouble.”
Marcus pointed to a string of Facebook sites created by Palestinian activists, one claiming Israel is not a country and that it should be “deleted” from the countries, and a more recent one calling for the third intifada, which quickly earned more than a million “Likes.”
“All these efforts generate a sense of belonging to a mass movement, which can be tremendously dangerous,” he said. “Whereas you might have had the same number of people around the world expressing this sentiment before, all of a sudden they can go on Facebook or Twitter and see these feelings reflected by thousands of others.”
Marcus pointed out that it was most likely thanks to social media that this year’s Nakba had garnered more attention than ever before, especially among Jewish Israelis.
“There has never been so much attention here for the Nakba. Today, all the newspapers led with a Nakba,” he said. “Five years ago, if there had been a story, it would have been on an inner page and not much attention at all would have been paid to it.”
Hollywood-based tweep Jews4Palestine, who has more than 4,240 online followers, agrees.
“Twitter and other social media networks have given a voice to the Palestinians’ struggling in the hands of the well-greased hasbara machine,” he wrote in response to an e-mail from The Jerusalem Post. “It has also allowed the lies to unfold for the world to realize that, in fact, Israel will not be able to get away with the lies that 63 years of no peace can be pinned on Palestinians.”
He added that “Twitter and other social media have allowed the world to come together and realize the crimes against Palestine. I think that this has made the voice of the Palestinian struggle stronger and also has allowed more people around the globe to be aware of it.”
IN THE lead-up to Sunday’s Nakba commemorations, a number of Facebook pages and blogging networks called on Palestinians around the world to hold rallies and demonstrations.
In Lebanon, protesters were bussed en masse to the border village of Maroun al-Ras, where later in the day they rushed toward the border fence; and in Syria, dozens of buses took protesters close to the border on the Golan Heights, not far from the Druse village of Majdal Shams. At the Erez crossing in Gaza, masses of people turned out to protest, and the same occurred in the West Bank. Other Palestinians and their supporters held demonstrations near the Israeli embassies in Jordan, Egypt and across Europe and the US.
“It does seem like this was a very coordinated attack,” observed Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center professor Dr. Tal Samuel Azran, an expert in social media. “We can see it clearly on every level, in Gaza, at the Syrian border, in Lebanon, everyone is talking about it.”
He added that the Palestinians “are riding on the wave of the recent Arab revolution, and the goal is to burn this day, Nakba 2011, into history and make it a day that will promote inspiration and encourage future Nakbas.”
Still, while the day will most certainly not be forgotten by Palestinians or Israelis, the tweepers’ goal to make #nakba a worldwide trend – i.e the most talked-about issue on the multimillion-user site – was not realized.