If you go to NBC, CBS, ABC, or FOX you will get a familiar narrative: Israelis minding their own business being attacked by Palestinian fanatics.
But this is not true.
If you want to know the real deal about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, you need to turn to new media. It is only on platforms like Twitter where a narrative can be developed that explains what is really going on in Palestine (or, alternative news sources like Democracy Now or The Young Turks).
In fact, what is really happening is that every second of every day Palestinians are being oppressed, and the start of this recent conflict – the rockets from Gaza into Israeli held territories – is just symptomatic of a perpetual difference in power relations. These rockets and the Israeli response is like the POW in the concentration camp being beaten for attacking a guard – the guards will maliciously attack the POW ostensibly in self-defense, but they themselves are the reason why the violence began in the first place. We should not take pity on the guard who beats the POW into submission – our sympathies should lie with the POW. Similarly, our allegiance as Americans should lie with the Palestinian who has spent most of his life in oppression.
I use oppressed here purposefully, as it goes beyond racism in everyday actions or discrimination in government, schools, and other institutions. Oppression is qualitatively different than those terms sociologists bandy about (sometimes too haphazardly in my opinion). Blacks in the United States, for example, face a mild (but real) form of racism because their world is a world of whiteness and they must live in it. This is, in my opinion, mild within a broader socio-historical context. Americans value equality of opportunity, and have put legal measures in place to blunt the effects of what can be called “symbolic racism”, and equalize the opportunities of different racial groups.
Indeed, the arguments between Democrats and Republicans over affirmative action and other race-based policy measures are essentially arguments over whether or not the measure is about equality of outcome (Democrats are OK with this, Republicans abhor it) or equality of opportunity (both parties support these measures). When Republicans believe a policy is more about equalizing outcomes instead of opportunities, it is understood to be unfair – creating an unfair opportunity structure that favors minorities over whites. Republicans then, with some justification, cart out the term “reverse discrimination”. I’m digressing, but it is worth taking a moment and applaud the US for even considering these measures and trying their best to implement them. On some level, they point to the core American belief (the uniquely American belief) that all people are created equal – under God or the constitution, take your pick. The interpretation of this universal belief is what is generally under debate here in the US – but crucially, not the belief itself.
This is not the case in Israel. I don’t know anything about Israeli law, but I can safely assume that there are few laws in place that are meant to equalize the life opportunities of Palestinians and Israelis. Indeed, why would Israeli law makers even consider putting such measures in place? There is no foundational belief in the fundamental equality between them and the Palestinians. And this is why Palestinians can be described as being oppressed. They are seen as categorically unequal, and the state supports that inequality.
For many years, the American public was not aware of the categorical inequality of blacks. It was at best a vague notion for most. For some, it was even (mis)understood that blacks were happy with their place in American society. It took the evening news, and images of blacks being beaten and attacked by dogs, to stir the American public. At that time the media could show those images and tell that story because the villains in that story were not owned or bankrolled by them.
Now, it falls to everyday people to develop the narrative of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and speak truth to power. I wish that other black Americans would see their history in that of the Palestinians. It is very similar. Maybe even more desperate, because it seems to me that Israeli culture and policy is not based on the fundamental equality of man. In any case, it is only on Twitter and alternative media do I read a narrative that gives any thought to the Palestinian cause:
These tweets are from people like me who, for any number of reasons, have discovered a new lens through which to see the conflict. Maybe it was their fundamental belief in the equality of man that carried the day. Maybe it was an inherent interest in the plight of Muslims or Arabs vis-a-vis Christians or Westerner. Maybe it was their own personal quest for truth. Or maybe, like me (see below*) it was a well-informed and trusted friend bringing enlightenment. Whatever it was, these people are not drinking the pro-Israeli cool-aid.
I often read responses from people who are pro-Israeli that all rely on semantic gymnastics. The arguments bring up the complexity of history (sounds like pre-Civil Rights America to me) or a feeling that easing restrictions would lead to violence against Israelis (again, sounds like pre-Civil rights America – how many times I have read that Jim Crow protected white women?). Ultimately these arguments can be reduced to a notion that Israelis are better than Palestinians, deserve more, and therefore the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands, and the continuing oppression of Palestinian people, are justified. Only social media has been able to speak truth to power. Through social media are Palestinian lives and culture presented as being of equal worth to that of Israelis.
If you’d like to learn more about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, check out these hashtags on Twitter (or click on the links):
*Note: I have to thank Dr. Polly Sylvia for first getting me interested in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.