A rift between Qatar and four Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates over Doha’s alleged role in funding terror organizations, as well as its alleged support of Iran; has brought about additional challenges to the already chaotic Middle East.
Information may be “the oxygen of the modern age,” as Ronald Reagan famously said, but information technology is a mixed bag. Among other things, it has fueled the rise of global jihadism as we know it today.
It enabled a nest of tunnel-based terrorists in Afghanistan to coordinate the most deadly non-state terrorist attack in history 15 years ago. More recently, it has populated a new Islamic “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq with volunteers from around the world.
But there is a silver lining to the widespread use and abuse of social media in the Middle East: It can tell us a great deal about the individuals sitting behind the electronic screens.
Take Hashtag Palestine, the title of an insightful report by Hamleh, the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement. The Ramallah based-nongovernmental organization is dedicated to training individuals and community-based groups to engage in grassroots social media activism. Its recent report on Palestinian social media activity in 2015, a year that launched what is now called the Knife Intifada, is revealing.
Nearly two-thirds of Palestinians have computer access and half use a smartphone.
Palestinians, like others in the world, have become active internet users. Nearly two-thirds report having a computer and half use a smartphone. Young people form the majority of users. With this level of penetration, the Internet is already playing a significant social role in their lives.
What has been trending in Palestine? The report analyses 18 campaigns that tell us something about the Palestinian mood.
The most popular recorded campaign was “#it_will_not_be_divided,” centered on thwarting imagined secret Israeli plans to divide or even destroy al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a popular theme of Islamist leaders who incite violence. Ironically, Israel and Jordan, which are custodians of Temple Mount, recently reached a new understanding on how to better handle the management of the holy site. Continue reading
Strategic Outlook/ the Commentator
For the first time since the Gulf War, sirens were heard this past weekend in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. News stations broadcasted scenes of confused residents running for shelter along with instruction on what do when you hear a siren. Fortunately, people here adapt quickly. All of the sudden, long-hardened residents from down South were reassuring their friends and family in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Rishon LeZion: “You have more than a minute before the missile hits” they say, “down here we only have 15 seconds!”
The escalation in Gaza and the Israeli response, a.k.a Operation Pillar of Defense, is the first Israel-Palestinian escalation to unfold in the “new” Middle East. The last two years, the years of the Arab Spring, minimized the Palestinian focus of the Middle East. Instead, citizens of the region were out on the streets, taking down dictators, and installing new governments. The people of the Middle East are still finding their way as blood continues to be shed in Syria. Israelis and West-Bank Palestinians had their own “mini spring” in the form of demonstrations against economic policies and rising prices although these issues will be left for the coming elections. As for the Gaza Palestinians, well, they were neither allowed to demonstrate nor to elect any leadership since Hamas took control of Gaza in a military coup in 2007. Continue reading
“Cause out on the edge of darkness,
there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country,
come take me home again”
Cat Stevens/Yossouf Islam
Events surrounding the “Freedom Flotilla” tragedy continue to unfold, but the world is already flooded with demonstrations, denunciations and calls for retaliation. The Israeli attempt to board six civilian ships for security reasons resulted in 9 dead and over 30 injured. It has been dubbed by most news outlets as “deadly,” “inhuman,” or a “disproportionate use of force” at best.
Condemnations have come from virtually all diplomatic circles. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced the violence and demanded explanations. Russia’s Foreign Ministry dubbed it a “gross violation of international law.” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak decried the use of excessive and unjustified force, and Turkey said its relations with Israel may not recover due to this “inhumane attack.” Continue reading