By Abe Selig, The Jerusalem Post – 25 Jan 2010
Social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, along with a slew of blogs, are playing an increasing role in the growing participation of young Israelis in protest rallies in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, activists and journalists familiar with the situation there told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Activists and journalists both described a situation in which protesters were relying on the Internet to try and affect change on the ground and raise awareness of the arrests made during demonstrations in the neighborhood.
“It’s all Facebook, e-mails and Twitter,” said Didi Remez, a human rights activist, who has become noticeably involved in the Sheikh Jarrah protests as of late. Remez was arrested during a protest there last Friday.
Remez also said that distant audiences, like American Jews, who might be deprived of Sheikh Jarrah coverage due to the mainstream media’s lack of interest, were instead staying abreast of the situation via social networking sites.
“The American media is for some reason refusing to cover this,” he said. “Even though it’s becoming a major issue in Israel. And still, despite that, there’s a lot of awareness [of this issue] among Jewish Americans, the reason being that they are increasingly connected through Facebook, Twitter, blogs and so on.”
“They’re getting information on this without The New York Times,” Remez continued. “So, something that hasn’t been covered at all by the [American] mainstream media, is still getting coverage through new media, and I think that’s a statement about the decline of the mainstream media and maybe a larger comment on the shift away from it.”
Others echoed Remez’s comments, but added that another advantage of social media was its ability to counter police statements about Sheikh Jarrah they said the mainstream media often parroted.
“This is an issue that the media hasn’t really been covering, and when they have, they’ve mostly relied on police statements that portrayed the protesters as a handful of extreme leftists or anarchists, which is simply not true,” said Lisa Goldman, a Tel-Aviv based freelance journalist who has used Facebook, Twitter and blogs to follow the Sheikh Jarrah protests.
“What the social media outlets have been able to provide is a direct source of information that isn’t filtered through the mainstream media,” she said, adding that in this vein, the use of new media had been “absolutely crucial.”
Additionally, Goldman added, social media outlets had also served as a tool to awaken the mainstream Left to the goings-on in Sheikh Jarrah, including, but not limited to, the emerging issue of police behavior towards protesters there, which the Jerusalem Magistrate Court has even censured – ruling last week that the arrests of 17 protesters during a rally two weeks ago was illegal.
“The silent Israeli Left is finally waking up,” she said. “And it’s a result of the way some young people are using social media. It’s been very effective in raising awareness among the moderate Left, who are seeing that the police are suppressing free speech.”
Goldman also pointed to the participation in last Friday’s rally of Prof. Moshe Halbertal, who helped draft the IDF code of ethics and who has been active in disputing the United Nation’s Goldstone Report, as an example of figures who would certainly not be considered extreme, but who have joined the Sheikh Jarrah fray.
Hagai El-Ad, the director of the Association for Human Rights in Israel and one of the 17 protesters arrested two weeks ago, added that the use of new media to circumvent the mainstream media, which, he said, was often “reluctant to cover hard issues, or blatantly hostile,” was spreading rapidly.
“However, it’s not just new media [at play in Sheikh Jarrah],” he said. “I think there’s a need to [step back] from the tactics being used there, and zoom in on the core issue, which is the moral outrage of Jerusalemite families being thrown out of their homes and living in tents in the street. That’s the essential injustice here, and I think it’s a fuel of its own.”
Yet El-Ad did concede that the use of new media was a driving force behind the success of the Sheikh Jarrah protest organizers.
“They are a courageous group of young people, who are functioning without any real budget or resources,” he said. “But they are cleverly online, and they’ve been able to translate that into real movement on the ground – it’s not just a Facebook group that people add their names too.”
“Yes, the mobilization happens online,” El-Ad added, “but the end result is the most classic form of civil protest.”