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“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.”
New media played a crucial role in guiding the global vision of the recent events of Sheikh Jarrah. The powerful pictures and videos that activists published on social media impacted the changing attitudes of many towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The smile of the Palestinian contrabassist Maryam Afifi at the moment of her arrest may be one of the prominent events of Sheikh Jarrah. That happened when social media users circulated the video of this incident to show the discussion of the tied Maryam with an Israeli police officer about the legality of what he was doing.
The smile of Maryam coincided with pictures of Palestinians smiling while getting arrested. Other videos documented conversations taking place between Palestinians and settlers about the eligibility of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. In one of the conversations, the Israeli settler seems aware of his lack of eligibility. Nevertheless, he still takes one of the houses of the neighbourhood anyway.
With these documentations, Israel faces the identifiable victim effect. This psychological term highlights the impact that a victim may have on public opinion when people know the victim or have some details about his/her life. The public begins to consider the specific victim as a group in himself/herself. The extent or results of sympathy with this victim are unexpected. In recent years, we saw many identified victims who aroused world public opinions, such as Bouazizi in Tunisia and George Floyd in the United States.
The arrests in Jerusalem were not something new, nor was the poor economic situation in Tunisia. Racism in the United States of America is not something that happened only with George Floyd. Nevertheless, the global public opinion changed because the faces of all these victims are proximate to us. We know their tragedy. Perhaps the most eloquent saying in describing what happens in cases of identified victims is what I quote from the French historian Marc Ferro: “We often fail to see reality.”
Arab sentimental sympathy with the victims of Sheikh Jarrah resonated globally. Various peoples condemned what the Israeli government committed against the people of this neighbourhood. This echo would not have reached without the translation, transmission, and documentation carried out by Arab activists of various ideologies and nationalities. The issue went beyond religion and ethnicity and became purely human, published by activists despite the restrictions that social media imposed on them. Although the influence of social networking sites has always been less changeable than its Western counterpart, the change in the attitudes of many influencers and artists in the world has drawn support for activists to continue to circulate hashtags, photos, and videos about Sheikh Jarrah.
All this made the Palestinians victims in the eyes of public opinion, not just statistics.
Countries often seek to acquire cyber power as much as they seek to purchase modern weapons and warplanes. In a report issued by Dr Daniel T. Kuehl for the National Defense University in the United States, he defined cyber power as “the ability to use cyberspace to create advantages and influence events in all the operational environments and across the instruments of power.” Activists and protesters wielded this power, albeit unorganized. That is why Israel could not appear in the search engine as an angel, especially in the Western world. Activists published articles and pictures about the brutality of the Israeli army, some of which date back to more than forty years. They also published statistics stating that Israel had killed 100,000 Palestinians until 2019, i.e. more than 1,000 victims annually. And because access to this and other information has become very easy in the era of knowledge surplus, it has become easy to know that the number of Palestinian victims is immeasurably higher than that of Israel. Keeping that in mind, the desire for peaceful coexistence, which Israel claims, becomes a lie. Such a thing has nothing to do with real life.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.