The sandy and ancient earth of the Middle East is again absorbing blood.
Hamas and Israel are at war and the land beneath their citizens' feet is crying. As it does, an incredible marvel -- while not entirely new -- is happening, and that is tweeting behind the lines.
The idea that Palestinians and I, a Jewish community worker in Toronto in 2014, are bantering back and forth while bombs and missiles fall in Israel and Gaza is astounding. Throughout this war I have spent many hours on Twitter, tweeting with Gazans, most of whom are supporters of Hamas and virulently against Israel.
Tweeting during this battle is intense and it doesn't stop at a tweet or two. I can often start in the morning and end way too late in the evening. Even the seven hour time difference does not stymy the interaction. Interestingly, the dialogue can go from extreme criticism and name calling to praising the others life and hoping for peace. After tweeting with FATE, a Palestinian supporter living in England, exchanging the best e-punches we could muster he wrote: "Peace out. I hope your family is safe in Israel." The next day we went at it again like two street fighters vying for the belt through a hyperbolic edge.
George Galloway, the British parliamentary member and strong supporter of Palestinians is a hero to those on twitter backing Hamas. I tweeted him that he should be careful with whom he sleeps as one day he might find his head in his lap. I suggested to him that he would do better to put his lot with the Israelis. He responded that he could have risen to the top in politics but would have lost his soul (had he not defended Palestinians). This tweet was retweeted dozens of times.
Throughout the war, to date, I have been labelled: a terrorist, a baby killer, Zionist pig, liar, a fool and told my thinking is diluted. Supporters of Hamas in and out of Gaza have expressed delight that IDF soldiers have been killed; I am seen as a supporter of an Apartheid state and someone who tortures children and defenceless people. I have hurled a few broadsides myself, particularly at those tweeters who praise Hitler for trying to eradicate the Jewish people. It can get ugly!
Most of the exchanges I speak of are not of an intellectual nature, in fact logic and historical footnoting just seems to get in the way as both sides seem to read different history books, media and subscribe to an entirely different truth. Despite this like never before a new avenue has opened up whereby a dental hygienist in Philadelphia, or a fruit and vegetable stand owner in Paris, or a fisherman in Prince Edward Island can ask questions of a mathematician in Khan Yunis, a mother in Rafah or a hookah dealer in Gaza City. Again, fascinating!
What I have found on my extensive war time tweeting is that Palestinians living in Gaza have a narrative that demonizes the Israeli and more often than not the Jew. I have also learned firsthand that Jews living in and outside of Israel have a one dimensional understanding of Gazans -- and that is that they froth hate for Jews and do not trust that they will change.
Some people feel tweeting with one's nemesis is dangerous as this direct line of discussion can inevitably create (more) rumours and proliferate lies as there are no fact checkers on Twitter. Others state that tweeting is unwise as it can encourage sympathy for one's enemy, and takes away an important edge.
While all of this may be true, perhaps Twitter will play a role in helping both sides to really get to know one another and ultimately share a similar narrative. Wouldn't that be nice?
Tweet behind the lines. Never before have citizens of the world had the opportunity to communicate with the other, the stranger, and the person we believe is intent upon killing us. The future is upon us. Grab a hold of it and play a role in bringing truth to our world.
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