02/26/2012 12:05 EST | Updated 04/26/2012 05:12 EDT

Debating a Man's Life in 140 Character or Less

As Khader Adnan, the Palestinian prisoner held in Israeli administrative detention, ends his 66-day hunger strike, the conversation during these last few days (especially on Twitter) was made all the more tense by the fact that Adnan's death seemed imminent.


As Khader Adnan, the Palestinian prisoner held in Israeli administrative detention, ends his 66-day hunger strike, activists and Israeli government officials will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief. One man remains alive while Israeli authorities get to catch their breath. Whether they decide to reevaluate the use of controversial practices like administrative detention to enforce the occupation is another story.

But the conversation during these last few days, especially on Twitter, was made all the more tense by the fact that Adnan's death seemed imminent; this raises important questions about how we engage publicly with issues. It's time to stake out some crisscrossing lines in the sand for stakeholders to the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

In its nearly unfettered access across space, status, borders and politics, Twitter is infectious, consuming, and fun. (Sadly, as incoming New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren recently learned, Twitter can be a tad too much fun.)

But the brittle debate across Twitter in the hours, and days, leading up to the Adnan deal focused on variations of two statements that went back and forth like an endless game of ping-pong.

The first is that as an alleged leader of Islamic Jihad, Khader Adnan is a bloodthirsty terrorist. The second is that Israel should be upholding due process, and that administrative detention is an unacceptable practice.

Not surprisingly, the tweets of Ofir Gendelman, Israeli Prime Minister's spokesperson to the Arab media, focused on variations of the first statement. "Khader Adnan is a real threat. His admin [sic] detention of 6 months will end soon but it doesn't mean that he's a boy scout." And "those who call on Israel to release #khaderadnan, an Islamic Jihad terrorist, so he could kill our kids, wouldn't want him near their kids."

When I challenged Gendelman on Twitter around the issue of due process, he replied, "@sucharov there is due process, even for terrorists who would love to kill every Israeli they can get their hands on."

I'm still not sure where the due process resides in this case, but to bolster his second point, Gendelman posted a link to a video of Adnan with a megaphone trying to recruit suicide bombers. The video appeared to have been since removed from YouTube, with various tweets predictably snickering over the "inappropriate content" violations, before being restored.

Diametrically opposed to Gendelman's public defense of Israeli policies is Ali Abunimah's constant criticism of Israel, and its perceived supporters. As co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, Abunimah worked hard on getting the hashtag #KhadersVictory4Palestine to trend. Predictably, he focused on the problematic nature of administrative detention and what he sees as the hateful nature of Israel and Zionism.

Absent from the debate are the values-based questions that activists and leaders from all sides should be asking themselves. I am still waiting to see a tweet denouncing both terrorism and administrative detention. 140 characters isn't a lot, but it's surely enough to include two value statements that shouldn't have to be at odds.

Gendelman says that Adnan is no boy scout. He implies that if there were Jewish children within Adnan's reach they would be ripped to shreds by his murderous impulses. It's a terrible risk to contemplate, but what of the risk of raising one's children in a society sliding away from democracy, where evidence is kept secret? Similarly, can #KhadersVictory4Palestine tweets acknowledge the unacceptability of the occupation while they declare fealty to protecting civilians in times of war?

At least we should try to come clean as to what we care about from all angles. This would mean that around areas of agreement, we could begin to generate some useful dialogue. Around areas of disagreement we could begin to hone in on ethics and values, a conversation that is much more worthwhile -- and interesting.

All those who are seeking to engage social media for their own "side," without trying to score a social media point, just for once, think what are your red lines? What kind of norms do you wish to see upheld between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River? Which actions do you deem ethical and which are unacceptable?

When I challenged Abunimah on this point, he gave me the ultimate compliment on Twitter, short of actually answering the question: he asked me if I was a parody account.

In an op-ed in Wednesday's New York Times, Palestinian Member of Parliament Mustafa Barghouti issued an eloquent defense of non-violent protest. Surely some of us who engage in social media can manage to start staking out some values-based lines of our own. Yes or no to terrorism and violence? Yes or no to due process and rule of law? Yes or no to ethical honesty over point scoring? There you go: three questions clocking in at under 140 characters. I await your replies.

**A version of this piece appeared on**