Why the Palestinian Spring Hasn’t Gone Viral

Boys wave Palestinian flags to celebrate Mahmoud Abbas’ trip to Ramallah, last week, after he made a bid for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.

by Fatemeh Shahkolahi

The words singing, dancing, and celebrating seem misplaced when used to illustrate Palestinians in the West Bank. But these words bore truth to the atmosphere of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank last week, after the President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas appealed for membership for an independent Palestinian state before the United Nations.

The Palestinian Spring, as it is now being referred to, seems to be following in the footsteps of its neighboring upheaval, the Arab Spring. Yet the role that social media have played (and continue to play) in the Arab Spring has not completely transferred over to the Palestinian Spring. Interestingly enough, the ways in which Twitter and Facebook have helped organize and popularize the issues of many Middle Easterners internationally have not been applied the same way to issues of the Palestinians.

Sure, the bid for Palestinian statehood may have been a hot topic on Twitter and Facebook in September, but it doesn’t stand a chance against the current trends of #Beiberfever and #NFL.

It seems as if the Palestinian Spring has held on to more traditional forms of media, like newspaper articles and television reports to popularize its cause. That’s not to say that Facebook and Twitter have not recently spread the plight for Palestinian independence. Rather, the 63-year-old issue, much like a grown man who sticks to a routine, has not resorted to a young, trendy, form of media.

The handling of social media is a core difference between the two Springs. One can argue that the Arab Spring, uprisings mobilized by freedom-seeking Arab citizens, was successful, in part, because of the power of social media.  (For more on this debate, please see: “Social Media, the Recipe for Revolution?”)  Demonstrations that meant very little one day were viral topics that were hash-tagged on Twitter the next day. But the Palestinian Spring has yet to buckle up on the social media bandwagon. Rather, it has held on to forms of media that were popular (and essentially the only forms of international communication) when the struggle began six decades ago.

It seems almost as if the new generation of Palestinian activists (specifically those living in Palestine) have picked up where the previous generation left off, in terms of creating change. But the question lies here: do they have a choice? There are obvious reasons for the lack of a tweeted revolution. As of 2010, only 14 percent of the Palestinian population (Gaza and the West Bank combined) have access to the internet.

When such a small group of people have access to the internet, does it become impossible to use social media effectively to organize masses the way the Egyptians did?

Though the easy answer would be no, Palestinian movements seem to be fighting against the odds. There does seem to be a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel for the Palestinian Spring. Youth movements have turned to Facebook to organize protest campaigns as well as raise international awareness. The impacts of Palestinian campaigns may be limited, but they do exist and they continue to growing. In a recent blog post, Palestinian technology advisors to President Abbas have said they “will use social networking to organize campaigns to boycott Israeli goods.”

#Palestine may not be a trend on your Twitter sidebar, but that won’t stop the Palestinians in moving closer to a tweeted revolution.

(The photo is by gregg.carlstrom of Doha, Qatar and Al Jazeera via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.  To see a report from Al Jazeera English about Abbas’ move for Palestinian recognition before the U.N. please check below.)

This entry was posted in Arab Spring, Facebook, Internet, Middle East, Palestine, Social Media, Twitter, United Nations and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why the Palestinian Spring Hasn’t Gone Viral

  1. JohnJeff says:

    You bring up such a great point: Palestinians have been actively fighting for sovereignty, freedom, and rights for much longer than many of the Arab Spring protesters in other countries. In appears to make sense that they would pursue the same mediums as their parents and grandparents.

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