When the Israeli crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank escalated to an all-out assault on the Gaza Strip in July and August, people throughout the world reacted in myriad ways on a variety of media, expressing their solidarity, outrage, and frustration. Due to the ubiquity of modern communications technology and the social networking it facilitates, some observers described the hearts and minds of the international community as a second front of the war. The following selections illustrate the exceptional diversity of the global reaction and its impact.
MANIPULATING PHOTOS OF WAR
In the first two weeks, Israel carried out its assault on the Gaza Strip primarily through aerial and naval bombardment. As the conflict escalated, images of the air strikes and their devastating effects proliferated in international media. Belal Khaled of Khan Yunis, a photojournalist with a Turkish news agency, was among several Palestinian artists who saw more than destruction in these images and transposed original drawings onto them using Photoshop. Of the images, which were shared thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook, Khaled told the New York Times, “Artists may see things others can’t see. Even at the very tense times and very hard moments, we still draw.” A small selection of Belal Khaled’s photo manipulations is presented below. More of his work is available at http://www.twitter.com/belalkhaled
CELEBRITIES WEIGH IN
As Israel pounded the Gaza Strip, international public debate erupted over the justification, causes, and effects of its actions. In addition to politicians and members of the press, celebrities took to social and other nontraditional media to express their concern, frustration, and solidarity with the Palestinian people. Though some posts, tweets, and status updates were deleted shortly after appearing—in most cases as a result of complaints from some of their more vocal fans—their messages reached millions of people all over the world.
Within hours of posting it to her Instagram account, this message generated 705,000 likes. The American pop music star later responded to complaints, saying she was “not picking any sides.”
British teenager and member of the boy band One Direction, Malik garnered over 300,000 retweets when he sent this message out to his 13 million followers.
Kasseem Dean, also known as Swizz Beats (DJ and record producer), tweeted this message to 2 million followers.
The New York Jets lineman tweeted this message to his 61,000 followers.
“. . . Gaza is living through horror these days, besieged and attacked by land, sea and air. Palestinians’ homes are being destroyed, they are being denied water, electricity [and] free movement to their hospitals, schools and fields while the international community does nothing. . . .”
Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem (28 July). Excerpted from an open letter that the Spanish actors signed onto, along with dozens of other Spanish celebrities. Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, urged American actor Jon Voight to pen a response, which appeared in the Hollywood Reporter. Voight accused the Spanish actors of anti-Semitism and described their letter as “ignorant.” Cruz and Bardem later released statements in response, with Cruz saying she was not an “expert on the situation” and Bardem clarifying that his signature “was solely meant as a plea for peace.”
Howard, a center on the NBA’s Houston Rockets, tweeted the message #FreePalestine only to delete it eight minutes later and followed it with another tweet promising his fans that he would never again comment on global affairs.
Eight minutes after posting it, the Barbadian pop music star deleted a tweet that read “#FreePalestine” and replaced it with the above tweet, along with a picture of an Arab boy and a Jewish boy walking hand in hand. She would later say that she “didn’t even realize” she sent the message out to her 37 million followers, and it has since been deleted.
As the Israeli attack on Gaza escalated throughout July and August, many sympathetic observers around the world asked, “What can I do to help?” Since 2005, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has offered an answer to that question, and one new mobile phone application, or app, has made it easy for anyone with a smartphone to participate.
The Buycott app, launched in 2013, allows users to create lists of products and share them with friends who can then scan any product’s barcode with their phones to see if it appears on one of their curated lists of items to boycott or support. A couple of popular campaigns in the early months of the app’s availability targeted the Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch and corporations that opposed GMO (genetically modified organism) labeling.
Starting in July 2014, campaigns designed in concurrence with the BDS movement grew exponentially in popularity. One campaign, titled “Long Live Palestine Boycott Israel,” targets forty-nine companies deemed complicit in the ongoing Israeli occupation, including Sabra and SodaStream. In mid-July, the campaign had only a couple of hundred followers, but by the second week of August it had gained over two hundred thousand. The growth of this campaign and others relating to Israel and Palestine, led to a spike in popularity for the app, which subsequently climbed to the top ten in the UK’s iTunes App Store and to number one in the Middle East.
Each company’s page lists some basic identifying information and lets users know which Buycott campaigns it is subject to.
When a user scans a product’s barcode, the app offers a chart of its corporate ownership all the way up to the largest parent company
TWEETS: A FIRE-ABLE OFFENSE?
Throughout Israel’s assault on Gaza, Palestinian-American academic and activist Steven Salaita expressed his frustration in 140-character tweets. Critics accused Salaita of anti-Semitism, and his tweets eventually led to a scandal that brought up concerns about academic freedom in the United States.
Earlier in the year, Salaita had left his professorship at Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) and accepted an offer from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to become a tenured professor in its American Indian Studies Program. Though the University of Illinois’s spokesperson initially defended Salaita and his tweets, Chancellor Phyllis Wise sent him a message rescinding their offer on 1 August, weeks before Salaita was set to begin teaching classes. The necessary approval from the university’s board of trustees was unlikely under the circumstances, she said. The decision, which is now the subject of ongoing legal proceedings, immediately drew criticism from the University of Illinois’s student body, its American Indian Studies Program, and from the broader academic community. Students staged a sit-in demonstration outside a board of trustees meeting, among other protests. The American Indian Studies Program cast a vote of no confidence in the university’s chairman after she claimed Salaita’s offer had been revoked for a lack of “civility.” Thousands of academics around the country signed a letter of protest, and several canceled plans to speak at the university. At the time this issue of JPS went to press, university administrators had not heeded these calls and Steven Salaita was not teaching at the University of Illinois.
A small selection of Salaita’s tweets about the Israeli assault on Gaza is presented below. For more, you can follow him @stevesalaita.
We can argue into eternity, but in the end this is what matters most: the people in #Gaza are there because they’re not Jewish.” Steven Salaita @stevesalaita (26 July)
“Cheyennes will have to be roundly whipped—or completely wiped out—before they will be quiet” -Chivington Sounds awfully familiar #Gaza Steven Salaita @stevesalaita (26 July)
I’m pretty sure anybody can buy those #Hamas rockets at nearly every interstate exit in South Carolina. #Gaza Steven Salaita @stevesalaita (27 July)
#Israel’s attack on #Gaza is a “war” in the same way that cannibalism is “dining with a friend.” Steven Salaita @stevesalaita (28 July)
All these dead children in #Gaza, yet Michelle Obama hasn’t even seen fit to do a hashtag publicity stunt. Steven Salaita @stevesalaita (29 July)
It’s common for colonizers to show disrespect to the dead in addition to the living. Just ask any Native nation. #Gaza #GazaUnderAttack Steven Salaita @stevesalaita (30 July)
Arab Rulers: Maintaining relations with #Israel as it destroys #Gaza symbolizes why everybody recently revolted against your sorry asses. Steven Salaita @stevesalaita (31 July)
I’m absolutely shocked that #Israel broke the ceasefire, said not a single person in the entire world. #Gaza #GazaUnderAttack Steven Salaita @stevesalaita (1 August)
CONTROLLING THE NARRATIVE
On 24 July, conservative television host Sean Hannity invited Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center, onto his Fox News show to discuss the Palestinian perspective on Israel’s ongoing assault of the Gaza Strip. During the segment, Hannity berated Munayyer, asking him repeatedly with a raised voice if Hamas is a terrorist organization, and belittled him, saying “what part of this can’t you get through your thick head?” The initial incident did not garner much attention beyond Hannity’s direct audience, a reported 1.9 million viewers that night. However, when British comedian and actor Russell Brand dissected clips from the segment on his popular YouTube series The Trews on 29 July, it drew nearly 3 million viewers and the attention of the international press. Hannity and Brand went on to trade responses on their respective platforms, leading to one of the most high-profile dialogues in the international media on the subject of the Israeli assault.
The Trews clip is presented below, as well as the transcript of a short excerpt from the show. (For more on the role of the media, see Yousef Munayyer’s essay in Journal of Palestine Studies issue 173, “Crisis Moments: Shifting the Discourse.”)
“Necessarily, in a dispute, the side with inferior resources has to use more desperate tactics. So, like, you know, big countries like Britain, or America, or Israel have got proper militaries, proper military resources, but small countries like Palestine – or, there isn’t even a Palestine – the Gaza don’t have an army. They don’t have one. So, if they’re in any way going to try and defend themselves, it’s going to be through what we would perceive, or term, as acts of terror. But that’s just language really. Like if I’m beating up someone with a variety of weaponry and they’re jabbing me with a pin, it’s like ‘hey, the pin technique, you’re an animal!’ But, it’s just that’s the only thing they have to defend themselves. Of course that’s still out of order, the pin will hurt and everything, but don’t remove all context except the information that’s convenient to you.”
SATIRIZING ISRAEL’S LIBERAL OPPOSITION
On 9 August, New York-based journalist Adam Shatz published a piece on +972 Magazine satirizing the overwhelming Israeli support for the assault on Gaza, particularly the hypocrisies he saw within Israel’s liberal opposition, the so-called peace camp. The article is set up as an interview with fake author Amos Yehoshua-Shavit, an amalgam of prominent liberal Zionists like Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, and Ari Shavit.
Short excerpts of the piece are presented below and the full text is available on www.972mag.com. See document C2 for excerpts of the interview with Amos Oz about the assault on Gaza that, in part, inspired this piece.
. . .Yehoshua-Shavit is the author of several award-winning books, including the novel In Search of Lost Space, which won the Israel Prize for literature, and a memoir, Partition and Its Discontents: A Liberal Israeli’s Journey, praised by Leon Wieseltier as “a modern-day Kaddish”; he is also a frequent contributor to the New Republic and the New York Times op-ed page. A veteran of three wars, Yehoshua-Shavit is a leader of Peace Now, and the chairman of Israelis for Darfur. Raised on a kibbutz, he divides his time between Tel Aviv and Berlin, where his son, a former fighter pilot, runs a software company. I spoke to him at his large and airy Tel Aviv flat, elegantly appointed with modernist furniture and sculptures he acquired on his travels in Goa and Dakar. He sat on his sofa beneath a photograph of himself with Yitzhak Rabin.
You published a piece entitled ‘War: A Painful Necessity’ when Israel began its most recent bombing campaign in Gaza. Why ‘painful’?
Shouldn’t you be asking me “why necessary”? But OK, I’ll answer your question. “Painful” because war hurts; people die. We lost some of our best young men, more than 60 of them. Many Palestinians also died, in no small part thanks to Hamas, our more than willing partner in this wretched conflict. Again, we are trapped in this horrifying cycle of violence. Sometimes, living in this country, which I love so much but which causes me so much pain, I think: I can’t go on. But I must—as Samuel Beckett would have said.
But wouldn’t you say there’s something of a disparity in the casualty figures?
“Something of a disparity.” You impress me. So delicately put: I would have expected nothing less from a writer at the London Review of Books, publisher of Walt and Mearsheimer. Yes, we killed a lot more people than they killed, because we are a powerful state, and they are not. But what do you expect of us? Are we not allowed to defend ourselves? Look, I am not happy that we killed 2,000 Palestinians. As I wrote in Haaretz when the war began: mow the lawn, don’t uproot it. But then Kerry stepped in with his stupid ceasefire initiative and really betrayed us.
No, betrayed us, the peace camp. We, the peace camp, were calling for a limited war, not a massive invasion, which the maximalists around Netanyahu were pushing for. But when Kerry bent over backwards to Qatar and Turkey, Hamas’s sponsors, he strengthened the maximalists who don’t want a two-state settlement, and they got their war. Because of that genius Kerry, the same Kerry who is so eager to make nice with President Ruhani and the supreme leader of Iran, we are now further from peace, and further from a resolution based on territorial compromise. If it hadn’t been for Kerry, we would have had a small war like in 2012, when we made our point and made a deal. We didn’t need a big war to “protect our edge.” But don’t misunderstand me: war was necessary.
But why exactly? Hamas denied responsibility for the killing of the three teenagers, and it has since come to light that the Israeli army had reasonable intelligence that the boys were already dead—information the Netanyahu government suppressed in order to justify a massive assault on Hamas in the West Bank and in Gaza. The rocket fire that Israel invoked as a casus belli came after seven Hamas operatives in Gaza were killed.
So well informed you are about the details, so knowledgeable about who-did-what-and-when. It must be nice to contemplate our agonies from the serenity of a Brooklyn brownstone. Please, you mistake me for a political man. I am a writer. If I didn’t live in this place, I wouldn’t write about politics. I would spend my days reading Proust and writing novels like those of my friends in London and New York and Paris, who are free to write about love and relationships and washing their kids’ diapers. Unfortunately, like all of us who live in the land of Israel, I am condemned by the situation, this endless, unbearable conflict. In case you’re not aware of it, we are really depressed here, the peace camp! It’s the Palestinians who are dying in greater numbers, but at least they’re not suffering from this sense of internal exile, as we do. In some ways, living with this sort of depression is harder than dying. But, like all Israelis, we are determined to live and to fight for what we believe is right: survival, you must remember, is what Israel is about. And it’s that dialectic of suffering and survival that gives life and literature in Israel its unique power.
But to get back to the question about why Israel had to go to war…
Have you forgotten about the tunnels? How would you feel with the Ho Chi Minh trail running beneath your beaches? Would you tolerate ceaseless rocket attacks aimed at your kindergartens? If you can’t answer that question honestly, you have no right to criticize us. I also ask you: does it really matter if it was Hamas or Jihad or al-Qa’ida or ISIS who killed those yeshiva students? They’re cut from the same apocalyptic-jihadi cloth. For all their doctrinal differences, which you writers in New York and London tease out with such exquisite finesse, as if you were talking about the differences between organic goat cheeses, they all have the same objective: killing Jews, the more the merrier. Analyzing their motivations is a waste of time: The Hamas Charter says all that you need to know.
But more Jews—more Israelis—have died as a result of this war, which Israel launched, than in the last few years, and nearly 2,000 Palestinians have died.
Numbers schnumbers. Look, I’m disturbed by how many Palestinians were killed, OK? But I’m no less disturbed by the number of Jews Hamas was plotting to kill with those tunnels. Would you have preferred that we waited until they carried out a big massacre? Maybe you would have. The bien pensant intellectuals of New York and London seem to like us Jews only when we are weak, not when we are strong. Sometimes I think that the only chance we have of regaining the world’s sympathy is to go back to the crematorium.
And, since you mentioned the question of responsibility, what about the people of Gaza, so beloved of the Guardian and the London Review? The Gazans voted for Hamas knowing that Hamas would continue what they call their “resistance,” and Hamas continued that resistance knowing that we would be forced to respond. When we left in 2005, a disengagement that, may I remind you, was very risky, and that threatened to provoke a civil war in the State of Israel, the Gazans had a choice: develop or arm. They made their choice, and now they are paying a price, a high price, I’m sorry to say. Imagine what Gaza might look like now if, instead of building those tunnels, Hamas had created a vibrant economy?