I remember being driven through the streets of Ramallah, during my first visit there back in 1994, and noticing the walls filled with graffiti. My cousin at the time said that “graffiti was our daily newspaper during the First Intifadah”, it reported the arrests and deaths of Palestinians during the uprising*. A few years later a campaign to clean up the graffiti took place and the daily records of that time period were erased and a cleaner Ramallah emerged. With the start of the Second Intifadah in late 2000, graffiti made its way back to the walls of Ramallah, this time however the names of those arrested and killed also showed up in posters put up everywhere. What I also noticed was an increase in factional graffiti, almost like gang turf wars, each political faction tried to overtake the other by filling the walls of Ramallah with their symbols.
Of course when The Wall was built, the 8 meter high and 810 Km long cement wall offered the world’s biggest canvas to graffiti artists. Luring artists like Banksy to leave their mark on various parts of the wall. During that time, the form of graffiti changed noticeably, more portraits emerged, whether of the late Yasser Arafat or the incarcerated Marwan Barghouti, and messages to western audiences started to prevail, even graffiti postcards made it to the Wall!
This week a new form of graffiti emerged as part of a campaign run by a group of young Palestinian activists. Their graffiti is trying to direct messages not to a western audience, or political factions, but to their own people. They are asking their people to ‘think’, they are also expressing their ‘Hunger for freedom’ and I even spotted an ‘#occupy wall st. not Palestine’ around the city, linking the Palestinian uprising to that of the Occupy Wall st. movement that started in NYC and has now become a global phenomenon. As one of the activists wrote on their blog, they are “aiming to move the society and create public pressure in regards to fundamental issue such as the Palestinian prisoners hunger strike, the need for the people to think and act.”
I look forward to seeing more of their art covering the walls of Ramallah and other cities across Palestine.
Here are some pictures I took of the graffiti campaign happening in Ramallah recently.
* Here is an interesting article on the role of new media in Palestine, but also on how Palestinians had no broadcast media prior to the Oslo accords, and print media was highly censored by Israel. So Palestinians used graffiti as a way to spread the news. The author also address the development of graffiti from the first Intifadah to the second.
So my Facebook experiment almost made it to 48 hours, before I succumbed to my need for news.. during the initial 24 hours, I had typed in the Facebook URL twice before I stopped myself. But by the second day, I just couldn’t do it anymore, I felt disconnected, I needed my news. I re-activated my account..
As a news junkie, I came to realize that I’ve come to rely on Facebook for many things, I got some updates and links to interesting news articles, that I would’ve otherwise not read. Even updates about clashes in the West Bank, Wall St. and on a Football pitch in Florida became part of my life, I have become addicted. That is of course disregarding the whole fact that I’m linked to many of my friends through Facebook, I get constant updates on their life, wedding photos, baby photos and more. Basically it’s become an easy and perhaps lazy way to stay in touch, and for that I’m somewhat grateful.
Eventually, like any addiction I can probably overcome it, but with the help of Facebook I have created a social world is difficult to disconnect from. I feel social when I’m on Facebook, even though it’s a virtual connection, then again when I’m miles away from my friends, virtual is all I have.
I’ve dabbled around with this idea for over a week now, I looked up the steps I need to take and how it would affect my information, I’ve even had friends do it during the thick of deadlines and thesis in school… Well, I finally did it, two days ago, I deactivated my Facebook account!
It happened after a strong urge to be anti-social, and the need for a quieter social network, Facebook had become too loud. So I went to my account and deactivated my account, I decided I’m going to see how long I can last without running straight back to the social world I’ve created virtually. I first got an account back in Fall of 2005, when Facebook finally made it Universities overseas. I remember that summer I had e-mailed the Facebook team, arguing that although the American University in Cairo is based in Egypt, it still is an American University. A month later Facebook came to AUC! Since then, I reconnected with friends I hadn’t talked to in years, I’ve posted many photo albums, used Facebook to sublet my apartment, basically I’ve created a world of friends, acquaintances and more on this network. Of course, I contemplated leaving Facebook a year or two back, when I realized how our privacy was being compromised. But I couldn’t get myself to do it, I couldn’t leave this world that I had allowed into my life, I couldn’t leave my virtual friends, so instead I changed all my privacy settings and hoped for the best.
I’m still unsure what happened the other day, I don’t know what finally drove me over the edge, I guess I want to see how long I can go without this world.
Over a year and a half ago I started to do some basic research for my thesis, at the time I didn’t have a clear idea on what I wanted to write about, all I knew was that I wanted to write about Cyberspace, activism and the Palestinian youth. Although I ended up focusing on ICT development through ICT literacy projects targeting the youth in the West Bank, I did go through tons of material focusing on online activism and identity. More importantly material on online community and identity in relation to the Palestinian Diaspora. After going through articles addressing this topic I pushed it aside making room for the work I needed to do for my thesis, knowing that one day I will return to it, and certain that my past as a Palestinian living in diaspora will nag me to follow up on this issue.
Over a month ago I attended a lecture by Dr. Karma Nabulsi, on the status of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections and the effects of the Palestinian UN bid on the PLO. What struck me most during that lecture was Nabulsi’s focus on the need for a unified platform amongst Palestinians all over the world. It got me thinking, well how are we going to unite a people that are scattered across the globe, and have lived in diaspora for over 60 years?
I figured it was time to link both my passion for digital media and my past and look towards Cyberspace as a tool for this unification. While there have been numerous attempts to connect, or reconnect Palestinians with their roots, and their fellow Palestinians living in Palestine. With projects such as Across Borders, or websites like Palestine Remembered, my research has shown that there hasn’t been a single project that has attempted to create an online Palestinian community across the globe. Though if there is a project out there that does just that then please do correct me!
Now bear with me, because these are some raw ideas. What if a digital platform was created to promote an extensive Palestinian online community, aiming to engage Palestinians with each other and attempt to unify the Palestinians under a common platform or identity? Create a social network that would offer much more than just social connections, but also context. Arguably, attempt to create what Benedict Anderson coined: an “Imagined Community”, or as I would say: a Cyber ‘Imagined Community’.
For the time being, these are my initial thoughts on the matter and I hope to further develop this concept.
The Indy media center in Palestine has been in the back of my mind for about 2 years now, if not longer. I went to NYU back in 2009 to do my masters in Digital Media while thinking I need to study the digital media landscape in Palestine. At NYU, I managed to learn so much about media activism, policy and literacy and rub shoulders with some of the greats in our field. I completed my thesis on ICT development and literacy in the West Bank and managed to collect enough information to realize that much is lacking in this field in Palestine. So now that I’m back in the country, I’ve set about to start an Indy Media center here in Palestine. Yet, my plan is that the center will work mainly on promoting media literacy and offering the Palestinian youth a ‘place’ to express themselves. I’ve looked at some amazing models here in the Arab world such as 7iber and I’ve realized that this model can be used here, as we do have a group of active bloggers with a history in blogging and activism. However, I would like to take it a step further and add a physical space where these bloggers, activists and social media experts can meet, exchange ideas, and more importantly help me in my quest for creating a community of young citizen journalists in Palestine!
Although I’m still frustrated at the Tunisian Government’s decision to deny Palestinian bloggers entry visas, I can’t help but feel a sense of elation and connection with the great bloggers meeting in Tunisia this week. Their continuous tweets, reactions and (awaiting) their statement on the matter, has shown us, the Palestinian bloggers, that we are all part of one community. Thank you once again for your support and hopefully we will meet next year in Arab Bloggers meeting 2012!
Photo courtesy of Irene, this is @redrazan from Syria supporting the Palestinian bloggers that got denied an entry visa.
“All our visas have been denied” is what Lama Hourani (from Heinrich Boell) told me on the phone a few days ago, “but we’re working on it from Ramallah and there are people at the Ministry of Interior in Tunis working on it, I still have hope.” Yet, here I am on the first day of the conference, sitting in Ramallah, still hoping for this damned visa.
What’s the reason? well no one seems to know, the Ministry is blaming the Tunisian Consulate in Ramallah, while the Consulate is claiming that the decision is in the Ministry’s hand. We have yet to receive an official reason as to why the entire Palestinian delegation (with the exception of one blogger Sa’ed Karazon) got denied a visa. We’re taking one final shot at this, and hoping the Palestinian ambassador in Tunisia would be able to pressure the Mninistry to either give us an official reason to why we were denied, or grant us visas. I’m hoping we could at least attend the remaining 3 days of the conference, it would be an honor to meet such amazing people who have created change. Here’s hoping the Tunisian government would change their mind and grant us a visa!
The list of people who were supposed to go are: Asmaa’ Abdulmawjood (Alghoul), Ebaa Alburai, Mohammed Abu Sharkh, Majd Kayyal, Thameena Husary, Nisreen Mazzawi, Saleh Dawabshe, Khaled Sharqawi, Bashar Lubbad and me (Dalia Othman)
UPDATE: Just got an update this afternoon from the Ministry of Interior. They claim that because the conference and the organization Nawaat that sent us the invitation are both unlicensed they can’t issue visas for us Palestinians. Correct me if i’m wrong, but wouldn’t that mean that they deny an entry visa to everyone else who’s going to the conference?