Blogging my Berkman experience

Hello cyber world! I’ve decided to come back after a long hiatus from blogging to write about my experience at the Berkman Center as a research fellow for the academic year.

I’ve already been in the greater Boston area for a little over a month now and it’s been an interesting experience so far. I admit it’s been rather overwhelming so far, between meeting some great people most of who are now also fellows, attending thought-provoking talks and even choosing to sit-in on a class at MIT’s civic media lab with Sasha Costanza-Chock. At the end of the day I’m honored being among many who have accomplished so much in the digital media, internet and legal realm already.

Coming into Berkman, I had a vague idea of what I wanted my research to focus on.  Recently my interest has slightly shifted from topics of ICT literacy, development and infrastructure back to concepts of civic media, collaboration and storytelling.  Now bear with me as a lot of  what I’m about to write are raw ideas at the moment, some of them I will continue to develop as I pursue them, while others I might drop for the sake of time.

One topic I would like to pursue is try map the Palestinian online networked space. I want to start by looking at the networks used by activists, the main actors within these networks and the topics/ content that have dominated these networks. My plan is to scrape the data on all of Twitter, Facebook and various blogging platforms. If I can access the data I will then analyze content, key actors and trends on these networks, while studying the role of actors in spreading information about various issues in Palestine, from the prisoner hunger strike to the Prawer Plan.

Another focus topic is concepts of citizen media/ civic media or as many still call it citizen Journalism. As much as I would love to discuss what defines citizen journalism and how the term in itself is problematic starting with the term citizen (think non-state or transnational entities) to the term journalism. But I don’t want to delve too much into the definition and move beyond that to ponder on what has been arguably a prickly relationship between journalists and citizen media , especially as those lines are continuously blurred. But more importantly I think it would be interesting to look at what drives a ‘citizen’ to report on the ongoing events in their lives, neighborhoods, region or cause they care about.  I’m sure everyone has an issue they are passionate about, but what drives a person to use digital media tools to report on said issue?  Why is it that villages like Bi’lin and Nabi Saleh in the West Bank chose to use various media tools to document, and shed light on what’s happening in their villages, while other villages that are facing similar circumstances have not done that yet? Additionally, what are the tools that individuals can and should use to enhance their reports? How can individuals have their story heard?

The topic of diaspora and mapping the collective memory, is something that I’ve been thinking of for a while now.  I’ve started developing a project idea and hope to start implementing it during my time at Berkman. However, before I start with the implementation process I need to flush the idea out and conceive a concrete concept. I plan to dedicate a whole post or two on this project idea.

Of course being part of the community here means that I am exposed to all sorts of new projects and tools. It is something  I’m keen on learning more about, specifically civic media tools. This is why I’m going to try add some of the recent interesting projects, events and tools that I’ve encountered and to look out for:

This storython for undocumented immigrants has been going on over this past weekend at the MIT media lab and I’m sorry to have missed it, but I instead chose to attend Eyebeam’s conference on surveillance called Prism Breakup.

Intertwinkles is a fascinating  project under development and is a platform that aims to  help small democratic groups to do process online. It’s a platform I would love to test and see how the tools develop in the near future.

If you follow Ethan Zuckerman’s blog then you’ve probably read about this interesting new tool that MIT’s media lab has developed to track Youtube trending videos in countries around the world, while trying to find the link between the videos and countries. ie Top trending videos in India are similar to those in the UAE, imitating labor immigration patterns.

Finally, I attended a talk by the artist Molly Crabapple who’s giving tech enthusiasts and me as an amateur photographer something to think about in terms of ‘Art in the Ubiquitous Age’ and how sketch artists can still be present in an age where everyone has access to a camera easily and can take pictures of everything and anything.

These are some of the raw ideas that I’ve been thinking of during my first month at Berkman, I’m hoping to develop them some more and continue blogging about my experience and ideas for the coming few months.

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The hacking war between Israel and Palestine rages on

Today I noticed the hashtag #HackerOmar trending on my Twitter feed. I instantly opened my news feed and yes it was as expected the ‘Saudi’ hacker 0xOmar strikes again. Almost two weeks ago the same hacker published information of tens of thousands of Israeli credit cards. This time 0xOmar decided to target the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange and El-Al websites.

These cyber-attacks are nothing new, if you recall my previous post on the Internet going down in Palestine (although some may dispute it was a result of a cyber-attack). Israel and Palestine have engaged in a cyber-war for over a decade now. I recall writing a paper over two years ago about the hacking war between Pro-Israelis and Pro-Palestinians during the Gaza Offensive of 2008/2009, and while doing the research for the paper it came to my attention that this war spans back to over a decade.

This recent hacking incident is merely an escalation in a continuing cyber war between Israel and Palestine. However, this war is part of a larger global cyber-war that has seen many players join, yet the sides still remain blurry. The results of this war remain unknown, even though indications strongly point towards the fact that Internet users stand to lose their freedoms online.

No! Not under my name

On this Friday, and after almost two weeks of protesting by the Egyptian Youth against the Egyptian Military Council, the Muslim Brotherhood has called for a day long protest. No, not to end Military rule in Egypt, and no not to postpone the elections, but the demonstration has been called for the “Victory to Jerusalem”!

As a reaction to this, Palestinian youth have started the “Palestine is stronger with a free Egypt” campaign in which they post the following statement on their respective blogs:

“نحن، مجموعة من الشباب الفلسطيني، نرفض ان يتم الزج بالاقصى وبفلسطين لضرب الثورة المصرية العظيمة
فيما تشهد مصر، جولة جديدة من الثورة، يقودها شبابها الابطال، رافضين ان تسلب ثورتهم من العسكر، ومقاومين للقمع الوحشي الذي يتعرضون اليه، قرر الاخوان المسلمون في مصر، اعلان الغد مليونية “انقاذ الاقصى”، إننا نرى في هذه الدعوة التفافاً على كل الحركات والفئات المصرية التي أعلنت الغد مليونية “اسقاط المشير”.
للاخوان المسلمين الحق ان يقرروا ما يشاؤون في الشأن الداخلي المصري، لكننا نرفض أن يتبعوا ما اتبعه الطغاة العرب في استخدام فلسطين كحجة لممارسسة قمعهم واستبدادهم. لا يمكن لتحرير الاقصى وفلسطين ان يتم من خلال الدوس على كرامة الشعوب العربية.
نشد على ايادي أبطال التحرير وكافة المدن المصرية
فلسطين أقوى بمصر حرة وكريمة

We Palestinian youth refuse to use Al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause as a tool to hit the great Egyptian revolution.

Egypt is witnessing a new wave of revolution lead by the brave courageous Egyptian youth who rejects SCAF’s hijacking their revolution. As the youth are resisting the oppression by the security forces, the Muslim Brotherhood called for a million man march in solidarity with Jerusalem.

We consider this invitation a detour on all Egyptian movements and sectors who announced tomorrow Friday a million man march to bring down Marshal Tantawi.

The Muslim Brotherhood has the right to take their decision in internal Egyptian issues. But we refuse MB taking the lead of the Arab tyrants who systematically used the Palestinian cause as a tool to practice their oppression.

The freedom of Al-Aqsa and Palestine does not come from stepping on the dignity of the Arab people.

We are in solidarity with the heroes of Tahrir square and all the Egyptian cities.

Palestine is stronger with a Free Egypt”

Palestinians after decades of struggle and decades of Arab appropriation of the struggle for their own interests, are making a stance, saying No! no more, not under my name.

Palestinian Internet is down!

This morning I had problems going online, I figured it’s not that big of a surprise when it comes to Internet and Palestine. As the morning hours passed, I realized I wasn’t the only one with problems connecting to the Internet. It seemed everyone in Ramallah couldn’t go online. I found out a few hours later and by a statement from the Minister of Information Communication Technology that Palestinian networks have been facing cyber attacks originating from 20 different countries. There are no details as of yet about the type of attacks or the origins. Awaiting further news on this matter.

This maybe the first incident in which the entire Palestinian network is targeted, however hacking is not a new phenomenon in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict that has roots going all the way back to over a decade ago.

Palestinian Diaspora, Identity and Cyberspace

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.

Indy Media Center in Palestine

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!

Arab Bloggers conference and the visa issue

“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?