Something funny happened on the internet this week.
On Tuesday, Snapchat featured Tel Aviv in a 24-hour “live story.” Now, for my social media-challenged readers out there (my dad), let me explain how this works. Snapchat is a messaging service that allows one to share a photo or video with a particular person or group of people. The message then self-destructs after 10 seconds (sometimes even less). Every now and then, Snapchat decides to feature a particular city, locale, or event. Users can then upload videos, which cannot exceed the ten-second timeframe. The videos are then gathered by Snapchat moderators and featured back-to-back for a 24-hour period. The viewer (that’s you, Baba (my dad)) can then watch these videos, 1-10 seconds a time, one compiled after the other, in one movie, the “live story.” After the 24-hour featured time slot, the videos disappear and ascend to internet heaven.
So, On July 7, Snapchat showcased Tel Aviv. Users contributed all sorts of videos showing the beauty and vibrancy of the city. The resulting montage was romantic, fun, and… annoying, especially if you’re a Palestinian. Early on in the video, after seeing a Palestinian woman baking and selling bread on the street, we hear a distinctly Israeli-accented voice in another scene. Here, we see a wonderful spread of food, the voice announcing, “Shalom from Tel Aviv, it’s Shawarma Tuesday!!” Ugh. Believe it or not, taking our food makes us angrier than taking our land. At least God sort of gave them Palestine in the Bible. But I don’t remember him saying anything about Jews being the chosen people when it came to shawarma, falafel, and hummus.
At other points in the Tel Aviv live story, we hear people say things like, “We have everything in Tel Aviv.” And that’s true. There’s beaches, skyscrapers, and water-skiing. Palestinians were watching this from the West Bank. As you might know, all Palestinian movement in and out of the military-occupied West Bank is regulated by Israel. That’s how a military occupation functions. A few Palestinians are afforded the “right” to move freely in Israel (which, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, occupies the West Bank), but even then they can almost never spend the night and must return to their occupation (I don’t mean “job”) by the evening. So, the 3 million Palestinians of the West Bank don’t have beaches (those are all part of non-militarily-occupied Israel), they don’t have skyscrapers (the heights of all buildings in the West Bank are regulated by Israel for “security reasons”), and they definitely don’t have water-skiing. It’s been a very long time since any Palestinian has walked on water.
Quick note: Yes, there is a beach in Gaza. But what good is a beach when it’s a military test site?
As you might imagine, Palestinians got a bit peeved when seeing this all on Snapchat (on their low-bandwidth connections, which, yes, are regulated by the Israeli military occupation). So they took to social media and voiced their concerns. As a result, Snapchat, much to its credit, then decided to feature a Weat Bank “live story” on Thursday. Users highlighted open-air markets, Palestinian merchants, and the Israeli separation wall (built by Israel because she militarily occupies the West Bank). It was beautiful and powerful. It almost made up for the annoyance I suffered from the Tel Aviv thing two days earlier.
But the whole episode spotlighted another phenomenon. The West Bank live story was only announced by Snapchat after users of social media expressed their outrage at the notion of featuring Tel Aviv without underlining the neighboring Palestinian experience (which exists under Israeli military occupation). Those young twenty-something Israelis riding bikes and eating “authentic” food were, at one time in their lives, pointing machine guns at Palestinians trying to maneuver through the almost 500 checkpoints littered throughout the territory. And those Palestinians needed the world (or at least the Snapchat world) to know that. And they succeeded.
See, the internet is an interesting place. It makes everyone a reporter, an expert, and a witness. It can’t be managed by lobbying and fundraising. It’s quite democratizing. If anything, the whole “#TelAviv and #WestBank Snapchat live story” episode (let’s call it “Snapchat-gate”) should have made one thing abundantly clear. Social media is an environment where everyone can speak and no one is muzzled. And when that happens, when the playing field is level, the #Palestinian story wins.
Israel can only respond in one of two ways. She could just cut off all internet access to those pesky Palestinians (remember, she can do this because of the whole military occupation thing). Or she could take a long look in the mirror and realize that she is losing. She needs to change her ways. In the egalitarian world of the internet, her prospects are bleak. Her old, tired arguments and stories might look good for a few seconds, but then they self-destruct and disappear, Snapchat-style.