Total Length: 3235 words ( 11 double-spaced pages)
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Palestine under Occupation: Reaching the ‘Other’ through Bearing Witness and Citizen Journalism
The conflict in Palestine is largely portrayed in the mainstream media as a complex issue (Chomsky & Pappe, 2015). A theoretical reason for this portrayal of the conflict is rooted in what Robinson (2002) has described as the ‘CNN effect’—the special relationship that exists between the state and the media, which facilitates the construction of a narrative that supports the aims of the state, particularly when it comes to foreign intervention. Al-Ghazzi (2017) has described, for example, how CNN uses embedded reporting to foster a narrative supportive of the U.S.’s aims in the Middle East. With a particular focus on the Palestinian conflict, Western mainstream media and states partake in the CNN effect by framing the conflict as ‘complicated’. This complication, however, is not represented in the largesse unevenly distributed between the two sides of the conflict. That Israel is the recipient of billions of dollars of aid annually from the U.S. government is no secret; nor should it be surprising that Palestine receives but a fraction of the same sort of assistance: Congress has requested only approximately $250 million in aid for Palestine for fiscal year 2019 (Zanotti, 2018), while Israel on the other hand has been selected to receive nearly $40 billion in military aid over the next ten years (Baker & Hirschfeld Davis, 2016). Were the conflict depicted by mainstream media in much simpler terms—i.e., as a Zionist-occupation of Palestinian territory—it would be much more difficult for the state to justify this kind of support to Israel. This uneven distribution of funds as well as the coverage of the conflict by mainstream media suggests that the Western state is far more sympathetic to the Israeli-side of the story—and as Robinson (2002) indicates, the effect of spectacle, the application of soft power, the use of embedded reporting, interventionism in the guise of humanitarianism, and the CNN effect all go hand in hand.
Soft power or the influence of political aims through the injection of funds into the targeted arena is a common method employed by the U.S. overseas, and as Seib (2009) points out, ‘the effective exercise of soft power depends largely on its being a part of a comprehensive, well-designed public diplomacy effort’ (p. 780). The ‘complex’ narrative regarding the Palestinian conflict is part of that ‘well-designed’ effort on the part of the state and the media industry. One major factor that is contributing to the emergence of the other side of the story, however—i.e., the Palestinian side of the conflict—and, by extension, potentially enabling more sympathy to be generated among the Western populace for the Palestinian side—is the rise of citizen journalism. Citizen journalism has come about thanks to technological innovations, which have essentially placed cameras and video recorders in the hands of citizens via mobile devices (iPhones, Androids, hand-held cameras, etc.). These users can record real-life events and share information via social media with followers all over the world. What was once a monopoly of information in the days of old media has become a wide-open, much more democratic field in which citizen journalism gives what supporters of this type of news (also known as alternative news) view as the other side of the story—the side that ‘fake news’ media does not provide (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). The question is: is citizen journalism truly capable of opposing the special relationship between the state and its media—i.e., the CNN effect? Does citizen journalism pose a threat—informational, social, political or even economical—to the combination of soft power, interventionism, embedded reporting and the CNN effect that the U.S. possesses?
To answer that question, this paper provides an examination of the ways in which social media platforms are being used as a tool in citizen journalism with a focus on the Palestinian conflict. Particularly, the study explores the rise of blogging in Palestine, with a focus on Electronic Intifada, the Palestine Chronicle, and independent bloggers. Twitter, photojournalism, and the idea of digital information-sharing as a form of education and as a social weapon to be used against the state (that is, against Western enablers of Israel) are also explored. Finally, whether all of this information sharing via citizen journalism leads to economic, social and political changes with regard to the popular narrative on Palestine will be discussed. In political, social and economic terms, the link between citizen journalism and BDS (Boycotting, Divestment, Sanctions) movement will be analyzed. Against this analysis, the question of whether citizen journalism is a force to be reckoned with or rather merely a virtual reality for people to feel as though they are empowered and in charge of change may be answered.
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Citizen Journalism consists of a range of web-based practices whereby ‘ordinary’ users engage in journalistic practices. Citizen journalism includes practices such as current affairs-based blogging, photo and video sharing, and posting eyewitness commentary on current events (Goode, 2009). It purports to cut out the middle-man of the mainstream news service industry and thus evade any type of control, censorship or obstacle presented by outlets that only entertain the notion of certain kinds of narratives being developed and promoted (Allan & Thorson, 2009). It dispenses with ‘the authority of the professional journalist’ while still providing original reporting and interviewing for its audience (Kperogi, 2011).
Beginning as a blog following the 2000 Intifada, Electronic Intifada serves as an activism platform that focuses on Palestine, its people, politics, culture, and place in the world. The idea for the blog started with a young journalist wanting to share the ongoing crisis in Gaza to the world despite all the challenges the Palestinians faced: ‘We had to find a way to keep the world updated while the electricity and therefore the Internet are out. Our friends and colleagues in the West Bank offered to tweet on our behalf if we send them the updates through the mobile network’ (Baker, 2012). The impact of Electronic Intifada on the BDS movement has never been quantified, but the platform provides visible and constant support for the movement, which has gained traction among Western activists such as Roger Waters, who has had his coverage of his performances in Germany cancelled by the German media following his public support of BDS (Al Jazeera News, 2017).
Another example of a blog news platform is +972 Magazine, in which ‘each blogger owns his or her channel and has full rights over its contents’ (+972 Magazine, 2018). This platform includes works by both Israeli and Palestinian citizen journalists and focuses attention on abuses by the Israeli state, acts of heroism by both Israelis and Palestinians, and other aspects of the conflict that do not receive attention in state-directed media outlets.
The Palestine Chronicle: Blogging as a Form of Collaboration
Blogs with a special focus on Palestine have turned more and more into news platforms with live updates and collaborative interactive exchanges as well as online platforms for independent news reporting in times of crisis times. The Palestine Chronicle is one example of this: what began as a small exercise in blogging has become a major source of independent news, with the help of independent, professional journalists who write with a desire to bring objectivity to the Palestinian conflict. These sites are numerous and indicate that interest in what is truly taking place in Palestine is growing among Westerners—but is it making any difference on the political, social or economic levels?
As Pappe (2009) states: ‘Activism among young people has sparked broader popular movements…. They have been talking about Zionism, writing about the occupation and are actually worried. Sooner or later this should affect the population and make a huge difference’ (Chomsky & Pappe, 2015, p. 85). Thus, goal-oriented action and social change may be the ultimate objective—but, for now, activist blogging might only be a way for Palestinians and those sympathetic to their plight to feel empowered in what often seems a helpless situation amid the heavy hand of the authoritarian security apparatus and the hegemonic state-directed media apparatus.
Even the recent protest against President Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was muted by the mainstream media. As the numbers of Palestinian dead and wounded climbed upward into the hundreds, the citizen journalists took to social media to raise awareness. Yet the move of the embassy proceeded and was lauded as a great victory for Israel. The suffering of Palestine continues to go unrecognized in mainstream media: it does not accord with the desired CNN effect. One must wonder, therefore, whether citizen journalism will ever have more impact than giving helpless citizens a brief feeling of relevance and power by sharing their stories. Chomsky and Pappe (2015) indicate that citizen journalism can make a difference and lead to social, political and economic change. They point to the protests against the Vietnam War, the release of the Pentagon Papers, and the movements….....
AlJazeera, 2012. The citizen journalists challenging al-Assad. Accessed August 24, 2018 at: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2012/05/2012525141859285303.html
Al Jazeera News, 2017. German broadcasters drop Roger Waters of BDS stance. Accessed August 24, 2018 at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/german-broadcasters-drop-roger-waters-bds-stance-171129101108540.html
Allan, S., 2013. Online News Reporting of Crisis Events: Investigating the role of citizen witnessing. In: Siaspera, E. and Veglis A. (eds.) The Handbook of Global Online Journalism. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 331-352
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Baker, R., 2012. How we made the world hear Gaza, as citizen journalists. Accessed August 24, 2018 at: https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/rana-baker/how-we-made-world-hear-gaza-citizen-journalists.
Baker, P. & Hirschfeld Davis, J., 2016. U.S. finalizes deal to give Israel $38 billion in military aid. Accessed on August 24, 2018 at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/14/world/middleeast/israel-benjamin-netanyahu-military-aid.html
Carr, D., 2014. At Front Lines, Bearing Witness in Real Time. Accessed August 24, 2018 at: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/28/business/media/at-front-lines-bearing-witness-in-real-time.html
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Kperogi, F., 2011. Cooperation with the corporation? CNN and the hegemonic cooptation of citizen journalism through iReport.com. New Media and Society, 13(2), pp.314-329.
Seib, P., 2009. Public diplomacy and journalism. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(5), pp.772-786.
Zanotti, J., 2018. U.S. foreign aid to the Palestinians. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS22967.pdf