Twitter is a place for vitriol. To expect otherwise would be naive. Yet over the past week, vitriol over in the Middle East corner of the Twitterverse (yes it really is just one teeny corner) has reached new lows. Participants in the debate on all sides have shown a lack of respect for each other and the complexity that characterizes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Justifying their rage on exactly one-half of the relevant facts, each side paints the other as violent, untrustworthy, and evil. Such constructions create a conflict that is in reality a fight against an imaginary version of the other, rather than the other itself.
The script is old - all that
changes are the events, each more harmful than the last: Rockets shot at
civilians, hundreds of civilians arrested, teenagers killed, revenge
murders, attacks on civilian infrastructure. But the tired melodrama of
the past week has been exacerbated by each side scrambling to claim
tragedy and victimhood as its exclusive purview. As if those in the
public sphere keep a scorecard of who suffers more or less based on how
many shares, likes, or re-tweets a certain statement (verified or
This vitriol is motivated by
legitimate grievances, based on fear, and driven by pain. Behind the
exclamation points, poor spelling, and capital letters, people are
hurting. This speech is harmful, but it is also
understandable. At the same time, the understanding of this pain must be mutual for
either side to have any semblance of progress.
While vitriolic nasty speech
may have genuine motivations, its effects are actively harming both
Israelis and Palestinians. Fights with strangers on the internet do not
make Israelis safer or Palestinians freer. Rather, they disrespect the
human suffering - to different extents and degrees - on both sides of
the conflict, and the resident of the Middle East whose engagement
doesn't end by signing out of a website.
Back home, this vitriolic
discourse is driving smart, humane, caring people away from the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Turf wars (in which this blogger is guilty
of participation) and nastiness are alienating the very people we
accuse of negligent apathy when something terrible happens in the
region. When the very act of asking a question draws spurious
accusations of bias, racism, Orientalism, or anti-Semitism, good people
become jaded and complacent. This abandonment is a strategic loss for
everyone in the region. People will not support a side with whom they
cannot honestly engage.
To make real progress - a safe
Israel and a free, independent Palestine - we must collectively make an
appeal to our commonalities rather than further exacerbate our
differences. The status quo is broken, and that includes our status quo
mud-slinging in the place of real and painful dialogue. Genuine
engagement is harder, less fun and it doesn't get you a ton of Twitter
followers. However, we owe it to ourselves and to the people of the
region to act like adults and stop bickering like children.