There is thunder in Tel Aviv as I write this piece, but not the thunder of war, only of the heavens. The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza that began at 9 pm last night is still just about holding (there is a report on twitter already of a Palestinian shot and injured by Israeli troops as he approached the security fence), and the stormy weather can become news again. In my last post, I called for a ceasefire on social media, for an end to the exchange of hostile, hateful imagery of Israelis and Palestinians targeted at each other on facebook and twitter. From what I see on blogs, tweets and sites that I follow, that has to a large extent happened for now, in the wake of the military ceasefire. The Palestinians have more mourning and rebuilding to do than Israelis, among whom there is some disappointment that the army didn’t reinvade Gaza to end the missile threat once and for all. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is far from over, whether on the ground or on social media, and so the demonization of the Other as hateful by nature, and thus undeserving of peace, will go on too.
Social media during the war have not only been the terrain of hostile electronic propagandizing, the waging of war through hateful images. Social media have also been a field for peace-making, not only for explicit calls for a ceasefire, but also for images of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. One of the Israeli-Palestinian groups that called for an immediate ceasefire is The Parents Circle – Family Forum (PCFF, also called Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace). It is a joint Palestinian Israeli grassroots organization of over 600 families, all of whom have lost a close family member as a result of the prolonged conflict. Through their facebook page titled A Crack in the Wall, PCFF kept up their strategy of seeking peace through reconciliation. They recirculated their slogan “it won’t stop until we talk” (in Hebrew this rhymes as: ze lo y’gamer im lo n’daber) and asked visitors to use it as their cover picture. While the electronic propagandists were circulating photographs of casualties on “their” side, PCFF posted pictures that juxtaposed the suffering and destruction on both sides, underlined with the message that:
“The Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum shares in the grief of the bereaved families, who join a long line of victims of the conflict. We hope and wish the injured on both sides a speedy recovery.”
In their express call for a ceasefire, PCFF expressed concern for the civilians on both sides, pointing out that “anger and frustration only fuel the already existing fire of fear and hatred.” The families hope to “serve as a bridge beyond hatred and fear by declaring their willingness to work together towards reconciliation between peoples despite their deep loss.”
Another constant stream of images of people refusing to see each other as enemies came through the “Israel-Loves-Iran” facebook page, along with its various offshoots, “Palestine-Loves-Israel” and “Israel-Loves-Palestine.” Following their typical format, there were lots of photographs of Israelis, Palestinians and others bearing the words: “Please stop the war.” They also marked the anniversary of President Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 with a photograph of him meeting Prime Minister Begin, and a series of superimposed statements they made about war and peace.
The images of Israelis and Palestinians recognizing each other’s grief, pain, aspirations and hopes, acknowledging that the other wants peace, independence and security as much as one’s own side, were not those most visible amid the explosive flashes of the war. They may seem naïve, kitschy, obvious. Doesn’t everyone prefer peace to war? Isn’t the problem far more complex than a simple demand to ceasefire and live in peace can address? True, peace-making isn’t simple, and it’s proved elusive between Israel and Palestine in spite of the hope raised by the 1993 Oslo agreements. But to make peace we have to picture it, and we have to see, to imagine those we call our enemies as people who deserve peace as much as we do. See the peace you want there to be.