Over the past two weeks, Israel’s image has been smeared because of the use of social media, both by international activists and by one of its own soldiers. Joining the viral craze of the “Harlem Shake,” and the exponentially growing Instagram application, online activity is proving that it is not just Facebook that can affect governments.
Israeli soldier’s Instagram photo
The emergence of a photograph that soldier Mor Ostrovski posted on Instagram serves as a reminder of the power that social media has on public opinion. The Israeli government is no stranger to using social media to try to polish its image, with several officials having accounts in multiple languages to reach out to the public.
However, it seems that the puppet masters are losing control of their puppets. The photograph depicts a crosshair pointing to the back of presumably a Palestinian child’s head. The photograph is a reminder of the cruel cycle of barbarity that the military occupation breeds.
As distasteful and shocking as it is, it is not the first time that the Israeli Defense Forces have had to deal with a dent in its public-relations campaign. Images of Mohamed al-Durrah being shot as his father attempted to shield him still resonate in my mind, despite being eight years old when I saw them.
“Harlem Shake” for Palestine
At the opposite end of the world, just a few hours away from Ostrovski’s hometown of Tampa, Florida, a group of activists in Brooklyn, New York, shook their messages of resistance to the viral theme of the “Harlem Shake.”
Traditionally, it features people dancing frantically to DJ Baauer’s song of the same name. The activist group Existence is Resistance jumped on this craze to communicate the plight of Palestinians to the world.
The placards held by the dancers in the activists’ video show solidarity with hunger strikers. The video also calls for justice, basic human rights such as an integrated road system, and a system that allows one to see their family freely.
Israel’s double-edged sword against anonymity
One notable discrepancy between the video and the photograph is the anonymity of the producers. Ostrovski’s Instagram account was public at the time he posted dozens of photos documenting his life in the military and resentment towards Arabs, until it was taken down on Feb. 19. However, the activists in the video shield their faces with the traditional symbol of resistance, the kuffiyeh.
Whether wearing it was intentional to hide their identities, or if it was symbolic to emphasize the lifestyle of resistance led by the activists, it does not change Israel’s notoriety in monitoring online activity.
The Israeli government has a history of doing so, and using the information found for just about everything, including whether or not to allow in tourists. Thus, it is somewhat convenient that a blind eye is turned when its own soldiers act “against the IDF’s spirit and values,” as described in a statement to YNet.
The few activists who are allowed into the country admit to wiping their digital footprint, deleting their Twitter accounts, changing their names on Facebook, and replacing their names with a pseudonym on their personal blogs. Since it is clear that online presence is monitored, why did the IDF not spot this activity from within?
Making the military cool again
The IDF has tried many tactics to encourage young people to serve for periods longer than the conscription law requires. Letting its soldiers post photographs of themselves smoking cannabis and ‘enjoying’ military life may be just another tactic.
For many, serving in the military is a box they need to tick on university applications. The IDF has gone to great lengths to entice people to join it. In July 2007, the Israeli Consulate partnered with Maxim Magazine in the United States to print borderline-pornographic images of former female military officers. It described the idea as a “creative solution” to their image problem.
A job that entails playing with guns and rifles, and smoking illegal substances while getting paid in a country with soaring youth-unemployment rates, would certainly look more appealing than playing cards to pass time as one waits for a call-back from a job interview.
Social media is a thin rope, and users must tread lightly. In this case, turning a blind eye has backfired on the IDF, but that is merely because the photograph was exposed.
The fact is that it depicts the reality that Palestinians face every day, and the very thought of wanting to change this reality on the ground keeps activists from getting on the ground, making them resort to social media to fight the system. However, online awareness is just one step in the ladder to have a free and just Palestine.
(Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir)