Today's meeting was hatched from the brains of two fellow tweeps, who wanted a space where everyone can finally meet face to face, translating a virtual network into a solid one. I was at the beginning a bit skeptical (did we really have to meet? what if we work better alone than together?) but that was my rays of optimism at work as usual.
In the build-up to the meeting, there was a lot of excitement. We were going to Skype with our brethren in Gaza, and since it's been so long since we've last seen a Gazan we were breathless with anticipation. Would they look like us? Have normal human features? Would they be malnourished and exceedingly thin? Would their accents be as bad as the Yankee twang?
An hour before the scheduled time, I reminded my mother where I was going. She looked at me in disbelief, then accused me of not telling her before. We argued for a bit-apparently after I'd graduated I've been going out way too many times-before she finally asked what we were going to do. I casually mentioned Joseph Dana's name and she shook her head, saying "Whenever a foreigner comes to talk you all get excited, that's what's wrong with this activism thing. They laugh at you and you all lap it up. God I can't wait until your dad is finally allowed back in here."
I should've mentioned to her that Joseph is an American-Israeli. I would have loved to hear her thoughts on that. I was also slightly miffed. She calls me a ghooleh then laments my supposed naivete. Just because I'm the whitest thing in Palestine doesn't mean...
Anyway, I was left with one last chore to do before I finally headed out. When I arrived at Bazinga I was struck by the colorful beanbags on the floor, and tried to mentally match up faces with Twitter names. Someone did the right thing and just asked out loud our names. The next 15 minutes or so were spent trying to connect with the aliens in Gaza, and even then the audio-video quality was choppy.
"Hello can you hear us?"
"Yes habibi. Can you see us?"
"Yep, can you see us?"
"No not really..looks like you're all too far away."
They were sitting at a table in Delice cafe. We were spread out across a room, slouched onto beanbags. They looked eerily just like us. In fact, one of them could challenge me for the whitest thing in Palestine title. We didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
Finally, a stable enough connection was established. We began doing the introduction rounds. Mine was terribly boring, completely forgot to mention I was also from Gaza and had trained an army of cousins there to do my bidding last time I was there. Then that infiltrator Joseph Dana got up to talk about his flotilla experience on the American ship The Audacity of Hope:
- Basically the flotilla was successful on the level that showed how important a role social media can play.
- He was surrounded by old mostly Jewish women on the boat-not to belittle their endeavors or anything but to highlight the hilarity of Israel's hysterical hyperbole of the boat being part of a major security threat to Israel
- A complaint was filed, later known to be from an Israeli legal center in Athens about the boat not being sea-worthy
- His opinion is that they should have sailed within the same hour they got wind of the complaint
- The crew and passengers were sitting in their hotel rooms talking incessantly of when they were going to set sail
- When they finally did, it was a demonstration of "hippie language on steroids" on the deck, a lot of hugging, excess emotion that got annoying for a while
Then the discussion fell about as to how to use Twitter wisely. A lot of strategic thinking needs to go into how to use Twitter because ultimately it's all about getting the best message through to most people. So we must reign in our moral righteousness and reserve using terms like "Apartheid" or "IOF" when talking about Israel as we would be largely written off as jihadists, peace-hating Ayrabs, terrorists, etc. Less is more. If we use simple neutral words to describe Israel in the same sentence that mention house evictions in Sheikh Jarrah or the invisible ethnic cleansing taking place in the Jordan Valley, the discrepancy will be all the more obvious.
Then it was the Gaza tweeps to offer us something. Unfortunately they were too shy to sing GYBO's latest song The Mystery/اللغز but they did propose to lip-sync along while the link played. The organizers of this tweet-up got in touch with Bilal Tamimi, one of the main documenters in the village, and asked him if he could make a compilation video of the protests in Nabi Saleh. As the familiar faces of the villagers flickered across the screen I felt so honored to know them personally, for them to have taken me in so readily, as their own sister and daughter and friend. It was set to the soundtrack of my childhood, يا نبض الضفة which along with the song Onadikom never fails to get me at least a little emotional. The first song has the story of Lina Nabulsi, the 14 year old schoolgirl who was shot back in 1976 as one of its refrain, and my nine year old egotistical self in a weird twisted way believed that song was made in my honor.
The audio-video connection became more shaky, and in the middle of discussing the need for an independent news website (later to be turned romantically into a newspaper) the connection was lost, most likely because the electricity went out in Gaza. I would have loved for those tweeps to have pitched in with their ideas and opinions but plans are already being made for next time to accomplish some proper and much needed interaction and conversations. Here in Ramallah, we are wondering why in Gaza the youth don't criticize Hamas more, either viciously or in matter of fact way.
Anyway, everyone agreed that the idea of a representative media forum is imperative, especially since Palestinian media is rubbish and to put it quite nicely, we have serious reservations about Ma'an News Agency, both English and Arabic. The brainstorming began: correspondences from the West Bank, Gaza, '48 areas, the diaspora ("sorry for the divisions!"), the issue of internet security, the whole not-everyone-who-blogs-can-write-newsworthy-pieces colloquy, the content, the web design, etc.
Overall, it was simply refreshing to be in the presence of honest, smart, intelligent people with no political affiliations whatsoever (except for that infiltrator). It wasn't enough to just talk but also to share suggestions, plan productively, all for the hopes of breaking the stagnated work of Palestinian youths under occupation.