This time the intifada is global : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

This time the intifada is global

By MAGGIE ZANGER Wednesday 6 December 2000

At first glance, the current Palestinian intifada looks and feels much like its 1987-1993 forerunner.

The issues are superficially the same: Israelis still say they are defending their national security against Arab violence; Palestinians still say they are struggling for self-determination against a military occupier. The street clashes, a daily dance of death, look and feel much the same as the many I witnessed in the late 1980s.

But much has changed that makes this intifada far more significant in regional terms than the last one. While several factors differentiate this uprising from the last - Israeli use of much heavier weaponry, a recognised Palestinian Authority and a shattered faith in a peace process - perhaps the most significant is that this intifada has gone global in ways the children of the stones could not have imagined a decade ago.

This intifada has been globalised. The revolution has been digitised. Satellite television and the Internet have made this intifada a family affair: a family of 250million Arabs and 1.2billion Muslims worldwide.

The Internet was in its infancy in the Arab world during the first intifada and satellite TV had yet to reach the region. All that has changed and, with it, control of information.

In the highly politicised Arab world, where Western media are viewed with suspicion and authoritarian governments tightly control information, uncensored images and free debate have a profound impact. People now receive much more information, nearly instantly, from a variety of media sources.

And like all peoples, they interpret that information within the context of their own experience, and use the tools at their disposal to act on the conclusions they draw from it. While cyber saboteurs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Detroit and Tel Aviv launch attacks to bring down "enemy" websites, families in Los Angeles, Fez, Morocco, Cairo, Egypt, Baghdad and nearly everywhere in between watch as Israeli helicopters launch missile strikes at Palestinian towns.

Muslims from New York to Manila watched as other Muslims died defending the third-holiest site in Islam, after Ariel Sharon's "visit" with 1000 security guards to what's called the Temple Mount by Jews and the Haram al Sharif, home of Al-Aqsa Mosque, by Muslims.

The Muslim world has concluded that Israel has instituted its own jihad against the Islamic world, or at the very least has displayed incredible disrespect. Calls for jihad emanate from Jakarta, Indonesia, to Algiers, Algeria, and governments reluctant to engage in war with Israel only further distance themselves from a disaffected people who had no role in putting them in power in the first place.

Among people perhaps less religiously inclined, a new form of pan-Arabism has been slowly taking hold over the past decade through ever-increasing traffic on Arab-oriented and Arabic-language locations on the information highway. Borders began to break down as Arabs from London and Paris began nearly effortless, regular communication with their peers in similar businesses, areas of studies, or political persuasion in Beirut, Lebanon and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

This evolving pan-Arab resurgence shifted into high gear in recent weeks as list servers, websites and bulletin boards sizzled with "good" newspaper articles, eyewitness accounts, analyses from Palestinian and human rights groups and heated debates on how to respond to the violence. While the right response might be hotly debated, a sense of Palestinian solidarity has settled in across the Arab-Muslim world.

Unlike during the first intifada, Arabs and Muslims now have an easy detour around the official Arab media and the US media, which precious few in the Arab world would describe as other than grossly biased toward Israel.

Arab youth flocking to Internet cafes have no memory of the various Arab-Israeli wars. But the base sense of outrage that first welled up with the widely disseminated television images of the shooting of young Mohammed al-Durr has solidified into a new sense of Arab pride. All things American are no longer seen as entirely cool. McDonald's is boycotted, flags are burned. Money is collected for Palestinian hospitals.

This instant information - provided by sources understood by Arabs and Muslims to be trustworthy - has produced a shared Arab experience. The Palestinian challenge to Israeli occupation has digitally expanded to become an Arab and Muslim challenge to the role of Israel in the region and of the US as an honest broker in any solution.

The "Arabising" of the peace process means Israel and the US will no longer be able to dictate all terms of any agreement. If the Arab world can stand solidly behind the Palestinians in the negotiating there might be hope that a just alternative to continued Israeli military occupation will evolve.

Nothing less will satisfy the Palestinians. Nor will it satisfy their Arab family.

Maggie Zanger, a former assistant editor of Middle East Report magazine, teaches journalism at the American University in Cairo.

-- Martin Thompson (, December 06, 2000

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