Rhetoric, reality and Twitter in the West Bank

Twitter is changing the nature of breaking news from West Bank demonstrations. It is exposing Israel’s heavy handed crowd control methods which often break the army’s own internal codes of conduct. Naturally, some so called ‘supporters of Israel’ are having a hard time rationalizing Israel’s behaviour, therefore attacking Twitter users as biased, misinformed or even outright liars.

As I was standing amidst the chaos yesterday at the Qalandia checkpoint — the site of a demonstration marking the anniversary of the 1967 war — I reported on Twitter what I saw. The demonstration started off peacefully and then the army attacked the nonviolent demonstration with tear gas and stun grenades. Some Palestinians began throwing stones. As the army attacked the unarmed demonstrators with tear gas, I took photos on my Blackberry and uploaded them to Twitter. As Palestinians threw stones, I confirmed reports in the mainstream media that Palestinians were throwing stones. I reported what I could confirm with my own two eyes, with a little personal commentary during quiet periods of the demonstration.

Throughout the day, I carefully switched between the term unarmed and nonviolent to refer to the demonstrators. Qalandia is a big place. Close to the checkpoint there was a group of 30 nonviolent protesters, who did not touch a single stone during the course of the day. Roughly 500 meters behind them was a group of Palestinian youth who threw stones almost continuously at advancing units of Israeli soldiers who responded with a mixture of rubber bullets and live ammunition. I was in the middle of this demonstration, breathing tear gas and literally dodging bullets in order to get as much information as possible to upload to Twitter.

My tweets went from one corner of the world to another as engaged people reading about the protests looked to me for an on-the-ground perspective. However, some took issue with what I was reporting. Certain, so-called “supporters of Israel” began a small crusade to discredit my reporting as lies, half truths and mere pro-Palestinian propaganda. Reading through some of the comments on my +972 magazine posts will give you an idea of the racist attacks that my work often receives from these people.

Yet, not all of the attacks were so blatant. Some crafty ‘rightist’ tweeters such as @avimayer and others posed misleading questions like “how can an unarmed protester throw stones?” or “the Jerusalem Post is reporting that flaming tires are being rolled at soldiers, this is violence” in a sorry bid to create the sense that I am fabricating information.

The Jerusalem Post piece came up many times on Twitter in the course of the day. Initially, the piece stated that Palestinians “rolled burning tires at soldiers and threw Molotov cocktails.” These fabrications, which have been changed on their site, were used to discredit my Twitter reporting.

I actually saw tires on fire and I even uploaded a picture of the smoke from one but none were rolled at soldiers. They were simply placed on the ground, as they often are in demonstrations in Qalandia. The Jpost piece stills says that Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails at soldiers. I did not see the preparation or use of Moltov cocktails in the course of the demonstration. If I had, I would have tweeted the information as it is a significant increase in violence. I challenge the Jerusalem Post to substantiate their claim.

The petty semantic tricks that right wing Tweeters like Avi Mayer have employed reflect their inability to rationally understand why Israel is using such heavy handed crowd control techniques, which so often violate the army’s own rules of conduct, against unarmed Palestinians demanding their human and civil rights. My response to their ignorance has been simple; come see for yourself what these demonstrations look like.