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Dubai Abulhoul: How West Bank Live nudged our conscience
July 13, 2015
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

On July 7th, Snapchat, a social media application that allows users to capture photos and videos that self-destruct in a few seconds, featured Tel Aviv as its live story. A Snapchat live story is a compilation of photos and videos that are submitted by the people of the city that has been featured. For twenty-four hours, the Snapchat Live story gives the people a chance to show off their cities on the social media application.

Last Tuesday, more than 100 million users on Snapchat had access to the photos and videos submitted from Tel Aviv through its Live Story. It showcased a narrative that the world was not used to seeing, and put on display the comfortable and lavish lifestyles of the people living in Tel Aviv. At first glance, it seemed impossible that just miles away, or rather just a wall away, thousands of Palestinians are still struggling, on a daily basis, for their quest to regain their dignity and freedom.

It goes without saying that the launch of Tel Aviv Live sparked a controversial debate on various social media applications, and most prominently on Twitter. Featuring Tel Aviv live further aggravated the tension surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict, which led Snapchat to respond to the outcry of users by announcing their launch of ‘West Bank Live’. Tel Aviv Live, even if for a short period of time, united Arabs and Muslims alike for a cause, and led them to stand up once again for Palestine. I have never physically been to Palestine, although I have frequently visited the beautiful country in Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry. West Bank Live gave us the chance to spend a day of Ramadan in West Bank, with our distant Palestinian families, to whom we are close and connected with in mind and in spirit. 

We entered their world, even if for a short period of time. We fasted together, and prayed side by side. They took us by the hand and showed us the caramel coloured qatayef that were freshly made in the local neighbourhood’s bakery. Of course, we had to wait before trying the honey drizzled pastries, as it was too early for us to break our fast together. We tried on their beautifully embroidered traditional dresses, and held each other’s hands as they showed us how to dance.

They also gave us a glimpse of the separation wall, and the checkpoints between Israel and West Bank. We ended our night together by breaking our fast over a generous feast of delicious, Arabic food. I want to thank the people of West Bank for showing us their part of the world, and for teaching us the meaning of bravery, determination, and resilience. The most important thing they taught us, however, is how to truly live and be alive. I understand that some people, particularly those belonging to older generations, will not see the significance of featuring West Bank on a popular social media application. What they need to understand, however, is the rising power of social media in our everyday lives, and the untapped potential of young, Arab youth to make an impact on issues related to the Middle East.

I come from a generation that was born into social media, and it is important that we understand both the pitfalls and promises of this powerful, yet potentially dangerous, tool. What social media gives us is an opportunity to provide an alternative narrative, as we have seen with West Bank Live.  It is important to note that social media also has the ability to hide existing narratives as well. Exactly one year ago, on July 8th of 2014 in specific, 2,251 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli onslaught against Gaza, including 551 children and 299 women.

More than 1,500 children were orphaned, and more than 10 per cent of the women and children were permanently disabled. Who is there to show us their reality, and their narrative? Will we ever get the chance to see Gaza Live featured on Snapchat, or will the images be too gruesome for the world to see? Will we have it in us to see a live video of the five-year-old children looking for their lost childhoods in the refugee camps they now call home? Will we have it in us to look at the faces of the people who have been fasting all their lives, and indifferently skip to the next video?

Like everything else shared on Snapchat, the videos and photos from West Bank disappeared in 24 hours. I hope that does not hold true for our conscience as well.

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The author is an Emirati novelist-writer

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