World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Palestine/Internet: On-Line Imagination, Activism and Archiving (061) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: TUE 20, 9.00-11.00 am

· NOT_DEFINED institution: New York University (USA)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Helga Tawil-Souri

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: This panel addresses political uses of the internet in the Palestinian context, with a focus on how the Palestinian nation is imagined, narrated, contested, and archived, and how such virtual uses relate to both on-line and off-line political activism. The papers empirically and conceptually map the uses of and the structures underlying internet use. Based on a combination of on-the-ground ethnographic research in Palestine and Lebanon and on-line ethnographies, these papers theorize and problematize the relationship between internet use and larger collective political expressions and goals.

Chair: Miriyam Aouragh, Oxford Internet Institute

Paper presenter: ‘Virtual Nationalism’ by May Farah examines internet use by young adult Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and its impact on distributing a means of nationalist understanding. Based on ethnographic research, the author compares internet use by refugees living in camps and among the population at large in Lebanon, and assesses both groups: virtual practices of long-distance, or ‘virtual’, nationalism. For those inside the camps - with limited internet access - national political identity influences most facets of online interactions. For those outside the camps - where national identity is more destabilized - online interactions are generally non-nationalist. The author considers whether and how Palestinian sites and landscapes that have become virtually available to youth refugee groups play a role in reconnecting them to the Palestinian Territories, reinforcing their inherited ties to specific places, and/or impacting their imaginations of Palestine.

Paper presenter: ‘Cyber Intifada: Palestinian Activism in the age of Web 2.0’ by Miriyam Aouragh builds on previous research in Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan about the dialectic relation between Palestinian communities online and offline, which showed that besides reinforcing state hegemony, the internet enabled new political alliances and novel everyday tactics. Her new research studies how political activists in Lebanon and Palestine manage and apply the internet, addresses the social and political implications of the internet in everyday life, and identifies the empirical context of the activists involved. What is the (online) agency applied when mobilizing public opinion, and how do these new online political representations correspond to offline political practices? By studying the participation of internet activists on the ground and in cyberspace, the author exposes the underlying risks of this Cyber Intifada in terms of the deeper inequalities involved as well as Israeli surveillance tactics.

Paper presenter: Helga Tawil-Souri’s ‘Creating a Digital Palestine’ bridges issues of activism and archiving, and begins with an overview of the various ‘national’ archives that Palestinians have attempted to build and describes the ways in which these have ‘ disappeared.’ The focus is on the cultural and political significance of such erasures, against which new digital forms of archiving, and by extension (cyber-)activism, are now possible. The author describes various internet archiving projects which have started outside the purviews of national institutions. If archiving practices have been theorized as a project of modernity, then Palestinians have skipped towards a post-modern, de-centered, and de-territorialized one. The Palestinian ‘ nation’ is itself de-centered, discontinuous, simultaneously shrinking and expanding; thus the de-centered and de-territorialized nature of political narration, documentation and archiving on the Internet may best be suited to challenge Palestinians’ ‘ real’ position of sub-alterity. Despite various acts of dispersal, erasure, fragmentation and de-territorialization, the Palestinian nation’ s memorialization, documentation and (future national) imagination is beginning to thrive in the digital realm.

Paper presenter: Laila Shereen Sakr’ s ‘ On Archiving Gaza’ proposes that archiving represents a palpable opportunity to provide a counter-collection and counter-narrative that constitutes a repository and ordered system of documents and records that are foundational in the writing of (national) history. The author describes the efforts of the Palestinian/Middle Eastern internet archive, R-Shief. While the current prototype of R-Shief allows for the public to archive any digital material in Arabic or English, it is designed for research and learning in higher education. The next step will incorporate research tools that allow users to annotate and cite resources, create bibliographies. The author demonstrates the theoretical construction of this digital practice by mapping the conception and developments of this web-based intervention in producing knowledge of the Middle East and its Diaspora, and specifically of the Palestinians. R-Shief’ s combination of articulated art practices and technologies hope to provide missing links in a post-national global order of shifting power of domination.

Paper presenter: ‘Hidden in Plain View: Spaces and Cyberspaces of Israeli Apartheid’ by Katie Boudreau Morris begins with the ‘invisibility’ of occupation to settlers and Israelis in the same time and place as Palestinians’ deepening of military occupation. The paper will discuss the on-line reproduction of this system and the Palestinian resistance that meets it in struggles for the right to spaces for memory, history, and other forms of information, comparing disparate experiences in physical and internet space - the availability and ‘ invisibility’ of online information and challenging discourses claiming the open democracy of the internet. It will discuss the apparent relative freedom of information dissemination by West Bank organizations compared with physical, daily life: Why did the author experience harassment at the Tel Aviv airport for carrying brochures from Palestinian NGOs that are ‘ permitted’ to publish large amounts of material online? Why are Bil’in residents injured and killed during peaceful demonstrations, yet their video footage is easily shared via the internet? Through these discussions, the paper analyses the perplexing situation that such a large and growing body of information has resulted in so little difference on the ground. The panel as a whole describes various political uses of the internet by different Palestinian groups, and, more importantly, analyzes the significance of these acts in so far as they impact - or not - the creation of a Palestinian national imagination and/or (counter-) narrative. The examples brought forth serve as a means to portray and theorize the political issues of nation-building/imagining, memorialization, and activism, both in the on-line and off-line landscape.