In Opinion

Hugh Lanning is Chair of PSC. This is the first of a new blog series where Hugh will give his personal thoughts and reflections on PSC activity and the situation in Palestine. In this first blog Hugh reflects on our Nakba week activities and how social media can be our asset, as long as we’re careful.

Over the course of PSC’s 2016 Nakba week, over 2½ million people saw our Nakba related web pages and social media posts with almost a million seeing our Tweets over the last 28 days.

People write, say, and do silly things on social media – just as in real life. The main difference being that on social media millions see the action; it can’t be deleted and it can come back to haunt.

I remember being advised during the 2015 General Election campaign when I stood as a Labour parliamentary candidate: don’t do or say anything unless you would be happy to see it on the front page of a red-top newspaper.

There is now an industry that lives off trawling back through social media footprints searching for material that can be used to smear, challenge or abuse – mostly as a stick with which to beat political opponents.

Before I go any further, I have a confession: I have stood on the same platform as, appeared at conferences with, been in the same room or on the same demonstration as many people I disagree with, don’t like or whose political views I don’t know. And some I do.

The tactics of smear, as recently employed, try to make a link or connection – however vague – to someone with distasteful views and then, make the huge jump to conclude you must agree with everything they have said and done. You innocently “like” something on Facebook or retweet something you agree with only to find out subsequently that person, 5, 10 years, ago said or did something they shouldn’t have.

The obvious lesson is not to do it – never retweet or quote someone you don’t know and trust. But social media encourages and makes it easy for everyone to re-act instantly, I like that. Oops. And the rest is history.

Social media is one area where the solidarity movement has made huge progress in recent years. Since the attacks on Gaza in 2014 PSC’s Facebook, Twitter and e-mail list have all grown about tenfold. Even our opponents acknowledge that supporters of Palestine have done better on social media. Within Palestine citizen journalists using social media have become a very important way for Palestinian voices to be heard, although this is now increasingly under threat.

We would say that our movement does so well on social media because we have justice and right on our side – and because young people identify and support Palestine in ever-growing numbers. This in turn leads to the question why doesn’t this translate into traditional media, well of course because we don’t have free access to mainstream media. There are gateways and gatekeepers who restrict, limit and block access to voices in support Palestine. This leads to the temptation to say things that are ever more outrageous to gain attention – the theory being that all publicity is good publicity. As we have seen – of course it isn’t.

In an excellent article in the Guardian, the Palestinian academic Ahmad Samih Khalidi, writing about the Nakba, argues much better than I could why analogies are counter-productive in relation to Palestine:

“There is no need to embellish the Palestinian case with false and misleading analogies, the least compelling of which is a Nazi-Zionist comparison. By allowing Israel’s supporters to raise the counter-charge of antisemitism, this analogy deflects the world’s attention away from the misery inflicted on the Palestinians and taints their cause. This cause rests on its own moral and political merits and is based on the simple proposition that a people were turfed out of their homeland against their express will, in favour of an ethnic minority imposed on them by outside powers and, eventually, by force of arms. The Palestinians paid the ultimate price for European antisemitism, of which they were innocent.”

PSC’s Nakba Week of Action in the UK was a huge success; over 60 events in 30 cities – 2 speaking tours, films, talks and meetings. We invited newly elected London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to come to our final event on Sunday (“Registered Alive” at the Courtyard Theatre). Not surprisingly he was busy. Our challenge in future years is to make the history of the Nakba so well-known that politicians want to be seen at and associated with commemorative events.

The overwhelming message of the Nakba Then and Now conference held last Saturday was that the Nakba is not just history – it is a real, living memory. Palestine is being built out of existence, the colonisation continues at an astonishing rate. To see this graphically watch this amazing animation produced by Visualising Palestine.

Two facts have stuck with me from the conference – over 70% of Palestinians are refugees, of whom the majority live within 20 minutes journey off their home. To change this fact we must continue to build our movement together.

Well done to everyone involved in all the Nakba events. Welcome to our new website.

We are voices for Palestine. We will not be silenced.