Palestinian (Social) Media Watch


Khaled El Ahamad and Lama Zaitoon

Palestinian citizens of Israel, though a fifth of the country, don't get nearly a fifth of the press. In part, I suspect, that’s because their presence disturbs simplistic narratives on both sides. On the Right, it’s unclear how they fit into the Jewish state, and on the Left, their status as citizens (discriminated against, but possessing civil and political rights) falsifies the “Apartheid from river to sea” argument. Better just to ignore them completely.

So I guess it’s predictable (though still a shame) that Palestinian Israelis got short shrift in Khaled El Ahmad and Lama Zaitoon’s otherwise wonderful infographic on Twitter users in Arab countries. Here’s the graphic, which breaks down tweeters by country:

Pay close attention to the section labeled Palestine. On the one hand, it includes Israel proper, not just Gaza and the West Bank. But before anyone starts accusing El Ahmad and Zaitoon of wanting to push Israel into the sea, note also that the number for Palestine (15,500) doesn’t include Palestinians in Israel proper. (Checking the Dubai School of Government’s Arab Social Media Report, on which the graphic is based, shows that for most of 2011, Israel had about six times as many tweeters as Palestine.) That’s not a sinister “Greater Palestine” agenda; that’s just confusion.

And when I reached El Ahmad, he admitted something had gone a little wrong. Asked why the map shows an undivided Palestine, he wrote, “Trust me Raphael, we didn’t think of it this way, in our region the whole map has always been Palestine/Israel.” They left out Israel because “we wanted to show stats in Palestine only in our infograph for Arab countries”—(the DSG report also includes Iran and Turkey, which they also left out)—“for [the] sake of statistics with no political interests.” He said he’d look into either adding the Israeli numbers or redrawing the borders. Basically, he was eager to avoid, as much as possible, the mud-wrestling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Smart man.

What lessons can be learned from this map? First, of course, not every seeming snub to Israel is actually one. But more importantly, the longer that Palestine is a phantom state, the more of these absurdities we can expect. The green line has no metaphysical status; Israel has legally defined borders only insofar as we make hard distinctions. As Gershom Gorenberg points out, both Israelis and Palestinians like to erase or blur those boundaries. And if they succeed, we’ll have bigger problems than parsing how many Palestinians are tweeting.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Yousef Munayyer points out that, although the image is tiny and obscured by lettering, the West Bank is colored differently from Israel proper. Mea culpa (for what it's worth, based on our emails, it seems El Ahmed missed this too). To make things trickier, the map's coloring reflects volumes of active twitter users in a nation, not national borders per se. Still, the map's not out of the woods. In the first place, Gaza still appears to be the same color as Israel proper and a different color than the West Bank (unless it's just lost in the pixels). In the second, the West Bank is colored the same color as Jordan, even though they're in different "twitter users" class. And since there's no border drawn (as there is with Djibouti and Somalia—the latter of which, for what it's worth, is also miscolored), it looks like the West Bank's part of Jordan.