By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
Al Arish Road winds along North Africa’s north coast from Cairo, the largest city in the Middle-East and the nucleus of the Arab Spring.
From Tahrir Square it’s a five hour drive to the Israeli border, passing through Arish, the capital of North Sinai and arriving at the gates of Palestine and into one of the most volatile regions in the world. Israel lies to the South East and Jerusalem, Hebron and Tel Aviv to the north. Fewer places in the world defend their borders more rigorously.
Within the heated deserts of the Middle East is a melting pot of religious feuds and opposing ideologies that date as far back as civilisation. Unlike the Arab Spring there’s nothing to be ‘overthrown’. Disputes range from borders, security and water rights to the control of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, Palestinian freedom of movement and finding a resolution to the refugee question.
But there’s a new dose of discontent spreading in Israel that is of a more political nature.
People from a variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds have turned out in opposition to the rise in the cost of living and the deterioration of public services. The campaign for social justice was pioneered over social networking wires and orchestrated in Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv. What started with a Facebook group and a handful of tents quickly escalated to a country-wide movement, thousands of participants and viral coverage. Social media had taken its first major political leap, deep within a cultural melting pot.
Before long social movements started to take different directions. Armed with a global network of multi millions of Twitter and Facebook followers, campaigners suddenly had a voice that resonated with an already politically opinionated population.
Arguably, it was only a matter of time before attention turned to Gaza, which it did in the form of ‘Stop the Terror’.
Social media revolution
In response to the latest conflict in the Gaza Strip, a message of peace for a region gripped by years of war was circulated in a manner quite unfamiliar to the region.
Stop the Terror, or #stoptheterror, was unique for a number of reasons, most notably the social medium upon which it was carried out. The campaigners choose Instagram, a visual network, to spread the message with users uploading photographs of themselves with the word ‘stop’ written on their hands.
Israeli TV producer Ido Simyoni instigated the social media movement without any expectation that it would rouse the reactions witnessed during the Arab Spring, but merely days after over 10,000 photos had been uploaded, with support now in the hundreds of thousands. It demonstrated an appetite for change, but as political negotiations continue to stall, it also showed impatience and frustration at parliamentary processes in the region.
Pillar of defence
Operation Pillar of Defense brought temporary ceasefire to the region, but one gets the impression that like Operation Returning Echo and Operation Hot Winter, it is precisely that; temporary. Requirements over blockades and the trade of arms are easily infringed and hardly tackle the root cause of the conflict.
Until peace is on the agenda, rather than momentary fixes, a long-lasting solution is a distant dream on the Gaza Strip. However, a new pillar of defence may have been created in the form of social media movements which voice the will of the people. What has failed on countless roundtables has been a resounding success on social wires.
As the seasons turn, an Israeli Spring could be on the agenda as the population become socially engaged and united in the face of war. The state memorial for Israel’s former PM Ariel Sharon was a poignant example of how far the troubled state has come in recent years, with current PM Benjamin Netanyahu championing dreams of peace at the ceremony. With the social backing of the nation, this may soon be a realistic objective.
It’s remarkable what can be achieved with a hashtag.