Distinguished world leaders, parliamentarians, Ladies and Gentlemen, it's a great honor and privilege for me to share with you a few thoughts about the topic our chairman has articulated.
This generation is born into fast internet, smart phones and of course the various applications of social media. Like any new medium it takes time to adjust, learn its scope of influence and its proper handling.
Social media in particular, has a significant impact on social revolutions, such as the Arab spring and the Green Revolution in Iran on 2009.
It provides new options for small protest groups and individuals whose voices are not often heard in the public arena, and allows them to enhance their political influence. This fact has even greater importance in non or semi-democratic nations where most citizens have almost no access to traditional media tools, with the exception of online resources.
In addition, social media can bypass other barriers such as: geographic location, socio-economic status, gender, education or employment status. Online space, accessible to all, eliminates these barriers and allows anyone who wishes, to participate. This online space attracts new and different variety of political activists, and actually expands the pool of potential recruits both in quantity and in quality. Ultimately, when an online protests gain the proper momentum, it rather quickly translates into other means.
However, we must take into account, that even today, in 2016, Internet is still not available to all. This is true especially when we talk about the second and the third world countries (including the West bank and Gaza).
In terms of promoting the peace discourse today, it may seem harder to keep the physical borders, as people from ‘opposite sides’ nowadays are able to communicate directly and over the heads of governments. So in terms of new opportunities we can see such beautiful initiatives over the net such the Facebook campaign: WE LOVE YOU – IRAN & ISRAEL. A campaign going in the opposite direction of the corresponding governments trying to instill fear and mutual distrust.
Another point we must take into consideration is that social media can become also a double edge sword. Take for instance the two case of the Arab Spring and The Green Revolution in Iran. While the first one was successfully fueled by social media, the second was blocked as officials could easily track and arrest the leaders.
Most unfortunately, reality shows that too often the power of social media has been used to promote violence, extremism and hateful discourse rather than a peaceful one. Something that I as a Palestinian - Israeli citizen have witnessed first-hand. For example, I would like to share with you about the last military operation in the Gaza strip by the IDF. Two years ago, after the kidnapping and murder of three teens, Israel started an aggressive military operation, which evidently brought enormous destruction upon The Gaza strip. On the Israeli side also, the south was under bombing which took the lives of number of civilians.
Clearly, this wasn’t the first operation, and not even the most destructive and deadly one of them, but it was the first one in which Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp played a key role.
The voices that were heard were extremely hateful- all across the political map. Calling for revenge, within Israel, meaning against the Palestinian- Israeli citizen, and against the Gazans and Hamas, supporting violence against the peace camp.
After this horrifying two months, which brought the Israeli society close to a breaking point, one which I have never seen before, I have decided to join politics. Hoping to bring the “unheard” voices. The ones that can't be found on Facebook or similar social media. The voices that call for living together in mutual respect and sensitivity.
I do hope that the day will come when people will use the social media to get to know the other, especially those with whom we are in conflict with. As the founder of UPF has eloquently noted: "World peace can come about when we learn to love our enemy's children even more than our own."
Author: Hon. Zuheir Bahloul
Member of the Knesset, Israel
MK Zuheir Bahloul is an Israeli Arab, a well-known sports broadcaster and an experienced journalist and politician, born in 1950 in Haifa. In 1974 he was hired as a researcher at the Israel Broadcasting Authority. He then became a sports announcer and broadcast various athletic competitions for the national radio and television. He also worked as a journalist, promoting the Arab sector in Israel. In 2014 he joined the Labor party, seeing the Party's potential to integrate the Arab population in the state's affairs. He called on Arab parties to demonstrate their willingness to join a Labor-led coalition after the 2015 elections. A widower, he is the father of three children.