Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Intifada 3.0? Cyber Colonialism and Palestinian Resistance

Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Intifada 3.0? Cyber Colonialism and Palestinian Resistance

Article excerpt

Following in the footsteps of international organizations, including the United Nations, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and the International Telecommunications Union, on 2 May 2013, Google replaced the words "Palestinian Territories" with "Palestine" on all of its sites and products. Israeli deputy foreign minister Ze'ev Elkin immediately sent a letter to Google's CEO urging him to reconsider the decision that "in essence recogniz[es] the existence of a Palestinian state."1 It was not the first time that an Israeli official took issue with "Palestine" emerging as a recognized entity in the virtual world. In 1998, for example, Ariel Sharon, then foreign minister, personally lobbied the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) against its decision to award Palestinians an international telephone code. He claimed, in terms echoed fifteen years later in the Google com- motion, that Palestine is "not a territorial or geopolitical entity," and that the "insistence upon the illegitimate use of the term 'Palestine' is liable to unfairly prejudice the outcome of . . . negotiations [at the time]."2

Palestine "exists" on Google and increasingly in various other "virtual" ways. But are "Palestine" on Google or the acquisition of the google.ps domain name in 2009 examples of political resistance on the internet? For Palestinian politicians, virtual presence has historical significance. Consider, for example, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology's (MTIT) suggestion that "ICTs [information and communica- tions technology] contribute directly to the national goal of establishing and building an independent state."3 Within that context, Sabri Saydam, adviser to Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas and a former MTIT minister himself, posited Google's 2013 move as "a step towards...libera- tion."4 For Israeli politicians, as quoted above, the emergence of (a virtual) "Palestine" poses ideological and practical dangers. Both camps ascribe power to the internet. Their only disagreement is over the ends to which the internet is a means: The internet is a threat to the existence of the state of Israel or a step toward a future state. At heart, however, both views are a form of technological determinism. They remove the internet from human, historical, and geopolitical contexts, and posit it as agent of political, social, or economic change. We contend that neither position is valid.

Besides overlooking power relations and on-the-ground dynamics, a technological determinist view is inherently ahistorical. It neither con- textualizes technological change itself nor the rhetoric around it. In the Palestinian case, the belief that new technologies hold within them positive liberatory powers is not new. In the early 1990s, for example, the internet hype came under the guise of connecting Palestinians, regardless of geo- graphic location (in Israel, in the occupied territories, in refugee camps in Lebanon, and farther away in the diaspora), to each other and the world. And as the politicians' statements evidence, the internet emerged for some as an instrument of economic development under the framework of state- building within the occupied territories. At the end of the second intifada in the mid-2000s, scholars, politicians, and investors were still speaking of technology's political promise, now under the framework of user-generated content (web 2.0).5 In tech jargon, web 1.0 indicates one-to-many consump- tion, whereby most users simply download content. Web 2.0 connotes user-created websites, self-publishing platforms, and the many-to-many interactions available through participatory and social networks. The enthusiasm for online activism raises questions about whether new forms of Palestinian political activism are possible thanks to the convergence of physical and virtual worlds, for example through participatory (blogs, wiki), social (Facebook), and geospatial (Foursquare) spaces. …

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