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Amid the Conflict, Social Networks for Promoting Peace

Amid the Conflict, Social Networks for Promoting Peace

Stop-incitement-campaign-300x197ISRAEL/PALESTINE– Summer 2014. During the Gaza war, incitement to hatred and violence spilled all over the social networks, fueling the dangerous spiral of escalation. In the aftermath of the war and against this movement, Christians and associations tend to promote interfaith dialogue and a culture of coexistence and peace, like the Pope Francis on Twitter.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict since its inception has unleashed passions. This phenomenon is not limited to the usual extremists of the internet. Suddenly, extreme remarks by little politicized people, or those who were thought to be moderate, appeared on Facebook. People of all ages and diverse backgrounds, from all parts of the world, were driven by their conscience/convictions, or had the intention to show the world what the media refused to show.

And while the Israeli army and Hamas fought in Gaza, another war, a virtual war with violent images, or hateful comments, raged on the internet. With a stronger impact than words, pictures, sometimes unbearable, were reproduced to arouse indignation and were accompanied by calls for revenge: on one side, pictures of injured children in Gaza, and on the other, those of Israeli schoolchildren forced to run for shelter during rocket attacks. Sometimes images were posted without authenticating the source, among which some media were able to identify images that had nothing to do with the ongoing violence – in particular, the BBC recognized photos taken in Iraq, in Syria or in previous Gaza conflicts.

But pictures are not the only weapon of the battle. For the Facebook and Twitter generation, words, sometimes taken out of context according to the desired effect, are essential. During the war in Gaza, it was the most controversial political discourses that were relayed, and most commented on by some users, at times with completely uninhibited hatred.

Some preferred taking part in apparently less violent but not always less respectful ways, offering a simplistic vision of a decades old conflict in the form of animated drawings, cartoons, or even the distasteful video games as Bomb Gaza – drop bombs and avoid killing civilians, a game that was available on Google Play for a few days and then deleted.

It is not an exaggeration to say that social networks played, on both sides, a crucial role in the war that ripped the entire country this summer. Following the murders of three young Israelis and a young Palestinian, Israeli and Palestinian social networks, anonymous online activists or soldiers, incited anti-Arab or anti-Jewish hatred, asserting the law of retaliation with “revenge” as the motto. Incitements were severely condemned by outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres, and the Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, aware of the power of the internet, did not hesitate to say “there is a link between social networks and violence in the street.” A statement from the Israeli Ministry of Justice in early July, before the start of hostilities, emphasized: “We regard very seriously these incitements as hate speech, and they apply to both Jews and Arabs.”

Taking the opposite course to violence Pontifex-300x193

How does one, in the heart of this very troubled region, freely express views on social networks without falling into the trap of incitement – direct or indirect – to violence? How does one “weep with those who weep” and respect the grief of each other without seeking revenge? To be able to read and comment in a spirit of dialogue is a challenge for Christians and for those who advocate coexistence and peace. In a world where young people – and not so young – with their eyes constantly riveted on their screens, in a civilization of the images and “hashtags ♯”, and where in moments information can go around the world, social networks are valuable tools to put at the service of peace. The mobilization for Christians in Iraq is proof, in particular, with the now famous letter in Arabic “ن” of “Nazarene” which went rapidly around the world. It is also the testimony given by Pope Francis, on his Twitter@Pontifex, where he is constantly launching appeals for peace and prayer. Or that of Father Jorge Hernandez, pastor of the Latin parish of Gaza, who, on Facebook, released news from the small Christian community in Gaza during the war, asking the prayers of the whole world.

In the Holy Land, interfaith organizations such as the ICCI (Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel) are also trying to take the course against the violence that can prevail on social networks. The ICCI has recently launched a campaign called “Spread the light! Don’t incite!” inviting users to spread the light instead of inciting hatred, and it unites the voices of people of good will on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, various blogs and websites, so that the voice of peace cannot be stifled and, better still, so that it is heard by all.

Myriam Ambroselli