Over the past few days, pro-Palestinian activists demonstrated their ability to transform a well-known member of Islamic Jihad into a victim of Israeli abuse deserving of the solidarity of everyone willing to speak out (or at least tweet) in defense of human rights – including the truly sincere, the merely gullible, and the openly cynical.
Protesting his detention by Israel with a two-month hunger strike, Islamic Jihad member Khader Adnan was skillfully marketed as an innocuous baker, a devoted father, husband and son, who had been arbitrarily arrested, humiliated and tortured by the evil Israeli Capital O Occupation forces.
It mattered little that it turned out that Adnan had been caught on tape issuing a fiery call for volunteer suicide bombers.
But as an Al Jazeera report noted, there was a marked difference between the real world and the Twitterverse:
The response to Khader Adnan’s protest within Palestinian society has come very late and without the type of force some might have expected. […] A little over a week ago small protests began in front of Israel’s Ofer Prison, located near the West Bank city of Ramallah. The protests spread to other locales in the occupied territories and abroad, but for the most part have been marginal. Everyone is talking about it, but very few seem willing to show their support by taking to the streets. […]
The lack of action in response to Khader Adnan’s case is indicative of many changes in Palestinian society since the end of the second intifada. The increase in partisanship and political division has eroded general solidarity, even over the once unanimous issue of prisoners. Those who support Fatah may be less likely to rally for a member of Islamic Jihad, such as Khader Adnan. […]Indeed, even Islamic Jihad, the party of Khader Adnan, has failed to bring its people out in support of the hunger striker.
Highlighting an important point, the Al Jazeera report observed:
The exception has been a group of social media activists in Ramallah that have made Khader Adnan their cause célèbre, elevating his profile via networking sites such as Twitter. Over the past four days they have caused variations of his name to trend worldwide on several occasions, no small achievement on a forum that usually gives such honours to celebrity gossip.
This is a fascinating observation given the fact that many news outlets are featuring segments reporting on issues that are “trending” on social networks, and in particular on Twitter. Indeed, it was arguably the successful Twitter campaign staged for Adnan that resulted in plenty of mainstream media coverage.
As this case amply demonstrates, the fact that there was little local mobilization for Adnan was completely inconsequential for the success of the Twitter campaign that portrayed him as the standard bearer of an important Palestinian cause.
Given the ideology of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the group’s insistence on violence as the only means of achieving its goal of an Islamic regime in “all of historic Palestine,” it is easy to see why many Palestinians might be hesitant to throw their enthusiastic support behind a PIJ activist who stages a hunger strike (while making sure he’s getting some vital nutrients in his water) but thinks other Palestinians should volunteer for suicide missions.
However, commenting on the news that Adnan had ended his hunger strike, regular Al Jazeera columnist Richard Falk – who also serves as UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights – wrote [my emphasis]:
It is a great relief to those millions around the world who were moved to prayer and action by Khader Adnan’s extraordinary hunger strike of 66 days that has ended due to Israel’s agreement to release him on April 17.
We, who were inspired by such a heroic refusal to accept humiliation and arbitrary arrest, can only hope that for the sake of his family, for the cause of Palestinian resistance, and for the struggle to achieve a just peace that Mr Adnan will fully recover to resume his personal and political life. We cannot take for granted that there will be a full recovery given Mr Adnan’s critical condition confirmed by examining doctors, just prior to his decision on February 21 to resume eating in a normal manner.
While it is appropriate to celebrate this ending of the strike as “a victory”, there are several disturbing features that deserve comment.
If you expect Falk to include Adnan’s membership in PIJ in the “disturbing features” worthy of comment, you will be disappointed. To be sure, he does mention the subject, but only to play it down, deny Adnan’s call for volunteer suicide bombers and assert, rather hilariously, that “Mr Adnan’s prior arrests stemmed from militant peaceful demonstrations that landed him in Israeli jails eight times.” [My emphasis] Falk mentions Adnan’s previous hunger strikes, but ignores the fact that he staged one of them while in Palestinian detention.
Reading through the tweets that promoted Adnan’s cause, it seems safe to conclude that many of the campaign’s enthusiastic supporters share Falk’s preposterous fantasies about Adnan’s militant peacefulness and the idea that this is really at the core of Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s agenda. No wonder then that some praised Adnan as the “Palestinian Gandhi” – and once again, it is notable that this preposterous suggestion does not seem to be a Palestinian invention: apparently, it originated with Peter Hart, who is the “activism director” at FAIR, a site that claims to provide “well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986” and produces a radio show called CounterSpin. I think that somebody who can turn an Islamic Jihad militant into the “Palestinian Gandhi” knows all there is to know about spin.
Unsurprisingly, the activists promoting the newly crowned “Palestinian Gandhi” have been quick to exploit the momentum generated by their successful Twitter campaign. Adnan’s wife, who told an Al Jazeera reporter that she lacked the “kinds of skills” to cope with all the media attention, already has penned an eloquent article for the Guardian promoting her husband’s cause; their little daughter is enlisted, too, standing behind a poster of daddy and holding the banner of Islamic Jihad. Really, what could be wrong with that?
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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.
A post entitled “How Twitter’s trending topics helped catapult a human interest story into the spotlight” offers some more details on how the campaign on behalf of Adnan was organized. As already signaled by the reference to the “human interest” story, this is an entirely uncritical take; noteworthy, however, is the provided measure of the campaign’s success in manipulating the media to cover this manufactured “human interest” story:
“Adnan’s story was all but ignored by mainstream media, until a group of online activists decided to take to Twitter to bring it some much-needed attention. A search on Google News shows the story getting no attention whatsoever at the beginning of February, and peaking to over 300 sources at the height of the campaign.”