Avoiding Solidarity Burnout

Online activism has its place in this digital age, but it can’t beat field work on the ground.

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In the summer of last year, most of our eyes were glued to the television to hear some report about Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison. Israel had started their latest round of carnage, under the mission name ‘Protective Edge’.

Gaza, already under an illegal and inhuman blockade, was reduced to a shooting gallery. Over 2,000 civilians lost their lives amidst waves of condemnation from the international community. In terms of devastation, this was a step up by Israel for their earlier assaults in 2008 and 2012. The USA, of course, stood by the side of Israel and doing its best to shield it from any sort of retribution in the UN or other arenas.


Short-lived Online Outrage

Most of us would remember how horrified we were of the daily images of the dead men, women and children. Nowhere were the voices of disgust and anger more audible than on social media, be it on Facebook, Twitter or Youtube comments.

Unlike the heavily filtered and often censored traditional media like television and print, social media allowed for the public to project their criticisms unfiltered. So tremendous was the online outcry that Israel decided to set up a task force dedicating just to spreading their Hasbara propaganda on these social media platforms.

The problem with this online outrage is that is can often be a short-lived phenomenon. A couple of months after the Gaza assault, the area lay in ruins and in desperate need of development, but those Facebook warriors who were earlier so visible on this issue were now conspicuously silent.

It seemed that unless Gaza was being subject to constant bombardment, their interest could not be maintained. This short-lived fervor for a cause cannot be considered solidarity, it is more like being a dilettante.


Sustainability Of Effort

Back when I was doing my Masters in the States, I joined the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which was headed incidentally by a Jew. This was just after Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, when Israel first subjected Gaza to unprecedented brutality. That attack jolted many in US public who were concerned about human rights to start to question the validity of Israel’s position in the conflict.

Using that awakening in public opinion, our group was able to do many events on the ground, such as bringing expert speakers on the topic like Norman Finkelstein, or conduct rallies and commemorative events for those who lost their lives. This was all six months to a year after the deadly assault. The point was that we understood this was a long-term campaign to change perceptions and required sustained effort.

To consider oneself to be in solidarity with oppressed people, such as the Palestinians, you should go beyond empty moral calls for justice and expressions of discontent. You need to educate yourself on the issue, and try and be involved in some form of activism to move international actors to enforce some positive changes.

Online activism most certainly has its place in this digital age, but it can’t beat field work on the ground. The next time a conflict arises and your emotions get worked up, try and focus them for some lasting change rather than wait for the next bloody headline.

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