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The electronic Intifada

The Revolution will not be televised’ -- but it will be Web-based. That, at least, is the hope of four activists who joined forces last October to create an unprecedented new website, The Electronic Intifada (http://www.electronicIntifada.net). Even before its official launch on 28 February, the site had been lauded in the Dutch morning newspaper De Volkskrant, and had received praise from iconoclastic columnist Alexander Cockburn, who wrote in The Nation that ‘Even the relatively better-informed mainstream accounts fail to convey the brutality of [Israel's apartheid policies]. There are a number of excellent news outlets for those who want unjaundiced reporting..The Electronic Intifada...is trusted.’

The Electronic Intifada website aims to enable a growing, worldwide network of human rights and media activists to challenge myth, spin, and distortion about Palestinians and Palestinian rights disseminated by Israel's official spokespersons and allied pro-Israeli organizations in North America and Europe.

Embodying a principle, stated on the site's contact page, that ‘the Intifada was never about individual power, but about collective power,’ four activists, Scotsman Nigel Parry, Diaspora Palestinians Ali Abunimah, Arjan El Fassed, and American Laurie King-Irani, collaborated virtually on The Electronic Intifada's development for five months before introducing the site last week with the battle cry: ‘You have permission to think critically!’ The site's launch announcement, widely distributed to tens of thousands of e-mail addresses throughout the world, generated over 200 subscribers to The Electronic Intifada's email alert service within the first 24 hours of its debut. Other than searing images of violence, the most significant dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- historical, legal, political, economic, and human -- are rarely covered in-depth, if at all, by the mainstream Western media. Ironically, the media has also neglected another, key dimension of the conflict: the media itself. The advent of the Internet has highlighted the media's direct and indirect roles in reinforcing representations of and policies towards Palestinians, allowing individuals throughout the world to log-on to sites reporting direct from Palestine, thus allowing them to compare the nature and depth of indigenous coverage to that of major international news outlets.

In September 1996, Nigel Parry, then webmaster at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank, helped to launch the first-ever website in which local residents of an active war zone offered daily reports during the fighting that broke out over the tunnel incident in Jerusalem. That experience led him to conclude that ‘the main reason that the conflict has carried on as long as it has is simply because the Israelis have learned very well the importance of winning the war of words. The Internet has become a key new arena in which this occurs, not least because it overturns the tables on the traditional power structure of media.’

The four founders of The Electronic Intifada had been crossing paths and sharing ideas for several years--largely through the Internet. In Chicago, Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian graduate student and vice president of the Arab American Action Network, had made his mark on media monitoring in the late 1990s by single-handedly challenging the mainstream US media's daily depiction of events in Israel-Palestine through a series of e-mail letters available to activists throughout the world on his own website at http://www.abunimah.org.

Writing in December 1998, John Mahoney, Executive Director of Americans for Middle East Understanding, reported that Palestinian academic Edward Said had commented, ‘Each time I check my e-mail, I find copies of e-mail sent by a young Palestinian to radio stations, TV reporters, and newspaper editors, commenting on their coverage of the Palestinian issue. In his effective, electronic way this man, Ali Abunimah, is writing his own history every day.’

Meanwhile, Arjan El Fassed, a Palestinian political scientist, media activist, and human rights specialist living in the Netherlands had also distinguished himself as an effective cyber-activist, spearheading boycott campaigns against Burger King and Benneton for opening franchises in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, and producing a prodigious amount of Op-Eds and letters to editors of papers in Europe, the US, the UK and Canada.

Laurie King-Irani lived and worked as a researcher, editor, journalist and translator in Israel/Palestine and Lebanon between 1991 and 1997. In early 1998, she returned to the US and assumed the editorship of Middle East Report, in which capacity she regularly appeared in the national and international media as a Middle East commentator. The activists' dismay at the eruption of the al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000 quickly transformed into outrage. As the death tolls climbed, the four found themselves putting aside their personal and professional lives to respond to mounting requests from journalists, other activists, scholars and policy analysts for information, on-the-ground contacts, and international legal documents to challenge biased and inaccurate media representations of the confrontations.

The Electronic Intifada's first e-mail alert to subscribers stated: ‘Our job is to help journalists, editors and producers, by letting them know we are not against them but instead wish to see them perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. We can help them out by acting as sources for information and by offering considered responses to their work. When they get it wrong, we will be there to patiently explain how what they have published or broadcast doesn't match up to what we know. When they get it right, we will be there to thank them.’What most journalists consistently ‘get wrong’ is ignoring the key reason that Palestinians have risen up: to protest the painful and unjust 33-year old Israeli occupation of their country.

In establishing The Electronic Intifada, the activists hope the Internet will give voice not only to concerned media activists, but more importantly, to the Palestinians who have so long been deprived of the opportunity to narrate what it is like to live under the world's last military occupation.
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