Internet usage has exploded amongst Palestinians. The World Bank estimated that 36.4% of the population in the Palestinian Territories currently uses the internet. These statistics differ considerably when one analyzes internet usage amongst Palestinians living in Israel, West Bank Palestinians, and Gazan Palestinians in descending order. However, even after considering such factors as differing information ministries and Israeli regulation, Palestinian internet access has risen by over 3500% since the year 2000 and has more than doubled since the end of the Second Intifada in 2005. The most promising effects of this permeation are in the fostering of a greater Palestinian national cohesion and building more effective organizing apparatuses.
Since the 1948 Nakba, Palestinians have been split along the psychological walls of occupation. The varying experiences of individual Palestinian communities, in addition to communication difficulties, motivated interior divisions in the Palestinian consciousness.
Palestinians living in Israel became known as “’48 Palestinians.” West Bank Palestinians and Gazan Palestinians became referred to by their geographic location rather than simply “Palestinian.” The refugee populations were forced into further divisions, their very classification as “Palestinian” complicated by Arab politics and the nature of refugee camps themselves. And finally, the Palestinian Diaspora outside of these categories faced its own problems of identity and engagement with the national identity.
Internet access carries with it a challenge to these psychological barriers brought on by over six decades of Palestinian strife. However, the effect of the internet should not be overstated. Clear differences between various Palestinian communities will not simply be forgotten through the use of Skype. Nevertheless the increasingly personal nature of the internet allows a level of communication between Palestinians that might not otherwise be possible due to restrictions on freedom of movement. Applications such as Skype and Facebook allow a level of face-to-face interaction between a Palestinian living in Ramallah, West Bank with another living in Khan Yunis, Gaza that would have been impossible during the First Intifada.
Internet communication is not a total substitute for live, personal interactions. However, where scarce few interactions existed before, it is a massive step forward for Palestinians desiring contact with one another. This is particularly important amongst young Palestinians who form a large percentage of the nation’s rapidly growing population. There is now a generation emerging in Palestine that can easily contact Palestinians in other geographic proximities. This is a promising development for breaking internal divisions within the greater Palestinian community.
Most importantly, this internet permeation and augmented sense of national cohesion provides many possibilities in regards to organization. Palestinians have already exploited social media to form new methods of resisting Israeli oppression in the Occupied Territories. The hunger strike of Khader Adnan recently gained an incredible amount of global attention thanks mainly to internet coverage. Adnan’s publicized example also led to the internet being used to coordinate a burst of protest activity, with West Bank, Gazan, and ’48 Palestinians managing to launch simultaneous demonstrations.
The protests linked to Adnan, in addition to other organizing activities since then point to rapidly developing capabilities to exploit the internet for revolutionary aims. It has helped catalyze revolutionary behavior in miniature instances, with Adnan’s case being a prominent example, and has also made organizing much easier. However, the shift among Palestinians towards greater national cohesion is what has made this activity possible.
The internet quickly became a mechanism through which this cohesion has been expressed, but has not caused this dramatic popular move against geographic distinctions. It appears that Palestinians are becoming increasingly frustrated with disputes such as Hamas/Fatah just as they are distressed with a stagnated peace process and expanding Israeli settlements. This frustration promises to be one of the most crucial factors as the conflict continues to develop.