Silicon Valley, Palestine and Israel

Reading The Washington Post (WP) on Sheikh Jarrah, al-Aqsa Mosque and thhe Israeli air strikes and Palestinian rocket attacks, I was struck by a new tone. It seemed that things that were once invisible in US coverage were now brought out.

Israelis faced rocket attacks and two of their civilians died, we were told. Palestinians faced Israeli air strikes and many more died; “Palestinian residents can’t afford bomb shelters,” WP reminded us.

In a WP op-ed, an Israeli human rights director described Israel as a “binational, inherently undemocratic regime” that enfranchises its 7 million Jews and disenfranchises 7 million Palestinians.

The current flare-up started around Sheikh Jarrah, an area of the West Bank near Jerusalem facing Zionist* settlement and annexation. Israeli PM Netanyahu is supporting the settlers under pressure from far-right leaders in parliament, WP said, on whom his government has become dependent after corruption scandals and decline in his personal support.

According to WP, in short, the current situation is caused by a far-right Israeli settlement project in a context of dramatic power differentials, both in terms of economic power and capacity for violence.

This is all new for establishment media coverage of Israel-Palestine. US media has traditionally presented Israelis as Just Like Us, their violent actions regrettable but understandable given their “difficult” position faced with “fundamentalist Muslim terrorists” and irrational Arab states.

Does this signal a gradual but epochal shift in US relations with Israelis and Palestinians? While the Jeff Bezos-controlled WP is including Palestinian perspectives, other digital titans are, like their old media predecessors, not so keen to.

Twitter has recently been criticised for flagging Palestinian journalists’ posts as “sensitive” and hiding them from the feed. This included a live stream from @MariamBarghouti, a Palestinian who has written for WP, in which she was being tear-gassed by Israeli security forces.

Palestinian journalist Mariam Barghouti

Twitter has form here. They do the same for outspoken supporters of Venezuela, describing their content as “sensitive” even when their posts have nothing to do with violence.

Facebook has faced similar criticism. Advocates for Palestine say that Facebook proactively censors their pages.

It is appealing to imagine Silicon Valley ushering in a qualitatively new era for news and information. Yet it seems to me this is just a new iteration of media-information moguls’ eternal battle for the narrative.

* “Zionist” here with its precise meaning: someone who views all of Israeli-Palestinian territory as rightfully belonging to Israel only, as representative of the Jewish people.

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