Many Meetings: Irene Nasser
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Irene Nasser, who is a Palestinian feminist and social media activist working for Just Vision. We had a fascinating conversation about Budrus, activism, and social media in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Budrus is a documentary film released in 2009 that chronicles the struggle of a Palestinian village in the West Bank against the Separation Barrier annexing their land. Through constant, unarmed resistance, over a 10-month period, the village was successful in
reclaiming most of their land and the wall was rerouted. Since then, Just Vision has been working to get the film into the mainstream and help examples of successful, unarmed protest become a theme in media coverage of the occupation.
When I questioned Irene about unarmed resistance as an ideological standpoint versus a strategic play, she was quick to respond, “I’m a pacifist,” explaining that her background and upbringing led her to believe in non-violence. However, she also notes that Palestinians who are getting killed, arrested, and doing everything they can just to scrape by, simply can’t afford the luxury of ideology; they just have to do what works. She went on to explain that therefore, unarmed resistance largely functions as an important strategy for Palestinians because it’s effective, more compelling, and easier to get behind.
There is a debate within the Palestinian resistance community as to what role, if any, stone-throwing has in unarmed protests. Stone-throwing is extremely common among Palestinian youths and oftentimes ‘unarmed’ protests are not necessarily ‘non-violent.’ Others argue that stone-throwing, if not meant to injure, is therefore symbolic and acceptable. Again, it comes down to a question of strategy. In Budrus, the village made a conscious decision to avoid stone-throwing, arranging their
marches so youths were in the back and would be unable to land a hit if they tried. During our discussion on this point, Irene pointed out that during the Egyptian revolution, people threw rocks and molotovs, but it was mostly ignored. But Palestinians generally have a less favorable reputation, and similar actions could be perceived quite differently, again highlighting the importance of fair and balanced media.
At the mention of the Egyptian revolution, our conversation turned to the role of social media in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Irene assured me that especially for tools like Twitter and Facebook, “sometime soon, it will be our most powerful tool.” Unique to this struggle, social media helps provide a counter to the powerful Israeli media machine. Activists regularly tweet live from protests and demonstrations around the West Bank, and also post videos and photos from the events. Recently, this media helped debunk inaccurate reports from the IDF in light of the injury of a French woman at a weekly protest in Nabi Saleh. In light of the Arab Spring, it’s easy to see how social media could change the game here as well.
While Irene readily acknowledges that Israeli legislation is getting worse and more oppressive, she maintains that this is no cause for pessimism. Instead, these challenges are giving her a better perspective on how to be relevant and stay relevant. In the quickly-shifting world of the Israel-Palestine conflict, staying at the top of your game is the key to making a difference.