It’s been 3 years since I’ve been back to Gaza. I won’t lie: the first thing I wanted to do was to eat some Ba7ri figs. I’ve missed them.
Otherwise, I needed some time to get re-acquainted. It sounds silly to say you need to get re-acquainted with a place you’ve known your whole life, but so much has happened since I was last here in July of 2007 (namely, the attempted Fateh coup and Cast Lead).
Its not always as easy as it seems. Everyone’s an expert on the “situation” here-whether locally or abroad. And there are exactly 1.6 million passionate opinions in Gaza. People-taxi drivers, shopkeepers, street sweepers-will claim only they know how things REALLY went down on any given day- and that they can back it up with evidence from a second cousin “who saw it all with his own eyes”; and if you take things at face value, you’ll be inclined to believe what they tell you.
But enough of that, of which you can read more in my upcoming Guardian article.
The other thing I wanted to do immediately was meet with Gaza’s burgeoning blogging community.
Though blogging has never taken off in Palestine as it has in other Middle Eastern States, such as Iraq, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, with Palestinians largely preferring social forums like Facebook or chat rooms, over the past three years it has gained notable speed.
I sat down with 7 bloggers in Gaza City a few days ago (in what we hope to make a regular occurrence). I won’t bore you with the analytical details, which I hope to save for an article I’m publishing (somewhere…), but I would like to introduce them. I should note that most blog in Arabic, not English, and their audiences vary (for one, its primarily Egyptian; another, the Arab world; few seem to have a local following).
My general takeaway: Most people assume the Palestinian blogosphere, or the Palestinian political spectrum in general, is monolithic. By way of example, Bashar is an observant Muslim with Sufi practices, but he is critical of both the Hamas government in Gaza and that of Fateh in the West Bank, where most people assume an “either or” categorization of individuals here.
As one of the bloggerettes explained “people outside expect us all to be wrapped in a kaffiya, throwing stones, and to be stalwarts of the Palestinian cause every second of everyday, and we feel we don’t want to disappoint but we are human beings and sometimes we just want to blog about what’s on our mind.”
And so they feel sometimes they are stuck between obligations and expectations-whether that is blogging about the “cause” or being criticized for complaining about it locally (meaning, domestic disunity). Blogging has opened up new horizons for them, they told me, but even the virtual world has its non-virtual limits, with most of them unable to travel outside of Gaza (Ibrahim, for example, wanted to attend a start-up conference but was denied a travel permit).
They admit there is still a very immature understanding in Gaza of what a blog is, and what an effective blogging looks like. Many people think it is simply a space to copy/paste recycled text, forwards, graphic pictures, and so on, explained Asmaa. In addition, it should be noted that blogging for a domestic audience is very difference than blogging for a regional Arab one, or a Western foreign one, a point that Bashar and I were discussing this evening when we ran into each other at the shop by my dad’s apartment.
Beyond these initial assessments, the purpose of this post is mainly to introduce you to them. All are roughly 25, give or take 2 years. So without further ado, I give you the Gaza Bloggers (and pardon the incomplete bios, I failed to write everything down!)
Live from Gaza: 360km2 of chao
Sameeha is a recent English lit graduate from Gaza’s IUG
Gaza: diaries of peace and war
Day job: The Palestinian Institute for Conflict Resolution
Self-described Internet addict; cynical, snarky, passionate
Co-founded local web-based youth national reconciliation movements “Enough”, “Wake-up”, and “Nzra (Perspective)” مبادرات اصحى، بكفي، و نظرة
Bashar also tweeted his discovery of another Gaza based bloggers-
Rana Baker http://ranabaker.wordpress.com/
Day job: communications officer at a local NGO (hope I got that right Sharif)
Description: Sarcastic, cynical (are you sesing a theme here?) tries to avoid politics “but everything is political here!”
Ibrahim al jabour
Day job: IT consultant
Ibtihal Al Aloul
“local coordinator working to support democracy and empower young people to make a positive change”
Asmaa Alghoul, Journalist
Co-founder of “Wake-Up” with Bashar
Yasmeen El Khoudary
Day job: works at CHF Intl