How we made the world hear Gaza, as citizen journalists

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Palestinian schoolchildren cross the rubble of a building destroyed by earlier Israeli bombardment, as they make their way to their nearby school in Gaza City, on 24 November 2012

(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

Since a ceasefire agreement brought a measure of calm back to our lives in Gaza, I have been trying to collect and recollect my thoughts and emotions.

Throughout the latest eight-day long Israeli offensive on Gaza, now known as “Operation Pillar of Cloud,” I had been unable to sit down and calmly tap my commentary or even intuitive thoughts on the attacks.

Instead, I had been involved in social media-based reporting or citizen journalism. I’m not a doctor nor a resistance fighter, just an undergraduate student of business administration at a local university. In fact, I can hardly remember the number of times I cursed and mocked myself for not having enrolled in some first-aid course. What on earth was I thinking?

Gaza is “bliss”

But I was born in Gaza and have lived here my entire life. Although I managed to travel a number of times, I have never stayed out of this tiny, densely-populated enclave for longer than a month. For many, this may sound like something one would ooh and aah over. I, however, find it bliss.

This notion was emphasized last week, when many of my Twitter followers told me that they saw “nothing” of what we Gazans were reporting in their respective state-funded or national media. The first step I took when I decided to cover the attacks was that I would put my views and sentiments aside in order to be “credible.” I couldn’t.

Covering the attacks on Gaza without tapping my own views felt more like being a mainstream journalist striving to keep the image “balanced,” “unbiased” and “appealing” to everyone. It felt more like betraying the blood being mercilessly spilled by all kinds of warfare anyone can imagine, the screams that remained unheard under the rubble until they were silenced by the force of nature.

So by Thursday, 15 November, the second day of the Israeli attack, I surrendered to the fact that I could be credible without being “mainstream.” All attempts to split myself between my real self, an ordinary Gazan who belongs to and shares the feelings of this country, and a “balanced” journalist failed miserably. So I began voicing my “extreme views” (as Haaretz insisted on calling them) alongside real-time news, publicly and unabatedly.

An unbalanced situation

Since my childhood, I have always dreamed of becoming a journalist, of pursuing a career in one of the most well-known news corporations. However, as I grew up and became more involved, journalism was no less than a huge disappointment.

Bearing witness to the mainstream reporting of last week’s events was a cruel slap across in the face whose effect shall always remain. I was and still am very sickened by the amount misrepresentation we received.

Seeing our rights and blood being sold out as “collateral damage,” as having “caught in crossfire” means one thing to me: I no longer feel the urge to become a journalist of the kind BBC, CNN and others prefer.

After all, this is an unbalanced situation: a US-backed occupation and an occupied people doing everything to liberate their land. How can any reporting be “balanced” when reality itself is so unbalanced?

Mainstream media contact me

I still wanted, however, to make it to the mainstream with the very sentiments my tweets involved. To do this, I took it upon myself to tweet confirmed news only. I was thinking that if I tweet –- and retweet – news and pictures that would be later on proved false, I will lose the opportunity of penetrating the mainstream barrier.

To my great surprise BBC, Al Jazeera English, CNN, The Sunday Times, The Guardian or some of their journalists, either followed or contacted me.

Aided by a media contact list of citizen journalists in Gaza we collaboratively compiled and distributed, it became much easier for us, the people on the ground, to tell and share our experiences from our different perspectives. Indeed, even to win the cyberspace war.

Recording the sounds of destruction

Looking at my room back then with wires splayed all over the place, with the radio rumbling, bombs exploding nearby, phone ringing, windows rattling, I cannot but feel grateful to this country that taught us to love it and endure its boredom and difficulties.

I was teetering between my window, where I hung the iPad out to record sounds of explosions, and Twitter where I posted updates. Because I live just across the road from Gaza’s largest hospital, sirens and screams blended with the relentless buzzing of Israel’s unmanned drones were our everyday lullaby.

Most of the news and tweets that came out engaged only one of the five senses: the sight. The sounds were lacking despite them being at the heart of the experience. In fact, there are countless incidents where the glass on entire buildings exploded as a result of the deafening noise that accompanies the raids. Many people were injured while lying down on their beds as a result of glass pieces falling down on them.

So it came to me that what if I engage the ears, too? Navigating through what I had previously learned in a social media course, audioboo.fm was the right tool. This way, all followers of the worldwide trending hashtags of #Gaza and #GazaUnderAttack could hear real-time soundtracks of the explosions, sirens, screams and cries while reading the live updates pulsed in by young citizen journalists.

Despite the challenges, reaching the world, from Gaza

The number of views and shares I received on these audio-recordings was enormous. Mainstream media outlets embedded them into their live blogs and articles. Meaning, those who do not have Twitter or Facebook accounts were still able to access and listen to these recordings. In many occasions, the recordings were aired on local radios around the world.

However, this was not without challenges. We had to find a way to keep the world updated while the electricity and therefore the Internet are out. Our friends and colleagues in the West Bank offered to tweet on our behalf if we send them the updates through the mobile network.

Using these techniques, we were able to keep in touch with the people who were eagerly following our posts and updates.

Solace and freedom of movement in cyberspace

Being young and Palestinian at the same time means that you should be aware of the resources available around you. Otherwise, you will isolate yourself and your people. After all, Israel is doing everything in its power to further cut Gaza off from the outside world. Since we have limited access to books and travel, we find solace in cyberspace.

There, in the virtual world, we can move freely from country to country and find the information we need. We can establish and expand our networks and as was the case last week, counter mainstream propaganda that is constantly portraying us as the aggressors or “terrorists.”

Despite all the strength and perseverence you try to show, there is always that moment when you’re no longer able to hold back the tears you have suppressed.

That is when you fall short of the strength and preservation of others. A stroll around Gaza says it all. Out in the streets people are cleaning up the rubble, sweeping away dust and glass, extinguishing the fires that remained, and fixing the blown out doors of their homes.

Comments

Palestinians. You help to speed up the end of Zionism and the colonial nightmare in the ME.

Those of us who believe or support extremist groups on either side are forgoing a great opportunity. That opportunity is to band together and support the "middle". No one there wants anything but:
1. A better life for all
2. Practice of the "Golden Rule"...regardless of religion
3. Freedom for all to have good paying jobs with governments without corruption that represent the majority in the "middle"

With the media coloured with its slants it's bias it's vested interests , it is only a matter of time that it will fall flat on its face while in the advent of an information technology era , the growth and powerful influence of social media platforms such as twitter , there will come a revolution ; a marked victory for the people on the ground the people that live it and breath it in their skin with their handheld devices as one of their best friends , the war between mainstream media and telling it as it is by the people on such ever fast growing 'Twitter' communication surely the 'Voice of the Voiceless' has been heard.
All praise to Allah.

You are the most true journalist i have ever met/cyber met. I could rely on your posts the minute they came in and others came to rely on me getting them. Of course it was personal for you. I can not imagine what it would be like being in your position. You said you would be no good as a professional journalist. I think you are getting that mixed up with what we are used to [lies/ misinformation]. Yes it was personal as you come from Gaza, you are young and it was horrific. It was personal to me and i felt it my duty to let every one i could know.As for you not sleeping and going over the visions in your mind. I am doing that too. You brought the Truth to the whole world. All the news as it happened. That must have been so hard as the images i saw i spent half the time crying for my sisters and brothers of Gaza, the injustice and Genocide. The real world!! I have taken it very personally as we have heard things in the past about 'the media' being controlled. What news you brought was 'how it was'. The world was in solidarity with Gaza and your pain because we had the truth. You said because you took this personally that you could not remain open minded. Your true loyalties were with Gaza. I'm Scottish and my loyalties were with Gaza and the people. The horrendous attacks and bullying, The children and families splattered all over, The homes all blown to rubble with the people trapped. If you were reporting in Scotland and the same things were happening, your heart and soul would belong to the victims in Scotland just the same. That is what true journalism is about. TRUTH!
I have Muslim friends on FB. They are so used to being let down with the media cover. Or 'no cover' is better way of putting it. They were so grateful that i was getting them the true news from you. I know i will hold a place in their hearts for ever because of my honesty. You brought me that News. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You woke the world up. You deserve your tears.

I respect and admire all the hard work, time and effort you've put into your work. Please keep it up. One day you along with all your Palestinian brothers and sisters will live as free people on land and homes that was brutally taken away from you.
Long live Palestine!!!!!!

Some photos of Solidarity with the people in Gaza from Berlin, Germany: http://wipokuli.wordpress.com/...
http://wipokuli.wordpress.com/...
Andreas Schlüter
Sociologist
Berlin, Germany

their people. Thank you, Rana.

A free, un-censored, un-fettered, international press corps, that dispatches objective news reports on world events, is an essential asset for every citizen in every country in every continent. Israel's documented history of denial that it targets journalists who report the magnitude of their war crimes does not negate the reality of those war crimes. The pattern of denial by Israel reveals the depth of depravity of the regime. Wishful thinking that the world will not notice the criminality of its' murders of journalists simply underlines Israel's weakness: A morbid fear of the truth. A chronic need to manipulate public opinion, in the vain hope that the next sequence of atrocities against defenseless civilians can be explained away - since witnessing journalists have been killed by Israel's skilled assassins. The world is watching. The world is waiting - for Israel to abandon deception and to embrace international standards of truth-telling. The kind of truth-telling we get from international journalists who survive Israeli assaults.

Thank you Rana. You are an inspiration to all who seek justice for Palestine.

While the world is still paying attention, now is the time for creative, effective protest. Why not have 1,000 or 5,000 or more men, women and children peacefully walk together to the no-man's land on the northern border of Gaza and re-occupy the land. I think with all the attention now, it would be nearly impossible for the Israelis to respond with violence. Once there, stay. Bring tents, start rebuilding...

What you are doing is incredible. I work for an online magazine at unlikelystories.org and would love to repost this article (with credit.) Let me know by emailing me at joseph@unlikelystories.org or commenting here. Thanks so much and keep up the good work!

AsSalaamAlaikum- Please keep up your efforts in the struggle for the liberation of your nation and I will pledge to help all that I can by informing, researching and participating in telling the world the truth of the horrors of US/Israel Zionism and their efforts to destroy the Palestinian people, past and present.
Mr. Obama does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize- if anything , he , along with his administration and Netahyehu and the Israelis, should be tried as war criminals.
Justice will come to the people pf Palestine. No one thought that apartheid South Africa would ever end after 400 years but it did. So will the evils of Zionism and America's complicity.
I offer my condolences to all those who lost loved ones and those who suffer as I write. The actions of my country, past and present is a horror worse that the American/European conquest of Tribal nations in North and South America, African slavery and European colonailism combined.
You will not be defeated Palestine, the truth will be told. I swear to you.
AsSalaam Alaikim
John A. El-Amin

Thank you and thanks to all the citizen journalists in Palestine who have put themselves in harm's way to bring the truth to the world. You are in the hearts and prayers of more people than you could ever imagine. Not all the tears in the world could wash away the sins of those who are responsible for the genocidal attacks on the people of Palestine.

Thank you so much for this account. Maybe one day I will have the pleasure of meeting you, but for now, all I can say is that I appreciate and celebrate every effort - big or small - that you make. You are an inspiration and please, know that you are not alone. Though there are a lot of people that would like to not believe so, or that would like to make is so that others cannot know, there are people all over the world that feel your pain and understand your struggle. We stand with you, Rana. With love, Greg - USA.

thank you

What is possibly most tragic in the Gaza attack with its many victims is that it was possibly the "battleground" for fractions of the US Power Elite fighting among themselves: http://wipokuli.wordpress.com/... !
Andreas Schlüter
Sociologist
Berlin, Germany

Thanks so much Rana, you and the other brilliantly media savvy Palestinians in Gaza made it very easy to rely primarily on Palestinian sources as a matter of principal. You all overcame the Israeli media/social media strategy with its' vastly superior resources & complicit international media outlets, analogous in my view with the resistance and the Israeli war machine. From that you can all take great pride and confidence.