Waging an electronic intifada

Pro-Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah will speak at McGill this week as part of Social Justice Days, a series of student-organized events that encourage activism. Abunimah is the co-founder of Electronic Intifada, a Web site devoted to covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“It deals not only with politics but with arts, music, culture and just about every aspect of these issues that you could want to know about,” he said. “We have a lot of personal writing, diaries of people in Palestine, photography and that kind of thing.”

Abunimah chose the name for his Web site-which is the first to appear in a Google search for the term “intifada”-before the current intifada began. He said the word “intifada” has been wrongly equated with terrorism in the West.

“[Intifada] just means uprising, it means standing up for yourself,” he said. “The weapons that we fight with are words and pictures. … Simply the act of having a news site that dealt with these issues directly felt like standing up to the prevailing situation. It is a name that does provoke discussion and we think that’s a good thing.”

The writer and commentator will discuss media coverage and the future of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at a tea on Friday at 3 p.m. at First Peoples’ House, 3505 Peel.

“There’s a lot of talk about different developments with [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon leaving the scene and Palestinian elections and Israel leaving Gaza,” Abunimah said. “There’s a lot of optimism that this all adds up to something. I’m much more skeptical.”

Hillel McGill Co-President Yael Pfeiffer said Social Justice Days should expose students to a broader range of opinions.

“If it’s meant to be a discussion, I would think it would be more valid if they brought in more journalists from multiple perspectives, as opposed to just one journalist,” she said.

Abunimah contends that mainstream media misrepresent the conflict and the actors involved.

“I think from looking at the general media coverage a person who wasn’t an expert on this issue would be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that the biggest perpetrators of violence are Palestinians and the biggest victims are Israelis,” he said. “Absolutely opposite is the case. By far the vast majority of the people killed in the conflict are Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli violence.”

Abunimah claimed the media celebrated the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last year while ignoring the flow of settlers into the West Bank. He also criticized the media for downplaying the alleged crimes of Sharon, “somebody whose career is stained with the blood of literally tens of thousands of innocent civilians over 50 years.”

Abunimah said he hopes the event will be an informal discussion in which students raise their own questions.

“University is a great opportunity to become informed about these things,” he said. “It’s a privileged position where you sit there on your lovely campus and people from all over the world come through. You have a chance in university to meet people famous and obscure from all over the world that you really never have again.”

Students are in an ideal position to pursue social change, Abunimah said.

“Maybe they don’t realize it, but they will after they’re through with college and they regret the days when they had that kind of freedom.”