Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: November 2010 (page 2 of 3)

Israel as “Safe Haven” for Arabs

An interesting bit in today’s Jerusalem Post; Egyptian journalist Nabil Sharaf Eldin argues, in a rather poorly written piece, that as a journalist, he is safer in Israel than in much of the region.  His ultimate point?  That as a journalist who refuses to mince words in respect to Arab regimes, he is unsafe in most, safe only in Israel.  Eldin states: “I foresee a time when millions of Arabs might stand humbly in front of IDF soldiers, begging for protection.”

Let me start off by acknowledging two points:

  • He is a journalist that criticizes Syria’s Baath regime, Hezbollah, Libya’s Qaddafi.  Wrong as it may be, it’s somewhat shocking that he thought Syria would just let him in the country in with no fuss.  He strikes me as incredibly naive.
  • His points about Syria and Libya are well-taken.  Both have a long way to go before they can be considered democratic in the most basic sense, and we should by no means ignore their human rights violations, including imprisonment (and in the case of Libya, murder) of journalists.

If Eldin had stopped there; if he had simply been criticizing the restrictions placed on free speech by Arab regimes, I might have condoned the piece, even retweeted it — or perhaps it would have gone unnoticed.  But then he said this:

Failing to find a glimpse of hope across the greater Arab world, we must concede that Israel has become the only “safe haven” where one can be sure of his life and dignity.

Ah yes – Israel as a safe haven.  Unless you’re Jared Malsin, perhaps — Malsin is the American journalist whom Israel deported because he was working for the Palestinian Maan News Agency.  Or if you’re a journalist aboard the Mavi Marmara — their photographs, videos, and documents were seized, with some used by Israeli authorities without permission.  Or if you’re international news agency Al Jazeera, barred by the IDF from covering nonviolent protests in the West Bank.  Or if you’re a Palestinian journalist documenting Israeli violations of the right to assemble — four were attacked by the IDF this past January for covering protests in Burin.  And the list goes on…

Eldin also writes:

Just like the Palestinian Helles family who fled Hamas “jihadists” in Gaza to Israel, I foresee a time when millions of Arabs might stand humbly in front of IDF soldiers, begging for protection.

So, I urge you, dear fellow Arab, to visit Israel.

Everything about these two sentences is problematic.  First, there’s the issue of the Helles family; they did indeed flee Gaza to Israel.  A pro-Fatah “clan” (as the media would designate them), 181 members of the Helles family sought refuge in Israel; 80 or so were sent to the West Bank, while 60 were sent back to Gaza.  I’m fuzzy on the details, but then again, I presume that Eldin might be as well — the media alternately reported the Helles clan as having attacked Hamas or been attacked — in either case, it was hardly a humanitarian effort on Israel’s part.

As for the final sentence, the urging of Eldin’s “dear fellow Arabs” to visit Israel, perhaps it’s a nice sentiment, but it appears Eldin is (once again) missing out on some facts: Arabs (and some non-Arabs) who fly to Israel hoping to visit the West Bank (either alone or in addition to a visit to Israel proper) are frequently denied access, either entirely, or by receipt of a Palestinian Authority-only visa.

Israel is, by a number of measures, freer than a number of its neighbors.  But it is neither the region’s “safe haven” nor a true democracy.  Journalists in Israel and the land it occupies are hardly freer than Lebanon.  There is of course so much more to say on the subject, and I’m looking forward to reading whomever writes it.

Note: Of course Israel is promoting Eldin’s piece on its Arabic-language Foreign Ministry site.  Even though they know Arabs will never be able to enter the country in droves as Eldin suggests they ought to.  Because image is everything, right?

What do we lose and what do we gain, by the online constant?

I had the great pleasure yesterday of giving a talk to the (high school) students of Beaver Country Day School; the general theme (and the impetus for my invitation) was this piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago for Al Jazeera, in which I argued:

It is imperative that we teach young people not just about personal safety online, but also about digital literacy in every sense of the term, from the ability to discern good research resources to the responsibilities of digital citizens to their fellow netizens.

This also means recognizing that good citizenship begins offline. Just like the Internet can be a tool for positive change, so can it be a tool that enables cyberbullying and harassment. There is no denying the role the Internet played in the suicides of Clementi and Prince. It is also likely that, in the absence of the Internet, their harassers would still have found a way to cause them harm.

In the end, education is the key, and the responsibility is on all of us – not just teachers, not just parents, but all of us – to instill a strong sense of citizenship in the next generation.

I went in with the idea of discussing privacy and cyberbullying, and what ensued was an interactive conversation with some 250 or so students, impressively squeezed into a 30-minute time slot.

We touched on a variety of topics; I asked the students how many of them were on Facebook, and when it appeared to be everyone, I asked the reverse question: Four students and on teacher raised their hands.  I asked whose parents could see their online activity: it was about 50/50.  I asked them if they were aware of their privacy settings and who could see their activity on the social networking site: again, around 50/50 (sort of what I would expect based on regular readings of danah boyd‘s work).

My favorite juncture in the conversation happened, however, when a student seated somewhat near the back unassumingly asked if I thought excessive use of social media and the Internet were hindering our in-person interactions.  Somewhat dumbstruck by the question, I turned it back to the audience, and a young man near the front eloquently stated that yes, the more we interact online, the less we’re able to engage in intellectual conversation in person; we lose our public speaking abilities, our abilities to connect with others.  I was impressed by his answer, but also a bit amused by that last part: after all, the public speaker standing at the front of his auditorium spends more time online than he does, I’m sure.

Nevertheless, the first student’s question, and the second student’s answer both spurred me thinking.  We know that there are drawbacks to our constant connectivity, and we know that there are benefits, or we wouldn’t engage.  But do the benefits extend beyond the obvious–productivity, convenience, connection–to actually influence our friendships, our worldview, our very being?  When I think about my life as a digital native, I am aware of hundreds of connections that I never would have made were it not for the Internet.  Some of the biggest influencers on my life from age sixteen to now have been people I knew first online.  And so, while my speaking skills may be stunted by my constant practice of writing (and believe me, they are; even if it’s not noticeable, I’m a ball of nerves on the inside), I wouldn’t trade that for a return to a simpler social circle.

There’s something rumbling in my head that I’ve been wanting to write for awhile now, and which I will probably start on soon.  I know that if I start, it will likely end up book-length, and so I’m waiting until at least the new year, when all term papers have been submitted and I’ve cleared my head in California, to do so.  And that clearing of my head?  I will be taking my first digital hiatus (of 7 days) in years.

“The Internet? Bah!”

Check out these gems from Newsweek, 1995:

Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.

Ohh snap, Clifford Stoll.  I haven’t dirtied my fingers with newsprint since about 2000, I took a class online last semester, and…well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.  There’s more…

How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on disc. At best, it’s an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can’t tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.

Whoa, we’ll buy books over the Internet?  That’s just too much, Nicholas Negroponte (I bet even he couldn’t have predicted that kids in rural Sierra Leone would be doing it too).  And more…

We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

Whatever will we do without annoying salespeople breathing down our necks?

And yet, this last one still kind of rings true:

You don’t know what to ignore and what’s worth reading. Logged onto the World Wide Web, I hunt for the date of the Battle of Trafalgar. Hundreds of files show up, and it takes 15 minutes to unravel them—one’s a biography written by an eighth grader, the second is a computer game that doesn’t work and the third is an image of a London monument. None answers my question…

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