Contemporary Media and the Civil Upheaval
Indeed, the role of contemporary media took on greater importance once the village was destroyed and its inhabitants found themselves involved in a civil struggle for recognition. The networking capacity of contemporary media—influenced by its enhanced communicative presence—served as a source of innovation for the locals. A sophisticated user-activist with a university degree described in detail how he managed the village’s networking effort using his iPhone. “I started with the simplest thing, SMS,4 ” he explained. “I created groups and I have them here...I bought an iPhone, and before this iPhone I had a phone called Express 5000. And I have a computer and I have Facebook and I have a Web site.though it is not online yet.”
On his phone he created groups. “One I call ‘brothers’; I have seven brothers; the second is members of the Knesset, another group is all of Al-‘Arakeeb, that’s 92 people. ‘Arakeeb’s committee is eight, ‘journalists’ has 20 journalists to whom I send out regularly, ‘supporters of ‘Arakeeb’ is thirty-nine; so I built groups. I wanted to and I was able over time to prove that text messaging became the language.” He continued: “We built a radio on SMS waves. You don’t have to listen [to the radio], you get an automatic update home.with time the Bedouin started using SMS and I am telling you before I did it, no one did it. No one had a distribution [network] like mine. I was told people call it my SMS revolu- tion.There are moments like this when you feel you are building history.” Those who follow developments in text messaging cannot overlook the fact that what this villager is describing is the adaptation of what by now may seem like old text messaging functionalities to newer mobile applications, the most popular of which is WhatsApp, a text messaging application that allows for the creation of groups, which was discussed in the context of the Ethiopian immigrants in the previous chapter. The text message, however, may have lost its appeal for some of the Bedouins as the activist noted that some of the recipients of the mass messaging have asked to be removed from his list. Indeed, abundance has its shortcomings as well.
Another demonstration of the communicative presence created by contemporary media was by a villager who never graduated high school and who walked around the village with a small netbook. “I have been trying lately to pass on what is happening here to the outside,” he said, and to do so he launched a Facebook page called “We are all Al-‘Arakeeb” to which he uploaded pictures and videos of events that took place in the village. He told us in the interview that he felt he was acting as the “communications person for Al-‘Arakeeb.” However, beyond this sense of pride, this resident of a demolished village in the middle of the desert was totally certain that his Facebook page was having an impact. For example, he maintained that it was his Facebook page that brought people to a relatively large demonstration that took place in Beer Sheva some weeks back. His Facebook friends include members of Jewish activist groups and journalists, and he uses their networks to further expand his own.
In the era of Facebook and Twitter, the people of Al-‘Arakeeb were also keen on building a presence on social networking applications. In the interviews they stated that they were inspired by events in neighboring Arab countries. “I used to lecture and to call our youth that does nothing “Facebook kids” as a derogatory term,” said one, “then I used the same words as a compliment...If the Facebook kids of Tunis were able to overthrow their dictator.. .and then in Egypt, then we can with Facebook wake up our youth and wake up the country.”
The residents also launched a YouTube channel in late February 2011, seven months after the first demolition. It contained short videos filmed by the locals. It was not updated for years after its initial upload. An attempt was also made to start a channel on LiveStream by a seventeen-year-old activist from neighboring Rahat, who told us he learned to use a computer in school before purchasing one using it at home. The target audience of the LiveStream channel was described as his “neighbors and friends in Rahat.”
New media capabilities’ positive impact notwithstanding, tailoring them to user needs requires the recognition of cultural sensitivities and proper adaptation. Text messaging, for one, seems contradictory to Bedouin culture. As one interviewee noted, “We were embarrassed to send a message to someone saying that you don’t speak with [a message]. It is always preferable to speak to a person, from the position of Bedouin culture. You have to talk to the person, to mobilize him, to show him respect. But with time I found out that the Bedouin have changed and Bedouins don’t have time and strength to talk to you.so I make it easier for him, easier for me.I asked him ‘do you care if I update you?’ and I added him to the list.” The time-shifting notion mentioned earlier, a feature of interactivity, also makes text messaging, a feature of multimediality, more efficient. A fellow villager-activist does not like to voice-call Jewish activists that have mobilized to support the village’s effort, as they may not be in a position to accept the call. He texts them knowing that they can control when to read the message, thereby exploiting multimediality and interactivity to create a more appropriate way to communicate.