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Friday, February 16, 2024

GVS Interviews Fadi Quran: Israel-Gaza Situation, Disinformation, One-State Solution and More

GVS Managing Editor Ms. Najma Minhas engages in a conversation with Avaaz Campaign Director Mr. Fadi Quran, addressing topics such as disinformation in the Israel-Gaza situation and the one-state solution.

There is widespread disinformation in the world, fueled by 24/7 news channels, social media platforms, and deep fake AI. This is particularly evident in the context of the Israel-Hamas war.

GVS Managing Editor Ms. Najma Minhas sat down for a conversation with Mr. Fadi Quran, the campaign director at Avaaz. Avaaz is an institution dedicated to combating disinformation.

GVS: As a Palestinian based in the West Bank, how is life there, and is it being affected by the events in Gaza?

Fadi Quran: Yes, significantly. Even before the Gaza war, the West Bank faced challenging conditions labeled as apartheid by Human Rights Watch and other organizations. Since the war began, Israel has intensified its checkpoint policy. Most Palestinian citizens in the West Bank now find themselves surrounded by checkpoints and walls, making travel extremely difficult.

The West Bank, with its seven to eight main Palestinian cities and numerous villages, is divided into isolated areas. For instance, I come from Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli settlements and the apartheid wall. To travel from one city to another, like Bethlehem or Hebron, you must navigate through these checkpoints, totaling close to 300 around Palestinian communities. Currently, passing through these checkpoints can result in scrutiny of your phone. If you have images from Gaza or express solidarity online, you risk physical harm, car confiscation, or worse.

Furthermore, Israeli settlers, with the support of the far-right government, are exploiting the international attention on Gaza to expedite ethnic cleansing in the West Bank. In the last month alone, nine Palestinian communities have been completely demolished. Arrests of Palestinians have surged, with over 2,000 in the West Bank since the war began. Violence against Palestinians by both settlers and the army has also increased, leading to the death of around 250 Palestinians in the last month alone in the West Bank.

While life in the West Bank is undoubtedly challenging, the situation there is incomparable to the devastation in Gaza, where the death toll reaches close to 400-500 people daily, with up to 15,000 casualties so far.

GVS: Considering the mention of these checkpoints and the restrictions on movement within the West Bank, where Palestinians face limitations on certain streets, even within their own territory, how do you, as a Palestinian, feel about the viability of the two-state solution? Do you perceive any possibility of it still coming to fruition?

Fadi Quran: I believe, based on my extensive work over the past 15 years on this issue and interactions with key experts, that the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, policies of land confiscation, as well as both Israeli and Palestinian public opinions, indicate the impracticality of the two-state solution. Most Palestinians in my generation envision a future with a Palestinian state that is entirely free from occupation.

Moreover, they consider a broader one-state solution across the region, where people of various backgrounds, including Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim, Christian, and Druze, coexist as equals with justice and dignity for all. While acknowledging the challenges posed by current trends of rising ethno-nationalism and violence, many Palestinians in my generation believe that, in the long term, this one-state solution is the only viable option to ensure a life of justice and human dignity for all. Currently, the two-state solution is not widely supported among Palestinians, who tend to favor alternative options if presented.

This is a crucial point to emphasize, as my focus over the last two years has been actively engaging Palestinian youth across all communities and fostering dialogues with Jewish individuals, both in Israel and elsewhere. These conversations delve into envisioning the future we desire. Through these in-depth discussions, it becomes evident that people aspire to a future founded on a social contract encompassing three fundamental principles: freedom, ensuring that laws and regulations stem from a fair and democratic process, rejecting aspects like Israel’s military occupation and authoritarianism; justice, entailing equal rights and opportunities for everyone, including Palestinian refugees; and dignity, the absence of humiliation at checkpoints and the ability to flourish and feel secure.

When we speak about the future, what people truly seek is a social contract providing freedom, justice, and dignity from the river to the sea. The reason Palestinians generally do not support the current two-state solution framework is because it presents a scenario where they would still be subject to various forms of Israeli sovereignty, lacking the promised freedom, justice, and dignity. Some argue that we are already in a one-state solution, but one marred by apartheid. Rather than getting bogged down in technical debates about one state, two states, or more, we advocate for focusing on the core values of freedom, justice, and dignity. The emphasis should be on the end goal, allowing any political system that upholds these principles to be accepted, rather than getting stuck in detailed and failed frameworks enforced over the last five decades.

GVS: Indeed, the concept of a social contract has historical roots dating back to Western nations in the 18th and 19th centuries, with influential thinkers like John Jacques Rousseau and John Locke emphasizing its importance for individual dignity and social fairness. Now, shifting to the topic of democracy in Palestine, particularly in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) historically represented Palestinians, there seems to be a lack of democracy within the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The PA has not held elections since 2006, and President Mahmoud Abbas has been in office since 2005. Do you believe this absence of democracy has contributed to Israel’s reluctance to reach a solution with the Palestinians, as they may argue that Palestinians themselves do not believe in democracy?

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Fadi Quran: The framing here is incorrect. Israel, in collaboration with the Palestinian Authority, prevents Palestinians from holding elections. Historically, Palestinians were represented by the PLO, which includes the Palestinian National Council, intended to represent all Palestinians globally. Unfortunately, this body has seen little change since 1988 and can be considered authoritarian. In 1993, the Oslo Accords led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, initially meant to be an administrative subset of the PLO governing the West Bank and Gaza.

However, Israel aimed to fragment Palestinians, favoring the strengthening of the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas and weakening the PLO. In the 2006 elections, Hamas won, but due to political complexities and accusations of corruption, Hamas was not allowed to govern. This led to further fragmentation, with Hamas controlling Gaza and Fatah governing the West Bank. Palestinians worldwide, as well as those in the West Bank and Gaza, have been demanding democratic representation and elections for PLO leadership.

The main obstacles have been the Israeli military preventing Palestinians in Jerusalem from voting and the close collaboration between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, hindering democratic processes. In essence, Israel, through its support for authoritarian leadership, contributes to the prevention of democratic elections and then claims division and authoritarianism as reasons for not working with the Palestinians.

GVS: It seems to suggest that the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLA) might not be considered a viable authority for a significant number of Palestinians if elections were held soon. In that case, who are the viable entities out there?

Fadi Quran: Across the world, we observe numerous rising Palestinian leaders with competencies, skills, and charisma capable of advancing the Palestinian struggle. Palestinians desire free and open elections for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian National Council, allowing this new generation of capable leaders to unite Palestinians across different regions.

The aim is to work and lead liberation struggles, similar to the African National Congress’s role in South Africa. This path supersedes the PLA but eventually leads to reforming the Palestinian Authority (PA) for a more effective role in serving Palestinians. The ultimate goal is to unite Palestinians under one umbrella, fostering collaboration on issues such as achieving a ceasefire, rebuilding Gaza, and ultimately liberating Palestine.

GVS: Regarding Gaza, there are various suggestions about what might happen post-Israel’s attack, including the possibility of international organizations or countries handing it over to the PLA for governance. What makes the most sense for the majority of Palestinians? What is the average Palestinian on the West Bank thinking?

Fadi Quran: Firstly, most Palestinians find it demeaning and immoral for the world to decide who governs them, especially given their situation under Israeli occupation and a blockade. The prevailing sentiment is that Palestinians should have the right to self-determination. It’s akin to suggesting that the world should decide who governs Americans or any other nation. Palestinians, both in Gaza and the West Bank, are calling for elections for the PLO and the Palestinian National Council. They believe the Palestinian National Council should govern the Palestinian territories and rebuild Gaza based on the will and self-determination of the Palestinian people, without external interference.

GVS: Shifting to the topic of disinformation, you highlighted a tweet regarding a video released by the Israeli government featuring an actor posing as an Israeli nurse. This was seen as part of a disinformation campaign, particularly in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Can you elaborate on what seeding the narrative means in this context?

Fadi Quran: Certainly. In the Israel-Palestine conflict, a crucial aspect of the ongoing struggle involves shaping the narrative to justify the continued occupation and displacement of the Palestinian people. This manipulation of narrative dates back at least 75 years. Falsehoods like claiming Palestine was a land without a people for people without a land have been used to create a context allowing for actions like settlement and displacement. The same tactic is employed in the current war on Gaza, exemplified by narratives portraying every innocent person killed by Israel as a human shield used by Hamas.

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An instance you mentioned is the fake nurse video, where an Israeli actor posed as a Palestinian nurse at Al Shifa Hospital, falsely claiming Hamas was holding them hostage. Such disinformation is designed to seed a narrative that justifies subsequent attacks on locations like Al Shifa Hospital. This tactic has been observed in numerous cases before Israel engages in actions that are widely condemned as war crimes against the Palestinian population.

It is important to note a slight but crucial difference in this disinformation campaign. While seeding the narrative involves misinformation like the use of human shields or fake videos of claimed Hamas tunnels, dehumanizing language, such as referring to Palestinians as “human animals” or “children of darkness,” goes beyond disinformation. This type of language can be characterized as genocidal propaganda, as it aims not only to excuse war crimes but also to dehumanize and erase the existence of the Palestinian people. Many experts consider this extremely dangerous.

GVS: So how do you catch this disinformation? I mean, I take your point 100% about the dehumanizing versus disinformation. But in terms of the disinformation, how do you actually discover this disinformation? How do you catch it? How do you then publicize it? And change the narrative? Because this issue is not just related to Hamas and Israel, right? We sing it globally worldwide.

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Fadi Quran: It is one of the most difficult challenges of our time, given how saturated the world has become with disinformation. What we found that works are four different pillars of action here. The first starts with simply monitoring and correcting the record. So, as a researcher, you can quickly assess the main sources and routes through which disinformation is spread. Then, follow those sources to correct the record and put out the counter-narrative. The second step is working with relevant social media networks and TV networks to put pressure to ensure that this content is not amplified.

Unfortunately, some networks purposefully or algorithmically amplify lies more than the truth, but pressuring them through various means can help prevent this. The third step is providing people with the real narrative, creating content that vaccinates them against disinformation. Educating the population helps build resilience, making it harder for them to believe false claims. Lastly, using humor has proven effective, as it is memorable and weakens the trust in top disinformation distributors.

GVS: Once the narrative has been created about something, though, it is very, very difficult to debunk it. I mean, if we take the example right at the beginning of the war, the 40 babies that were beheaded, I mean, literally in the first week or so, the story started coming out, and it was debunked again. Journalists refused to go back, and even Biden mentioned it. Although it was debunked later, that narrative is now stuck. How do you deal with something like that?

Fadi Quran: That is a good question. When a piece of disinformation spreads, it usually caters to those who already hold certain prejudices. Changing their minds is challenging. About 15-20% of any population may be firmly stuck in their beliefs. For the majority in the middle, the goal is not just debunking but replacing the narrative. Provide correct information and introduce an alternative narrative, slowly shifting public perception. Visual and intense disinformation, like the 40 beheaded babies, requires multiple pieces of correct information to challenge and change the narrative. While the 15-20% may be resistant, providing alternative narratives can change the beliefs of those in the middle over time.

GVS: How do you do that, though, in the middle of a war when your resources, for example, the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Palestinians abroad, might be limited? If it were dependent solely on individuals in Gaza, given their challenging circumstances, when would they find time to debunk the ongoing misinformation?

Fadi Quran: That is a tough question. Answering with vulnerability, it is incredibly challenging for us as Palestinians. We not only witness our children being killed and our loved ones massacred, and our cities destroyed, but amidst all that violence and heartbreak, we have to counter false narratives, asserting our humanity. It demands a significant amount of emotional labor. However, as Palestinians, it is essential for our survival. Correcting the record about us is crucial because if we do not, the ethnic cleansing, genocide, and massacres against us will worsen. In Gaza, it is heartening and heart-wrenching to see young people, teenagers, and 20-year-olds using any moment they can access social media to share videos and tell their stories, even when hungry. Individuals like Martez Isaiah, a 24-year-old journalist, and Policía, a 22-year-old journalist, are among the many Palestinians doing their best to convey their experiences. We rely on people with good conscience worldwide to help spread the truth. On an optimistic note, it is working. When people receive footage from those on the ground in Gaza and share it, the Palestinian narrative is gaining traction globally, including in the West. Despite the difficulties, we are succeeding in shifting how the world perceives Palestinians.

GVS: Thank you so much for your time.

Watch the entire conversation on Deep Dive YouTube Channel.