Lately it’s been getting harder and harder to sleep at night. Images of my countrymen being stabbed, axed or rammed to death keep popping up.
It’s not that I have a particularly sick mind. It’s just that for the past few days, I, and the other millions upon millions of social media users - have been bombarded with videos and photos showing Israelis and Palestinians, dead, dying or gravely injured. Children abused and kicked while they’re dying, women stabbed or gunned down in the streets, men lying unconscious after having failed to escape their attackers, or burning alive after attempting to ignite Molotov cocktails.
We won't provide you with any links to these videos in this article. You can easily find them online. Chances are you happened upon them already, courtesy of the newest, and by far the most sickening online trend to capture the screens of Israelis and Palestinians (and outside observers) for quite some time: snuff.
In the last couple of weeks Israelis and Palestinians have both been disseminating photos and videos of terror attacks and dead bodies, primarily using Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter. The uncensored, unedited videos - far more graphic than the heavily-censored versions that later appear on the evening news - spread like wildfire.
There’s no other way to say this: documented death has gone viral. Last week, a video that documented the (non-fatal) shooting of Asraa Zidan Tawfik Abed, a 30-year-old mother from Nazareth who attempted to stab a soldier in Afula, was shared throughout the world and eventually found its way to traditional media outlets.
Let us be clear: A growing predilection for snuff is not exclusively an Israeli-Palestinian phenomenon. We live in a snuff world, full of ISIS beheading videos, dead Syrian children, shocking images like the abandoned body of Michael Brown, and explosive videos like the death of Eric Garner. All cause outrage, have changed national and global conversations, and have inspired both cover stories and protest movements.
But in Israel-Palestine, suddenly, snuff has become inescapable.
Every Palestinian intifada has something that defines it: In the first intifada, it was rocks. In the second, bus bombings. This quasi-intifada is all about the smartphone.
Snuff itself, in the Israeli context, is not new. The post-terror death video has existed as a local genre at least since the Second Intifada. The death of Muhammad al-Durrah, captured by a Palestinian cameraman, escalated the violence. The video of the lynch of two lost Israeli reserve soldiers in Ramallah in 2000, at the start of the Second Intifada, horrified Israelis too. Over the next years, pictures of mutilated corpses - Israeli and Palestinian alike - would enter mass circulation via email.
Chain emails with pictures of corpses certainly affected the attitude of both Israelis and Palestinians, but importantly - you could escape them. You could recognize them by their subject line and simply choose not to open them. You could direct them automatically to spam.
What social media has done, though, is it made snuff nearly impossible to get away from. With video autoplay on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, one doesn’t even need to click on a snuff video to see it - you simply scroll down, unwittingly, and there it is. Death clips are now readily-accessible sometimes mere moments, after a terror attack, turning ordinary users into self-professed forensic investigators. Was that shooting justified self-defense, or an unlawful execution? Leave your comments below.
Even the staged, scripted propaganda films of yore, such as this video that made the rounds on Arab message boards last week, can’t compete: They simply pale in comparison to the real thing.
Writhing on the ground
This week, for instance, two videos in particular triggered global outrage: One showed a bleeding 13-year-old Palestinian boy named Ahmed Manasrah, who along with a 15-year-old cousin, stabbed a number of people in Jerusalem. In the video, the injured boy is seen writhing and squirming on the ground, his legs bent in an unnatural angle, while bystanders hurl insults at him.
The second video, equally horrifying, is a security-cam footage showing a terror attack in Jerusalem’s Malchei Yisrael Street earlier this week: The Palestinian terrorist, a resident of East Jerusalem and employee of Israel’s telecom company Bezeq, is shown ramming his car into bystanders, then proceeding to attack them with an axe (murdering a Jewish orthodox rabbi) before being shot dead.
Pro-Palestinians (and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas) used the video of Manasrah to demonstrate the crimes of Zionism, without mentioning the context of the event (namely, that Manasrah had just stabbed and critically injured two people). Pro-Israelis used the video of the attack to display the barbarism of the Palestinians.
Each used the videos for their own purposes, but in effect they did the same thing - they traded videos of slaughtered people to prove a point.
Which really speaks to one of the great dangers of snuff culture: In snuff, there is no context, no names, no backgrounds, no complexity. Can there really be an end to violence, when all day, every day, one is bombarded with a toxic concentration of barbarism? All snuff does, all it can do, is incite hatred, potentially creating more snuff.
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