Can Dating Apps and Kissing Selfies Help Stop Israeli-Palestinian Violence?

Israel’s offensive on Gaza continues to worsen with Israeli tanks shelling a Gazan hospital on Monday and continued attacks bringing the total death count to around 700. And Secretary of State Kerry has just said, "There's still work to be done" on efforts to broker a ceasefire. To say things look bleak would be quite the understatement. But maybe, in the words of John Lennon, all you need is love? 

The activists behind the "Jews and Arabs Refuse to Hate Each Other" Facebook page and social media campaign seem to think that at least moving in the direction of Lennon’s notion is worth a shot. And thousands seem to agree.

The group, just two weeks old, has some 12,500 followers on Facebook. Its message is simple: “Jews and Arabs against the hate and incitement. Join us.” And a photo of one Lebanese American woman and her Israeli boyfriend kissing with the hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies has indeed gone viral. Hundreds of others have jumped in, adding pictures of Israelis and Jews with their Arab friends, partners and even strangers—all standing together to thwart hate. 

So maybe love will, in fact, overcome? There is, of course, some hope in the fact that these images seem to be resonating among thousands, which has been echoed by the group's co-founder, Israeli Abraham Gutman

But with Israel and Gaza, it seems that the tone online and on social media is harsher and harsher and people are using more violent words. We wanted to produce a voice that counters that. We can disagree, but we must be able to diffuse the hate.

Important fersure. And yet, the vitriol, as aptly captured by Jon Stewart, seems to continue to dominate the discourse. An update from the Facebook page says: “As Arab-Israeli political tensions escalate, the social media discourse has become more hateful.” Sigh.

Let's Talk About Sex

If love in its purest sense isn’t doing the job, what about that carnal desire to get it on? If history has anything to offer, it's that those engaging in warfare are more prone to want to knock boots to blow off some steam. Can sex, then, help bridge the ever-widening Arab-Israeli divide?

We turn now to those venerable hook-up apps Tinder and Grindr. Perhaps enabling a meeting between certain body parts could lead to a meeting of the minds? For data, enter nascent PalesTinder, the brainchild of 26-year-old English teacher Caitlin Kent and six of her 20-something peers living and working in Ramallah, Palestine. Seeking to answer the question “Does love conquer all?” the group “decided to create a little social experiment: How will the Israeli occupation of Palestine be reflected in dating apps?”

The group has proceeded to engage with a primarily Israeli-populated dating app community on Tinder and Grindr, uploading anonymous screenshots of their conversations. You can check them out for yourself by visiting the Tumblr page. Here’s a brief recap of Kent's findings so far:

We have talked about it as a group and noticed some trends, and we can basically sort the chats into three different groups. Group A: Just stop talking to us or unmatch once they find out we live in Ramallah. Group B: React negatively to any mention of Ramallah and Palestine. These reactions range from calling us terrorists to extremely long paragraphs (we have one interaction that is over 20 screenshots long) where we are lectured about ‘how stupid we are to believe that there is a place called Palestine.’ And finally Group C: People who are indifferent or claim to be ‘nonpolitical’ and still try to get us into bed.

It bears noting that these aren’t even Palestinian users, but instead Americans who’ve chosen to live and work on the West Bank. Just imagine the recoil against Palestinian swipe-right-and-lefters . . . And while perhaps there’s some hope offered up by Group C, that seems to point more to extreme horniness than anything having to do with peace. 

And then there are reports of Tinder being used to disseminate pro-Israeli propaganda. Instead of including a duck-face selfie, the profile for “Israel,” age “34,” instead contains images conveying phrases like: “We’re using anti-missile systems to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles that’s the difference,” and, “While Israel protects the holy sites of Jerusalem, Hamas targets rockets at them.” Not that we really thought Tinder would be the long-missing component to bring about lasting peace, but . . . really?

The takeaway? Perhaps Kent, founder of PalesTinder, has it right about her experiment and its function: “It is shedding light on the pervasiveness of racist sentiments within Israel. We would hope that meaningful debate would come from the massacre that is happening in Gaza right now and not from our Tumblr, but if the Tumblr reaches people and leads to these conversations, then it has served a purpose." 

So much for Lennon. The killing drags on.

Image: ThinkStock

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