Reshaping the Geography: Palestinian Communities Networks in Europe and the New Media
The continuing difficulty of finding a solution to the physical return of the Palestinian Diaspora to the homeland is increasingly being addressed in the digital realm by the rise of virtual communities. PALESTA (Palestinian Scientists and Technologists Aboard) established at the end of 1997 in order to “harness the scientific and technological knowledge of expatriate professionals for the benefit of development efforts in Palestine”, has been one of the most important internet-based networks that have been developed to assist this process.
The PALESTA network functions mainly in the form of on-line discussion groups but also offers a database on the community of skilled Palestinians living abroad. Although PALESTA, in its conception, targets all Palestinian communities abroad, its main focus has been Europe and North America, and has thus neglected Palestinian communities in the Arab World.
In a rapidly changing communications sector there are often few opportunities for a distanced critique. Thus, this paper will discuss both the possibilities and the limitations of the PALESTA network. It will in addition examine new media technology and its significant implications in charting diasporic movements across national borders. As Ela Shohat suggested, internet networking does not suggest the ‘end of geography’ but rather a kind of ‘reshaping of geography’. Internet networking accomplishes this “reshaping” by simultaneously connecting various dispersed communities not only to their center but also to each other, periphery to periphery.
This essay will argue that in a process of construction and reconstruction of Palestinian identity that is largely affected by dispersed people with a fragile center of gravity (the Palestinian Territories which remain inaccessible to most dispersed refugee communities), new media can be a very important tool for establishing direct contact between these communities without necessarily bypassing the center.