The normalizing face of privilege.
OPINION | BY JADE SAAB
Nusseir Yassin, known as “Nas Daily”, has jumped to internet stardom with the one-minute daily Facebook videos he films as he travels around the world.
6.6 million people follow him on Facebook (including 60 of my Facebook friends), giving him a significant platform to reach out and promote — what he claims to be — a humanist mission focusing on the people of the world and their accomplishments.
Nusseir’s story, or at least the inspirational part of it, starts with him traveling from Israel to the US to study at Harvard. After graduating from there, he landed a high-paying job as a programmer at PayPal. He soon started despising the job which sent him on an existential quest which, at the end of, left him realizing that he has already wasted enough of his life and now needs to start living it. The way to do this: travel the world and make one-minute videos a day about his journey. Now, his videos range from people’s stories, how he’s grown as a person, fun facts about places and things, and motivational/uplifting stories.
Central, or rather, inescapable, to this has been Nusseir’s identity as an Arab-Israeli, which he has explored through several videos. Every occasion in which he has done so, however, presents an image of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is, not surprisingly, warped by unconscious privilege.
Why can’t I travel?
Being a 48’er (born from the descendants of Palestinians who held their ground after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948), Nusseir has one very important privilege not available to other Palestinians; an Israeli passport that allows for easy travel (and he’s aware of this).
It’s this single differentiation that has allowed Nusseir to embark on his journey of world exploration and allowed him to build a world view that allows him to interpret the world as ‘small’.
Nevertheless, Nusseir has still found a way to complain about the world being 90% complete for him since he is not allowed to visit 15 countries (due to his Israeli citizenship), and discuss how it is discriminating for Kuwait to deny him a layover as he flies through.
It’s confusing and concerning to see Nusseir use this platform to air out his personal grievances when his Palestinian neighbours suffer a much worse fate.
Those displaced by the Nakba, living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, or living outside of Palestine as refugees, are all classified as stateless people since the state of Palestine is not recognized by Israel.
This means that more than 8 million people do not hold a passport. If Palestinians wish to travel, they must obtain a travel document from the Palestinian Authority by proving their Palestinian identity. Something near impossible for children born to Palestinians refugees who then find themselves confined in refugee camps around the world. Even if a Palestinian was able to get a travel document, obtaining a visa to visit another country remains a lottery draw.
This is not to mention the day-to-day indignation Palestinians face at the hands of Israelis when trying to move within, what is supposed to be, their own country.
I understand that Nusseir is not exonerating Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, or the dire situations Palestinians face, but he is not speaking out against them either. The fact that he chooses to use his platform to highlight only the ‘discrimination’ he faces is nothing but a reflection of his position of privilege that allows him to ignore the context of why he is not allowed into those countries.
Through his videos, Nusseir tells us that these reasons are all political, and pleads with the governments of the 15 countries to see him as a human; but this is a privilege he has already been afforded across 90% of the world, a privilege not shared with those whose entire lives are being controlled by the overarching political narrative of the occupation. If Nusseir is to plead with any government, his efforts would be better spent pleading with the government of Israel (his government) to lift the occupation and recognize the state of Palestine and his travel woes are sure to melt away!
This problematic framing of the situation in Israel and Palestine through this privileged individualistic lens is present throughout many of Nusseir’s videos and speak volumes to his wilful ignorance. In a video where he speaks directly to the concept of him coming from Israel or Palestine, Nusseir reduces his options to two: reject Israel and claim he comes from Palestine, or move on and not get hung up on the name of a piece of land and respect the existence of both states.
The problems here are twofold. First, that the second state does not exist and there are no sort of defined borders for it to exist in. Nusseir presents the image of two states coexisting side by side, but there is no such thing. Palestine has been reduced to the Gaza Strip, which has been under an 11-year blockade by Israel, and the West Bank, which continues to be colonized with settlements and exists under military occupation with its citizens living under apartheid conditions while Palestinians in East Jerusalem continue to be expelled from their homes and have their permanent residency stripped from them (contrary to what Nusseir would have you believe about Jerusalem belonging to everyone).
Second, and more importantly, what are Palestinians still living under occupation or in exile to move on to? Are Palestinians who are refused the right to return to their rightful homes (against international law) supposed to shrug their shoulders and give up on their right of return and the right to have their homeland returned to them? Should Gazans accept that they will be living in the world’s largest open-air prison for decades to come? Or should Palestinians in the West Bank just accept the fact that their lands and orchards will continue being destroyed by settlers? These are situations Nusseir has been privileged enough to escape or avoid, but the fact that he seems oblivious or dismissive of the rightful Palestinian struggle for a homeland is flabbergasting.
The perversion of Nusseir’s view continue when, in a haphazard moment filming in Jerusalem, he encounters a resident who claims that all Arabs are stupid and barbaric. This racist incident leaves Nusseir speechless and he later figures that this racist outbreak (and racist opinions in general) was due to the fact that each of the ‘other side’ only sees violent images of each other. The way to fix this is to “take over TVs and Facebook news feeds” to show the world that we can all get along. In this false equivalence, Nusseir fails to address the reason this animosity exists in the first place (hint: occupation).
Nusseir’s rhetoric also completely glosses over the fact that this racism is necessary for the justification of the establishment of the state of Israel as a Jewish colonial state, and, for that matter, that any religious state inherently depends on the dehumanization of the other. How else can you justify the creation of a state within someone else’s state unless you believe that you have a divine superiority over its native inhabitants? The racism Nusseir experienced is not emergent, like current Arab antisemitism (Arabs and Jews were never mutually exclusive groups until the period of the establishment of the state of Israel), but is inherent to the colonial project.
It has long been said that Israel can either be democratic, representing all the people under its territory, or Jewish, continuing to treat Arabs within its control as second-class citizens. Israel chose the latter as a de facto state of its establishment and it is this that fuels the oppressive actions of the Jewish state today as it seeks to strictly control its demographics by continuing its colonial efforts and denying Arabs their basic human rights.
It is this rhetoric that makes videos such as this one asking if it is safe for Jews to roam in Arab cities, or this one that lauds the creation of a font that merges Arabic and Hebrew together, extremely problematic. They present the Palestinian struggle as a matter of individual perception, not institutional actions of oppression. As such, they subvert any meaningful conversation that can be had on the topic.
The ‘good Arab’
Whether or not Nusseir knows it, his rhetoric presents the perfect Hasbara (Hebrew term for propaganda aimed at an international audience) for the state of Israel. Not only does Nusseir never engage in the realities of the occupation, but by continuing to present himself as the rational actor he perpetuates the stereotype that other Arabs that do discuss the Palestinian cause are fanatics who just refuse to move on. Indeed, if we were to believe Nusseir, all Palestinians need to do is forget that their lands, homes, and history is being stolen and they might just be able to lead the same life as him.
Many will come to the defense of Nusseir’s videos and claim that I am taking a purposefully narrow view of his videos to fit my agenda. At the end of the day, the number of videos he dedicates to the topic are minuscule compared to the catchy, informative, and motivational content he produces. But that is exactly what the role of propaganda is, create something so seemingly normal that the abnormal becomes unnoticeable or even acceptable.
If Nusseir’s mission was really a humanistic one, even such seemingly innocent omissions of fact, which he justifies as an avoidance of politics, see him failing. It is up to us to decide whether or not we want to participate in this skewed presentation of humanity or face the uncomfortable facts in the privileged and sanitized myths perpetuated in his videos.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the writer’s only and do not necessarily represent those of The Turban Times.
This entry by Jade Saab originally appeared on Medium. A version of the article is published by The Turban Times with permission.