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Clubhouse Becomes An Emotional Meeting Place For Israelis And Palestinians

The Clubhouse logo is seen on an iPhone screen in this photo illustration. A Clubhouse room has become a place where Palestinians and Israelis speak openly about the conflict in Gaza.
Jaap Arriens
NurPhoto via Getty Images
The Clubhouse logo is seen on an iPhone screen in this photo illustration. A Clubhouse room has become a place where Palestinians and Israelis speak openly about the conflict in Gaza.

Conversations about sensitive issues on social media often become full-blown arguments. But this week, with violence raging between Israel and the Palestinians, a group of people gathered on Clubhouse, a social audio networking app, for a marathon conversation on the subject. The room, titled Meet Palestinians and Israelis, started as a private chat between friends that turned into a six-day conversation with at times up to 159,000 listeners.

"I started a private chat with friends and we were speaking about recent news," says Moshe Markovich, the Mexico-based moderator of Balance, a Clubhouse room that focuses on good conversation, which has been hosting the talk.

"We started to talk about the Gaza Strip conflict and more friends began to join our room," he says. "We decided to open this up to the public and make it an open conversation."

What started as a private chat, with no name for the topic, turned into an emotional conversation — the public Clubhouse room became a place where both Israeli and Palestinians have continued intense, open and impactful conversations from their own perspectives.

Haitham El Khatib, a Palestinian living in British Columbia, found the room randomly after joining Clubhouse. At first he says he found the discussion welcoming, but after speaking he wished for more from the conversation. "People were asking for solutions, which is great, but they were not acknowledging the actual situation," Khatib says. "I believe the conversation needs to be ongoing and not moving around to different topics."

Markovich says he's "hosted rooms focused on many different topics, but didn't realize how emotional I would get hearing these conversations. My views have totally shifted."

"As someone who has lived in Israel in the past, who was taught one way about the other side, but now that has changed, it was a tough pill to swallow because these are human beings, we need to empathize with how someone else is feeling," he says.

During this continued conversation the moderators asked the audience to blink their mics (turning them on and off) if their views or opinions had changed as they heard from many different voices. Many people did, signaling that the conversations were having an impact.

"It felt like the U.N., but of the people," Markovich says. "The people discussing their views in the room were being transparent and it's not easy to hear these thoughts. My hope is that somebody with authority can do something. We don't need private conversations happening in backrooms. Why can't we have open discussions on a platform like Clubhouse, where authority figures can come in and hear from the people and give us their perspectives?"

The moderators hope the conversation will continue for as long as it's needed. Conversations in Clubhouse can last from one hour to a full day, but this one has been going on for six days. Moderators have been pulling long shifts, working throughout the night to make sure the conversation continues, only taking breaks to sleep and eat.

"I think as long as people are enjoying the conversation then it can continue for as long as we want it to," says Amit Harris of Chicago, who was in the private room before it became an open discussion about the Gaza conflict.

"Clubhouse conversations can go on for days, but become repetitive. At this point some stories are going to sound familiar, but each person's story is unique and fascinating and that's why I'm really enjoying this room," Harris says. "There's less talking at people and more talking with people. Everyone can share an experience or belief and it's not debated. It's just accepted as what that person has to say. We hope everyone that joins the room will contribute in a positive way and continue to share our experiences."

People turning to social media platforms during times of unrest is nothing new. In 2011, during the Arab Spring, Twitter was the main platform used by protesters to spread messages and share updates.

"I remember in 2011, I was in my senior year of undergrad and I remember listening to updates regarding the Arab spring," Harris says. "There was a feeling of hope as each of these different countries were having a moment. It felt like using a platform like Twitter we were going to see effect and change. It didn't pan out as promising as it seemed. I'm hoping moving forward that social audio and platforms like Clubhouse have what it takes to effect some change in the future."

Esther Mohadeb, of Brooklyn, N.Y., has been listening to the conversation for the past two days. "I have family in Israel who I am very worried about," Mohadeb says. "It can be very impactful and powerful to hear from people with different perspectives. I think it's different from being on social media and just reading a short post or comment. You actually hear someone's voice quiver or the emotions of what they are going through. That's had a lasting impact on me. I want the military to protect Israel, but this conversation has me now asking, at what cost?"

Khatib calls it an "educational experience for everyone in the room" and says it's "a good thing for those joining."

The original plan for the room was to keep it open until the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was announced, but so many participants were waiting their turn to speak that the moderators decided to keep it open.

"We had 50+ people still waiting to speak, some were waiting for two days and we just couldn't get to everybody," Markovich says. "As long as people want to share their stories and experience, we'll keep the room open."

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Matt Adams
Matt Adams is an Audience Engagement Strategist at NPR, where he is always thinking of how a broadcast company can do more on the internet. His focus is on social media strategy and how to connect NPR with new audiences in creative ways, from community building to social audio.
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