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Alternate perceptions and #TheDress

At the end of February, I encountered #TheDress, the week’s highest trending hashtag on Twitter.
[additional-authors]
March 18, 2015

At the end of February, I encountered #TheDress, the week’s highest trending hashtag on Twitter. I saw #WhiteandGold, wondering whether those who saw #BlueandBlack were in on a worldwide prank. Like many, I simply could not fathom how others could see otherwise. 

The identification of the dress became an Internet obsession, trending more than Jihadi John’s recently discovered identity. Questions about the dress preoccupied me for days. The dress had to have one color reality, and if my eyes were wrong this time, I wondered how many times my eyes had previously betrayed me. Was this photographic subjectivity the first of its kind? These questions must have haunted millions, as tweets about the dress quickly surpassed 10 million in the first week. For many, the dress provoked an existential crisis regarding the nature of perception and reality.

Several days after I saw the dress, I was in Washington D.C. for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. Mosab Hassan Yousef, a Palestinian who worked as an undercover informant for Israel’s internal security service, told his story during a plenary session.  As the son of the Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, Mosab’s hatred for Jews was ingrained in him from an early age.  In keeping with family tradition, he had planned to stab innocent Israeli civilians to death. 

His plot was thwarted when he was arrested. In prison, he witnessed Hamas members torturing their own people suspected of being Israeli collaborators. In contrast, the Israelis interrogated Mosab in a humane manner. After internalizing this discrepancy and confronting the truth, Mosab became an informant for Israel.

Mosab explained why he decided to divulge his story, even if it meant never being able to return home:  “to help an entire Palestinian and Israeli generation to see things for what they are. Sometimes we trust our perceptual ability, but apparently our senses are very deceptive and there’s always a different truth beneath what seems or appears.” 

At that moment, it hit me. The enigmatic dress actually exemplified what Mosab was describing.  Something that at first seems so clear can actually be subjective. As a young teenager, Mosab was willing to murder innocent life for Hamas. But just a few years later, he would save Jewish lives and ultimately those of his Arab brothers and sisters, because he was able to see the real Hamas.

I won’t pretend to understand how one person can see blue and the other white. People simply have differing perceptions and it doesn’t take an Internet craze for complicated political situations to illustrate the point. However, there must be an objective nature of the essence of something as tangible as a dress. After the Internet community begged for explanations of the dress, the question was answered just days later by scientists who explained the difference in perception. After all, the color of the dress was not subjective; it was objectively blue and black.

With the dress, misperceiving reality was harmless. But in Mosab’s case, the truth is vital. Sometimes, it may seem just as difficult to truly understand the nature of the conflict, especially with so many falsehoods and photoshopping created by many Palestinians to persuade people of what is, by showing what is not. The more people see a doctored version of reality, the more they negate true reality in order to reconcile the two. 

This is why it is difficult for people to view Hamas as the true aggressor; because the Palestinians are often portrayed as powerless compared to the state of Israel. It is true, Mosab explained, that the Palestinian people suffer. However, he said, it takes true understanding of reality to see that Hamas, not Israel, is at fault for Palestinian suffering.

The relationship between Hamas, its people, and Israel is more complicated than white and gold or blue and black.  But any honest redress of grievances requires that Hamas show its true colors.

Eliana Rudee is a Fellow with the Salomon Center. She is a Core18 Fellow and a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied International Relations and Jewish Studies. She published her thesis in Perceptions and Strategic Concerns of Gender in Terrorism. Follow her @ellierudee.

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