Lebanese and Israelis exchange views online

by Jean-Marc Manach
25 July 2006
Paris - In 2003, Salam Pax, the pseudonym of an Iraqi blogger, enabled millions of Internet users to follow the advance of American troops in real-time from Baghdad. The "blogosphere" was then bristling with controversies: was the United States right to go to war, and was this an invasion or a liberation? And attention focused on the Iraqi blogger not only because he wrote in English-and with some talent-but also because there were practically no other Iraqi bloggers around.

The difference with the war in Lebanon is that there is a legion of Salam Pax's, both on the Lebanese and the Israeli sides. They are indeed so numerous that websites have been set up to take an inventory of them, to syndicate their postings and finally to facilitate consulting them: Jblogosphere and Webster on the Israeli side; OpenLebanon and Lebanese Blogger Forum on the Lebanese side; while The Truth Laid Bear has, for its part, made an inventory of bloggers on both sides of the border, as well as of Palestinian bloggers.

These sites feature international calendars of pro-Israeli and pro-Lebanese protests, practical information (emergency phone numbers, contact information for the Red Cross or blood banks), and photos and propaganda videos which, because they can be shocking, have not been published by Western media.

Like their fellow citizens, a majority of Israelis support the Tsahal (Israel Defence Forces) and are especially concerned by Hezbollah's missiles. Others condemn the biased perception of the international community. IsraPundit thus likens CNN to a mouthpiece of Hezbollah. On the Lebanese side, incomprehension and anger take precedence in the face of the violence of Israeli bombings and the number of civilians killed (BloggingBeirut), alongside the impression that it is the country itself, more than Hezbollah alone, that Tsahal wishes to destroy (Stop Destroying Lebanon).

But what is most outstanding is that beyond ideological diatribes and reflex reactions, snippets of a true dialogue are beginning to appear between Israeli and Lebanese Internet users. Ignoring their political differences, they benefit from the human, not to say intimate, aspect of blogs to engage in a conversation that conventional media cannot enable.

"With the web, the war becomes personal"

Ramzi, 27, lives in Beirut. The first post published on his blog, launched just two years ago, attested to the challenge of living in a country so invaded by tourists that it becomes difficult to find a seat at the terrace of a café. In early July, he mentioned the fact that, while waiting for a visa, he kept cancelling his plane ticket and saying "goodbye" to his friends. Today, he comments on the "Israeli aggression" through, namely, advertisements full of humour and poetry. Several Israelis have written to him in the form of comments to condemn the "waste" of this war, express their compassion, wish for a quick resolution to the conflict and call for peace between "neighbours". Ramzi summarises this in a single line: "With the web, the war becomes personal" - thanks to blogs, amateur videos posted on the Internet and to the comments posted by Internet users.

For Lisa Goldman, a Canadian-Israeli journalist and blogger who lives in Tel Aviv, this was the "first time that residents of 'enemy' countries engaged in an ongoing conversation while missiles were falling". And the examples abound. Thus, the first person to react on her posting dedicated to an anti-war protest last Sunday was a Lebanese woman who condemns the state of siege, the destruction of her country and the death of civilians but adds that "with people like you, the dialogue will continue; we have no choice".

Beyond generating this type of civilised dialogue between citizens of warring nations, the Internet also creates otherwise more unsettling situations where the military, and those who support it, are kept informed of the consequences of their actions by the very people they are bombing. Last Monday, Shachar, a Tsahal soldier usually stationed at the Lebanese border, was on leave to attend a funeral. He took advantage of this by consulting a collaborative and very popular blog, Lebanese Bloggers, in order to stay informed of what is happening on the other side of the border: "We can't see all the bombing in Lebanon from Israel (naturally, we're focusing on bombs in Israel)".

When hate fades away...

For several nights now, Lisa Goldman has found herself "chatting" live with a Lebanese man she met through his blog. Sitting on the roof of his apartment building in Beirut, he describes his impressions to her while Israeli missiles fall on the city "in a human, personal way that no newspaper article or television news segment can convey".

More generally speaking, what comes out of these conversations-through blogs or interspersed commentaries between Israelis and Lebanese-is a feeling of powerlessness and sadness regarding this conflict over the civilian losses it has caused, and over the policymakers of their respective countries and their international allies who have subjected them to this fait accompli. Hope is also present in these conversations, for while many Lebanese bloggers today feel hate toward Israel and will now refuse any contact with Israelis, most of those who communicate online do not consider themselves as "enemies" but as "neighbours".

Lisa Goldman goes even further: "When the anger dissipates, perhaps they will remember the personal connections with their 'enemies'". Catching herself dreaming that the next generation of Lebanese and Israeli politicians and business leaders will benefit from such intimate relations, she concludes that "it's not so easy to kill someone you know... as a human being, not simply as 'the former enemy'".


* Jean-Marc Manach is a journalist for Le Monde. He also maintains a blog, rewriting.net, a distribution list on the information war, guerrelec, and a research interface of 200 search engines and databases, manhack.net. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Le Monde, July 19, 2006

Visit Le Monde at www.lemonde.fr

Distributed by the Common Ground News Service - Partners in Humanity (CGNews-PiH).

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