“Looking to the Good side of the WAR!!!” “Israel – finish Hizbollah!” “Jail ALL muslims in the USA!” “All Jews Must Die Now!”
Those were some of the topics of discussion on the Beirut.com message boards over the past few days.
The now nearly two-week-old conflict between Israel and Lebanon has already been tagged the “most blogged war yet,” and as one might expect, many of the messages being lobbed across the blogosphere have taken on fiercely partisan stances.
But at points the bitter divide has also been breached by teens and twentysomethings who are reaching out to their peers across the political and cultural borders, sending messages of hope, pleas for peace, offering space for conflicting opinions and idealistic visions of the future.
One of Israel’s leading bloggers, Lisa Goldman, thinks the proliferation of blogs covering the border war is a sign that a change is coming. “If you follow the voices, you can see that several Israeli bloggers switched from Hebrew to English early on to reach out to Lebanese bloggers in the hope that they would get in touch and leave some comments,” said Goldman, a Canadian freelance journalist who moved to Israel in 2000 and runs the “On the Face” site.
An example of some of those sites include “Hello Lebanon, Hello Israel,” which has featured an ongoing, mostly civil dialogue, and “Joint Voices,” run by a 28 year-old male Beiruti named Bash and a 24-year old female university student from Tel Aviv named Lilu. In describing their page, the two wrote, “Looking for some intelligent dialog between nationalities — a place for anyone and everyone to speak their mind, and listen to other minds, and maybe some difference, no matter how small, will be made.” Other sites, such as “The Truth Laid Bear” — which features a cartoon logo that should not detract from its serious content — reach for a kind reach for a kind of evenhandedness by compiling material from Israeli and Lebanese blogs, with most of the posts bashing the other side in one way or another.
Confused about the recent violence in the Middle East? Check out our primer.
Goldman, 39, said that since the first bombs began dropping on July 12, both Lebanese and Israeli bloggers, most in their late 20s and early 30s, have been hosting threads for the other side and talking about their differences, but also commiserating about how similar their countries are. “To a certain extent, we all agree that we’ve been pulled into this war, but the vast majority of Lebanese, even the moderates … how can they be detached when their city is being blown to smithereens?” Goldman said.
“Up until two weeks ago, a bunch of us were blogging about having open borders and traveling by train from Tel Aviv to Beirut and talking about how the cities are near mirror images: with a party nightlife and cafes by the beach and restaurants open at any hour,” she continued. “It’s hard and tragic to have it blow up in our faces like this.”
When the history of this conflict is written, Goldman said, people will remember how at the height of the conflict, when hundreds of Lebanese civilians were being killed and Israelis in Haifa were retreating to their bomb shelters several times a day, bloggers were still talking to each other. “Lots of bloggers are the westernized, intellectual elite of their country who are tech-savvy, speak two languages and have studied abroad. They will be the future leaders of their countries in politics and business,” she predicted.
As an example of the tenacity of her fellow bloggers in the face of near-impossible circumstances, Goldman related the story of an online friend who was instant-messaging with her from a rooftop in Beirut, using his WiFi connection and describing bombs falling all around him while she was sitting in her apartment in Tel Aviv. Once he left Beirut and made it to Damascus, he popped up again to say hello and tell her he was safe — but that he couldn’t hang around to chat because Syria has a death sentence for anyone caught communicating with Israel.
“Here was this ongoing, civilized conversation going on while the country is being destroyed,” she said. “This is the first conflict where the citizens of enemy countries are blogging in real time to each other, around each other, about each other and to each other, describing in very vivid, unfiltered ways what it’s like to live in a war zone.”
The administrator of the Lebanese Bloggers site, Raja, 26, said most of the online dialogue is not as “peachy” as some reports have made it out to be, and some of the openness in communication bloggers are enjoying could very well come back to haunt them. “You have aggressive, patronizing and chauvinistic entries, but then you have entries that try to explain positions and push for some sort of mutual understanding,” he wrote in an e-mail. Raja, who has lived in Maryland for the past four years since leaving Lebanon, added that, “Once in a while, you also see an entry that calls for ’peace and love’ between Arabs or Lebanese and Israelis. You need to keep in mind a very important point, however: The mere fact that Lebanese are reading the Israeli perspective from regular Israeli citizens is an accomplishment in the sense that it breaks some serious taboos in Lebanese society.”
Because Lebanon and Israel are formally in a state of war, Raja said that bloggers are “sticking our necks out as well” in circumventing what is the accepted method of referring to Israel in Lebanon’s political discourse — which is “the enemy.”
“Consequently, I and a lot of my fellow bloggers are walking on a very thin line,” he said. “We cannot explicitly welcome dialogue between Israelis and Lebanese because of past policies and the continuing Israeli-Arab conflict.
Yet we will not step out of our way to prevent such a development. Hopefully, things will work out for the best.”
Some bloggers are taking the opportunity to dream about a different future, such as one Israeli who goes by Shai 2046, who identifies himself as a 28 year-old resident of Tel Aviv. He launched his blog in May with the notion that 40 years from now Israel and Lebanon will be free and open societies and share an open, peaceful border. Shai, who calls himself “just another blogger from the future,” writes about his vision of rapid, cross-border transit such as his image of a “Pilgrim Express” high-speed train from Jerusalem to Beirut.
For some, though, the bitterness and bloodshed has been too much. A blogger who goes by the name the Perpetual Refugee wrote earlier this year about a moment he had in a cab while visiting Tel Aviv in which he sheepishly told his cab driver that he is Lebanese. It turned out the cab driver was a Lebanese Jew and the two bonded over their shared ancestry and their longing to return home. “He understood that as long as we maintain the dream, we maintain that hope,” he wrote. “And he understood that this Lebanese man of a different religious faith sitting across from him also identified with his longing, and that I didn’t categorize him by his faith. My God is his God. My country is his country. My land is his land. And my house is his house.” Goldman said she hung out and became friends with the Refugee earlier this year when he visited Israel.
But the war has changed his belief in shared experience and caused a seemingly irreparable rift with his Israeli friend, resulting in what Goldman described as a “complete 180″ in his attitude. “I know them. I worked with them. I made friends amongst them,” he recently wrote of his cross-border contacts in Israel. “Together we had built a fragile bridge between our two cultures. Yet, as with every other bridge built over the years, it was cruelly destroyed by barbarism. Only this was with my blessing. This is one bridge I don’t want to rebuild.”
Not every bridge has been burned, however. The Perpetual Refugee still has a link on his site to “On the Face.”
For more on the Israeli-Lebanese conflict, see “Behind The Lines Of The Israeli/ Lebanese Conflict: Two American Students’ Stories” and visit CBSNews.com.
For a story about American soldiers in Iraq filming their experiences, see “Iraq Uploaded: The War Network TV Won’t Show You, Shot By Soldiers And Posted Online.”