Bombs don’t discriminate between combatants and children. This sad fact became an inconvenient one last summer for Israel, which had maintained that its bombing of Lebanon was solely an attack on Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that had kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and menaced the Jewish state’s northern border. To an anxious Lebanese population who’d seen most of their country’s south reduced to a parking lot, Israel’s persistent message — We are doing this for your own good — rang increasingly hollow.
By the beginning of August, the French and American ambassadors to the United Nations had finally hammered out a cease-fire resolution. But as the Security Council prepared to vote, the Lebanese government and the Arab League declared that the agreement was too favorable to Israel. A tense and edgy delegation arrived in New York on August 8 to plead the Arab case.
Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, didn’t have to do much at those deliberations — simply listen to the complaints, appear to be the least obstructionist in the room, and restate his country’s position, as absurd as it may have sounded by that point, that Israel’s bombs were in fact helping the Lebanese people to free themselves from the “cancer” of Hezbollah that had metastasized in their midst. In this last task, he had an unusual ally: “I believe that one courageous Lebanese youngster was speaking for many when he wrote in his Internet blog, and I quote, ‘It is not only Israeli soldiers that the Hezbollah has taken hostage. It is us, the people of Lebanon.’”
This “Lebanese youngster” was, of course, a blogger, and maybe the first to have his words bounce off the solemn walls of the United Nations. And though he probably would not have appreciated being deployed as a weapon in Israel’s public-relations war, the presence of his independent voice, a counterintuitive opinion not filtered through any official source, said a lot about the power of Middle Eastern Web logs to expose a hidden trove of multiple perspectives in a world that the West often imagines as having only one perspective — that of the “Arab Street,” a place of conformity, of mass acquiescence to singular passions, be they blind support for a dictator or seething hatred of Israel.
Last summer was, in fact, a watershed moment for the Middle Eastern blogosphere. The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah not only brought attention to the many different Arab conversations that had taken place on homemade Web sites in the past two or three years, but also launched thousands more of them. And they were more than just a handful of aberrant voices. They reflected a new culture of openness, dialogue, and questioning. And unlike the neoconservative notion that these ideals can be dropped on a foreign population like so many bomblets, the push for change here is coming from within. Whether it is a Jordanian student discussing the taboo subject of the monarchy’s viability or a Saudi woman writing about her sexual experiences or an Egyptian commenting with sadness at an Israeli blogger’s description of a suicide bombing, each of these unprecedented acts is one small move toward opening up these societies.