The blogs did what they do best. First, you had full descriptions from individuals of their experience under the bombardment, both physical and psychological: an Israeli blogger named Gavriel, for one, tried to give a face to the Israeli army then moving north into Lebanon. “We know these soldiers,” he wrote. “They’re all of our kids — for some of us literally so. We’ve known them since they were little. They’ve grown up in front of us, we’ve watched how they were raised. We’ve watched them shoot hoops, and play games in the street. We’ve bought cotton candy from their neighborhood stands … . They’re not killers but defenders, the best we’ve got.” Or there was Lebanese Lady, writing, “What I feel now, as a citizen, and what everyone feels is disappointment, anger, anxiety, frustration. We’re scared and locked up at home. War came in a day. War in one day. All the books I’ve read about war, the daily news on Afghanistan and Iraq, how we were saying ‘how terrible the situation was in Gaza’ — and now I’m living it.”
In addition to this outpouring of real-time testimony, you could read actual discussions, and often heated arguments, taking place in the comments sections of certain blogs, in which Lebanese and Israelis engaged each other at the deepest levels about the politics of the conflict, their fears, and sometime even their hopes for the days after. Those provided an important outlet for many people, even when the rhetoric was belligerent. At least we’re talking, bloggers frequently pointed out. One site, lebanesebloggers.blogspot.com, created in February 2005, became one of the main destinations for such conversations, and during the month-long duration of the fighting, received a quarter of a million page views.
Lisa Goldman, an Israeli blogger who grew up in Canada, has far-reaching contacts in the Arab blogosphere and has been, for many Arab bloggers, their first link with an Israeli. She worried that in the darker moments those lines of communication would be cut. And to some degree, she admits, they were. Friendships were ruptured. But for the most part, the connections stayed intact. “I pictured a very small core of people huddling together surrounded by this massive, massive sea of hate — everyone just yelling at each other and pulling out the same old narratives and arguments and refusing to see past them,” she said. “The only solace, I think, was that at the end of the day, if you really look at what happened, even with war flaring around us, it was impossible for the bloggers from both sides who were talking to really wage a battle against someone you had a genuine relationship with.”
The blogger known as Egyptian Sandmonkey, the twenty-five-year-old son of a prominent member of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party, is on the phone from Cairo and laughing. “I didn’t know there was such a thing as a poor Jew,” he says. “What? Poor Jews? How did that happen? I thought that at your bar mitzvah you got full membership and the manual for how to rule the world. And then they give you your shares in the media. I keep telling my friends, if the Jews really control the media, they are some of the most self-hating Jews I’ve ever met in my life.”
Developing a complex picture of Jews, and of Israelis (the distinction between the two is not often made in the Arab world), is no easy task in Egypt. Even for someone like Sandmonkey, who comes from what he calls an “upper middle-class family,” and was educated largely outside his birth country, the distorted perceptions run deep. “The Egyptians know nothing about the Israelis,” he says. “We don’t know anything about Israeli society. We don’t know anything about their culture. And part of that has been our government trying to keep us away from the information. An Israeli can come into Egypt very easily. For an Egyptian to go to Israel, it’s really, really hard to do. You have to go through a large bureaucratic process. And the point is to keep us in the dark. Don’t humanize the people. It’s easier to vilify the Jews in Israel.”