Analysis of Four Blogs from Israel and Palestine by Michael Pogachar (2006)

Among the plethora of blogs found about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I selected four to focus my investigation.  Two Israelis and two Palestinians maintain these blogs, and they live (and were born) in the respective territories.  By choosing people who live in the region, I hoped to learn what living in such unimaginable conditions is like from real individuals, from primary sources, from text unedited, unpublished (in the traditional sense), written as a sort of public diary or public catharsis.

Sifting through dozens of Palestinian sites, I picked up a pattern common to almost every blog I glanced at: Palestinians, and other Arabs blogging from places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq, feel a solidarity which takes root in culture and nationality.  This affection for their neighbors (city-wide, national, and regional neighbors) reaches past individual suffering.  Many post reactions to region-wide problems.  For example, a Saudi discusses Iran’s nuclear issues and a Lebanese man discusses the possibility of Iraqi civil war.  I understood quickly that these people share goals: they only want to be recognized as civilized by the outsider looking in, and they pray for peace like anyone else.

Another regular thread I noted was the Arab urge to get their voice out.  In some blogs the writers called for comments from foreigners, Americans in particular, in order to get a sense of how the world at large perceives their situations.  I read a few such replies, all from adults (they mentioned what they did for a living), which reiterated the bias America conveys to its citizens; namely, the preference toward Israeli support.  As we have seen through the visiting speakers, Arabs abhor the amount of support (financial especially) America gives to the Israelis, who (as the Arabs claim and as some of the blogs attempt to prove) use the aid to weaken and debilitate the Palestinian culture in any way possible.

These protesters show no remorse calling for the destruction of Israel through violence.  Such blogs took me longer to find than the ones calling for peaceful resolutions, which surprised me.  I expected my searches to lead me to those sites that run parallel to our American perceptions (even stereotypes) about the Arab world, which portray them as angry followers of a vengeful Allah who slaughters his way through history to advance Islam (and variations of that picture).  But those types of blog do not surface as much as those which proffer dialogue and diplomatic work within the conflict.

Along the same grounds, many Israeli blogs call for unity with Palestinians.  Some Israelis acknowledge their superior position in the territory, since their government has the support of the Western world.  Yet those who live in the area understand the plight of the Palestinians and call for some sort of balance.

Like any group, extremist Israelis want nothing to do with their counterparts.  I did not find any calls for violence against the Palestinians but more of an urgency for defense against suicide bombings and other attacks perpetrated on Israeli soil.  I think Israelis understand their military and diplomatic might over Palestinians so their points of view materialize from that knowledge.

On the whole, the blogs of Palestinians and Israelis reflect the consciousness explored within their literatures.  No firm attitude presides over everyone’s feelings because, like normal people, everyone thinks differently.  I think the world must keep this fact in mind if it wants to help resolve the conflict: Palestinians and Israelis are not terms coined to cover alien species; Palestinians and Israelis represent people like Canadians and Americans: all people, all emotive, all with eyes on ways to remedy the conflict.  The world’s duty lies in assistance: we must intervene to an extent that will support the wishes of each side while resolving the differences that spark hatred and incongruence.

First I will discuss Gloria Salt’s blog, an Israeli woman who lives in Rehovot, Israel, about fourteen miles south of Tel Aviv.  She calls her blog “Apropos of Nothing” and it discusses issues like love and politics but what struck me most about her blog is a personal anecdote that details an act of aggression.  On August 23, 2005, Gloria writes about a raid on a Palestinian house in Gaza that she read about in the news.  The story radiates not a wild skirmish but a low-key encounter, but it affected Gloria strongly because she had a son of nine months.

Intelligence gathered an attack was planned for a nearby road, and the supposed perpetrators made headquarters in the house:

Intelligence or no intelligence, the decision had already been made that the IDF was evacuating Gaza. A cease-fire had been agreed to and was scheduled to go into effect within the next two days. This was known to both the soldiers on their approach to the house and the Palestinians inside it. The unit was on a final operation before departure, a last-minute mop-up.
As the Israelis approached the house, the leader of the terrorist cell, Amran al-Rul, emerged and opened fire. He was immediately shot dead. As the Israelis took their positions, Amran’s brother, Mahmoud, detonated a massive explosive charge concealed in a corner of the house, crushing IDF Sergeant-Major Erez Ashkenazi. He died on the way to the hospital. The week before, he had turned twenty-one.

Gloria knows her son will serve in the Israeli army.  She empathized with Ashkenazi’s family, writing that they would have to live with the knowledge their son had died for a piece of land already given away and was engaged to be married after completing his service.

The remainder of the blog wonders how the future will look for her son (whom she never names), when at eighteen he’ll be forced to serve.  She makes no mention of the Palestinian victims of the raid, which surprises me since she mentions not one but two Palestinians, who were brothers.

Moreover, she supports what she calls a disengagement from Palestinians, writing she hopes the two sides can resolve the conflict before her son patrols Gaza.  But like all decisions made in this part of the world, she writes, the Gaza pullout, for all its strategic logic, is ultimately a crapshoot.

So in Gloria Salt we find an Israeli woman whose passion for peace takes root in her son and who exhibits no remorse for, say, a Palestinian woman who also recently gave birth.  Her point of view is removed from the macrocosmic level and focused on the microcosm of her family.  Years from now, should her son be killed on a patrol in Gaza, I’m willing to say her animosity for her “enemy” will overcome her.

This example of an Israeli woman represents the care women display for their children, and indeed represents how, if she had it her way, there would be no armed conflict at all because such a situation would ensure the safety of her son’s life.  How different is an example of an Israeli male?

I found a man named Geviha ben Pesisa’s blog interesting.  He lives in Israel [editorial note: apparently, he lives in New York City] but does not disclose his exact location or age, though from his posts I’d say he’s in his thirties or forties.  Geviha doesn’t reveal his marriage status or occupation but every entry of the blog damages any hope for peace in his world.

His posts prior to the 2005 Israeli evacuation of Gaza and the West Bank show his vehemence against the Palestinian people.  He writes that whenever Palestinians gain control of land, they destroy and Jewish archaeological remains in order to obliterate any physical proof of the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel.  But Israel, he writes, has Allah’s blessing for the land, as laid out in the Qur’an.  He links to a site that features the following passage:

“Pharaoh sought to scare them [the Israelites] out of the land [of Israel]: but We [Allah] drowned him [Pharaoh] together with all who were with him. Then We [Allah] said to the Israelites: ‘Dwell in this land [the Land of Israel]. When the promise of the hereafter [End of Days] comes to be fulfilled, We [Allah] shall assemble you [the Israelites] all together [in the Land of Israel].”

“We [Allah] have revealed the Qur’an with the truth, and with the truth it has come down. We have sent you [Muhammed] forth only to proclaim good news and to give warning.”

[Qur’an, “Night Journey,” chapter 17:100-104]

The brackets are, I think, from a rabbi who maintains this webpage and who goes on to explain why Muslims must recognize the Israeli homeland.  Back in the blog, Geviha notes several instances where Palestinians supposedly destroyed Jewish claims to the land, mainly in the form of the desecration of graves and demolition of temples.  He fears that if Palestinians obtain any more land, they will annihilate any Israeli markings and claim Israel loses claim on any land.  And if this turns out to be the case, he warns, Palestinians will have to pay.

In a later post, titled Requiem for Gush Qatif, Geviha cautions Sharon for reaching the agreement to give up land and displace 8,000 Israelis.  He mentions an old saying of his grandmother’s: We will outlive them.  Then, he writes, it will not be Sharon creating history but it will be those who decide to remain and stay Jewish.

Geviha’s antipathy toward any Palestinian nation remains at his blog’s forefront.  In his world, Israel must exist independently and completely throughout the territories in question or God’s will cannot be fulfilled.  This man expresses no rapport with Palestinians, and like Gloria Salt, appears too ensconced in his own world to be a real catalyst for change.

From the Palestinian perspective, I looked at Fayrouz Sharqawi, a 24-year-old journalist who lives in the Palestinian-controlled portion of Bethlehem.  Her blog focuses on news reports from both sides; she lays out the general story of each news item and then gives her angle on it.

Like Israelis in the region, she shares distaste for the other.  An Israeli paper (she does not provide the name) published a news story (March 2006) in which Fayrouz claims misquoted a Palestinian official speaking about impending economic crises for Palestinians.  Apparently, the official (Ismael Haniyeh) called on residents to cultivate their own crops as part of a response to growing concerns in the market and trading industries, due to the election of Hamas.  Fayrouz claims the Israeli paper wrote that Palestinians should not be permitted – and fined – to collect their own food.  Specific foods in question are thyme, olive oil, and olives.

Fayrouz writes these foods are common in breakfasts for Palestinians, and Israelis should have looked at the topic of food, if not as occupiers, then at least like neighbors, who are familiar with the people they are talking about.  She also notes that had Europeans or Americans suggested imposing restrictions on Palestinian freedom, it might have been understood, as they have little knowledge about the culture.

This response implies two other conclusions.  The first is what I have already found in examples of Israeli blogs: one side cannot, will not, or refuses to consider the other as equal human beings.  She writes Israelis will not allow the fish in the sea to fall into the hands of people so that they will have fish to eat.

Haniyeh placed responsibility for the consequences of any starvation that may occur in Palestine squarely on the shoulders of countries in the region and those in the International community that support the blockade and suspension of aid to the Palestinian Government. He was warning those behind these decisions to be afraid of the rage, anger and revolt they will awaken in the people if they were hungry and unable to feed their families. He was also warning of terrible reactions from the people if children became sick because of the lack or shortage of food.

She adds that soon Palestinians may resort to eating the flesh of their guard.

The second conclusion drawn from Fayrouz’s comments is that the world community, as has already been established through many other ways, declines to learn about the true plight of the Palestinians.  Much of what Americans, for example, hear about the conflict comes from a government that supports Israel unconditionally.  Such representations about “the enemy” cannot portray them with any accuracy, because who would support denying rights to people we considered neighbors?  Who would support sanctions or military action against a people we held equal to ourselves?  Orientalism triggers a myopic observation of the Palestinian and greater Arab and Muslim world.

For my second look into a Palestinian blog, I chose Haitham Sabbah, who was born in Kuwait in 1969 and lives in Bahrain.  One particular entry that aroused my interest contains a sort of culmination of all that has been discussed.  He writes of an incident from October 17, 2004, when he and his daughter visited the West Bank to film a documentary.

This incident transpired in a village called Balata, a dense and poverty-stricken place.  Haitham and his daughter did not see it, but according to witnesses, several Israeli jeeps pulled into the community and stayed for about twenty minutes, most likely making sure occupants knew about restrictions, etc., and as they pulled away to leave, one soldier stuck his gun outside a jeep and shot a boy.

Hearing about the incident, Haitham visited the boy, Ahmad, in a local hospital which he was shocked to find occupied by several other boys who suffered gunshot wounds.  Upon conducting interviews with family, doctors, and witnesses, Haitham discovered an Associated Press cameraman had started rolling when the Israelis rolled up and captured the shooting.  He and his daughter visited the local news bureau (located in Israeli territory) to inquire about the tape, only to learn it was destroyed.

Haitham never found out what happened to the tape.  He quotes from the Society of Professional Journalist’s pillars of ethics, writing the AP had no right to destroy the footage, and instead had a right to push it through to immediate air time, since it had captured an official war crime.  The AP sent Haitham in circles:

In the end, it appears, the only way that Americans will receive full, unbiased reporting from AP on Israel-Palestine will be when these member-owners demand such coverage from their employees in the Middle East and in New York. As long as AP’s owners remain too busy or too negligent to ensure the quality and accuracy of their Israel-Palestine coverage, the handful of people within AP who are distorting its news reporting on this tragic, life-and-death, globally destabilizing issue will quite likely continue to do so.

Haitham concludes this entry by calling on all Palestinians to step up the public relations fight, because it is only through the media, he argues, that countries like American will ascertain how inhumane Palestinians are treated: We must require our news media to fulfill their profoundly important obligation, he writes, and we must ourselves distribute the critical information our media are leaving out.

Surprisingly, he reserves his most piercing words for the world community, especially America, for accepting the spin and filtration placed on the cold hard facts of Palestinian life.  He believes Palestinians would gain favor with the American community if Americans only looked into the Palestinian situation the way they concern themselves with American problems abroad.

These four examples extend what Palestinian and Israeli literature enlarge.  The fact that so many blogs about the conflict exist refutes the notion that words and dialogue remain powerless.  However, behind these electronic exhortations lies a deeper problem: can and will both sides act on the words?  The majority of the blogs I read dealt negatively with the other, though blogs which respect the other exist.  Are these blogs representative of each culture’s consciousness as a whole?  I believe time will answer that question.

Today’s world gives the Middle East an opportunity to right the ship.  With diminishing support for American presence in the region, natives have a chance to raise up and represent, as it were: they must take the conflict into their own hands instead of crying for the world community to come to their rescue.  However, Palestinians especially remain in a position of subjection at the hands of the Israelis, whom America supports financially, economically, and militarily.

So whose hands hold the answer, the key to solve the riddle of the conflict?  This question will plague bloggers, politicians, and denizens of Palestine and Israel for some time.