Correction to This Article
An Internet blog address was listed incorrectly in an earlier version of the box that accompanies this story. The correct address for the "On the Face" blog is http://ontheface.blogware.com/

Blogging Under The Radar

For Mustapha Hamoui, the blogger behind Beirut Spring, seen here last year in Beirut,
For Mustapha Hamoui, the blogger behind Beirut Spring, seen here last year in Beirut, "communication is never bad"; in her blog Israeli Mom, Anat El Hashahar, with sons Ron, left, and Dan in 2003, began an international conversation. (Courtesy Mustapha Hamoui)

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By Delphine Schrank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 28, 2006

The fragile cease-fire still holds, but for wary Lebanese and Israelis the barrage of noise continues -- in cyberspace. By provoking a trade in words, the 33-day war in Lebanon didn't just wreak death and destruction. It also helped knock down a wall of silence.

"I think it's the start of something. In a way, it's a revolution," said Mustapha Hamoui, the blogger behind Beirut Spring. "Communication is never bad. It's better to tell someone, 'I hate you.' Then you have to ask, 'Why do you hate?' Then you have to have a conversation."

The Lebanese government forbids its citizens contact with Israelis. But keeping a lid on the Internet is a bit like trying to shovel sand with a sieve. And in the midst of war, scouring online for views from the other side has been one way for Lebanese and Israelis to alleviate the terrible sense of the impotence of standing by as their countries bled. Thousands of people, often posting in English, seem compelled to try to make some sense of the chaos -- or, through personal narratives, to help debunk stereotypes and misperceptions.

"Bloggers from both sides of the border . . . have been providing live updates, commenting on one another's blogs and sometimes linking to posts by bloggers on the other side of the border," wrote Lisa Goldman, a Canadian-Israeli blogger and journalist, on her site On the Face six days into the war. "Will this turn out to be the first time that residents of 'enemy' countries engaged in an ongoing conversation while missiles were falling?"

The war, paradoxically, provided the common ground, and blogging -- a roughly three-year-old medium unavailable in previous conflicts -- offered the space for it.

"After more than four weeks (seasoned with a couple of short home leaves of a few hours each), my dear man is back home!!!" wrote Anat El Hashahar, a 34-year-old mother of two and the blogger behind Israeli Mom, which she started last month soon after her husband was called up to his reserve post in the Israel Defense Forces. "He surprised us this morning and just showed up at the door, looking extremely tired, his face covered with stubble, but very very happy to see us," she wrote of her husband's return to their home in Pardes Hana, northern Israel.

"Hey, wanna try something funny?" answered Jean Souc, a Lebanese 25-year-old who works for the Red Cross in Paris. "let's test his military reflexes. tell him you are speaking with a lebanese on the computer! make sure you empty his rifle from bullets before, if you love your screen. [smiley face] After you tell him that, you will experience fist-hand [sic] military reflexes. he'll need time to loose them [sic]."

Souc and El Hashahar are new friends. Eager to seek a Lebanese and Arab perspective, El Hashahar had actively sought out and commented on Lebanese sites, generating a regular correspondence with several people from Australia to Iran, and enough trust with Souc and another Lebanese man to invite them to visit her and her family in Israel, she said in a phone interview from Pardes Hana.

"It's been very refreshing for me to talk to them," said El Hashahar, which means "toward the dawn" in Hebrew. "I wasn't that familiar with Lebanese people, their history or politics."

For his part, Souc surfed only the Lebanese blogosphere "to get an idea about street opinion" when the conflict erupted. But, he said in an e-mail, he was "hit by the intense presence of Israeli people commenting on those Lebanese blogs." With that in mind, he started his own space, The Middle East Exception, inviting Israelis to comment on how they perceived Lebanese.

It generated a thread of 92 comments, with 32 Israelis offering long responses that veer from accusatory to apologetic. At their suggestion, Souc invited Lebanese to post on how they perceived Israelis.

"Actually before this, the Israeli society was a big question mark for me," Souc said in an e-mail. "This blog helped me assert a little bit more the idea that all the fuss and all the propaganda in the Middle East are really plain lies when it comes to the 'historical animosity,' or 'the bad Jews' or 'the deadly Arabs.' "


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