Virtual Reality: Fencing, over the security barrier

'We are in the same village on opposite sides and perceive everything so differently.'

By SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKEL
October 27, 2005 22:36
Virtual Reality: Fencing, over the security barrier

security fence 298 88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

They have never met in person, but online they can't seem to leave each other alone.

One is an activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), an organization that works for Palestinian causes and endorses armed struggle against Israel, while the other is a solider in the Israeli Defense Forces.

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One organizes protests against the security barrier being built around the West Bank, while the other guards and often disperses those protests.

One lives inside the Palestinian town of Bil'in, and the other on an army base just outside of it.

But ISMer and IDFer (as they are often called online), are part of a growing trend in online communities, sparking dialogue among people who, otherwise, would never have "met." Each has a blog - short for Web log - a Web site which can be as small as a personal journal or as large as a full-fledged community.

ISMer, who gives his first name as Andrew, entitles his blog "This Much I Can Say is True," a daily journal of his experiences as media coordinator for the ISM. IDFer, who remains anonymous, calls his blog "Only in Israel," in which he describes himself as a "20-year-old IDF solider, with no free time at all."

Both of their blogs are hosted by a service called blogspot.com, an easy-to-use program that allows people with little web experience to create blogs. It is also the reason they "met," after Andrew ran a quick search of blogs in his area and came up with IDFer's blog several months ago.

"Usually people like us wouldn't have dialogue, but with a blog everything changes," said Andrew, who was initially contacted by The Jerusalem Post by e-mail and then agreed to be interviewed on the phone. "He is on a computer and I am on a computer. We are on par."

Andrew continued, "When I first found it I read quite a bit of the blog, and found it mostly interesting. Where we are, we see the soldiers every day, but we don't know their opinions."

IDFer declined to talk to the Post, while the IDF Spokesman's Office said it was against army regulations for a soldier to have a blog.

Andrew said that although he and IDFer had guessed at each other's identities, neither had made a move to meet in person.

"He guessed who I was on his blog, but he got it wrong," said Andrew.

"I thought about meeting him in person, but I don't know how open he is to other people, other ideas."

To understand their feud, a reader can simply look to the new post by IDFer this week. Showing some photos taken by a fellow Israeli blogger of the ISM house in Bil'in, IDFer launches into a fairly harsh critique of the activists' hygiene. In response, ISMer charges that they are conserving water because Israel steals it from the Palestinians.

And a new debate is launched.

To call their exchanges heated might be an understatement; other readers of the blogs have remarked that the two often seem to be engaged in digital yelling matches. But Andrew is quick to point out that the debate is useful, if for nothing else than to expose each to other side.

"In person we can't talk, I am the guy in the T-shirt and sneakers and he is in a military uniform," he said. "The whole relationship changes when we have this whole other type of exchange and we are both sitting at computers. He doesn't know what I look like and I don't know what he looks like. But we are in the same village on opposite sides of the razor wire and we both perceive everything so differently."

Take, for example, their separate entries on protests that took place over the barrier in Bil'in several months ago. The soldier describes inciting mobs and ISM activists sparring with soldiers while Andrew describes peaceful protesters and aggressive soldiers. The soldier claims that Palestinian youths began throwing rocks, prompting soldiers to retaliate with tear gas, while the ISM activists writes of the rocks being thrown only after the tear gas had been released.

Overall, it is more difficult to find similarities in their accounts than differences.

One of their most common arguments is over the tactic of "peaceful resistance" purportedly practiced by ISM. While Andrew asserts that ISM prohibits the use of violence, and that he himself has never seen violence from an activist during a protest, the soldier claims otherwise, and writes of having "the bruises to prove it."

Andrew recounts one example where the soldier showed a picture of well-known activist, Lazer, standing with a cane. IDFer suggested that the cane was intended for violent means. Andrew, however, argued that Lazer needed the cane in order to walk after having been injured by soldiers in a difference protest earlier that week.

"I'm seeing it vastly differently that he is and, the truth is, we don't know each other's back story," said Andrew.

Perhaps most telling are the posts they have written about each other.

In his August 18 entry entitled "What they're thinking," Andrew posts a picture of soldiers and asks the reader, "can you pick out the blogger in this crowd?" He writes that there is a "somewhat prolific blogger amongst the Israeli soldiers dispatched to make sure Bil'in villagers lose their land at gunpoint... I've wondered what goes through the heads of the soldiers that get sent there... Do they wonder about what they're being ordered to do? Or, are they actually mindless automatons...? Turns out, in this case, it's the latter."

Andrew concludes, "Hope to see my fellow blogger of 'Only in Israel,' and let him know that on this side of the Green Line, he's only in Palestine."

Meanwhile, the IDF soldier writes about Andrew in scathing terms.

"The really sad thing," IDFer posts, "is that ISMer turned out to be more than just a minion of Huwaida and Adam and their brain-dead human speedbumps. He's their media coordinator, that's what he does for living. Which, given his posts and the lack of facts in such, kinda makes you think he might think of a career change, because dude, if that's the best you can do? ISM is going down."


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