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As soon as the first rockets began hitting the North, Shira, a 17-year-old from Haifa, went straight to the message boards of www.beirut.com where she asked a question no politician has yet breached: After all this, would you date a Jew?
"I asked a lot of questions, and that was one of them," she said, adding that she felt the question gave her a broader sense of how Lebanese teens were feeling about Israelis as a whole. The responses she received were mixed, but the teen said that in all fairness, it was unlikely that she herself would date a Lebanese man.
Diplomatic talks between Israel and Lebanon may appear distant, but virtual talks between Lebanese and Israeli nationals are gathering steam daily on the Internet. Hundreds are signing on daily to blog, chat and post about the ongoing violence, with many finding new ways to relate to one another.
"It's important to note that this community existed for some time before the war broke out," said Lisa Goldman, who has used her blog, ontheface.blogware.com, to publicize Israeli-Lebanese blogging since the current crisis broke out. "We have tons of things in common. We come from two of the most liberal, educated countries in the Middle East. Many of us received a western education. We have talked, wrote, and dreamed about open borders between our countries."
Goldman described one experience in which she was sitting at her Tel Aviv home sending Instant Messages to a Beirut blogger as he described the sounds of rockets falling outside. "I think it is really important to point out that it is a history-making event - it is revolutionary," said Goldman. "The fact that the citizens of two warring countries are maintaining a dialogue while a war is going on cannot be ignored... [I] think it will be the most blogged war in history."
For many, the attraction of going on-line has to do with connecting with one another without the third party filter that a media outlet generally provides. "I wanted to know what they were thinking, especially people my age," Shira. "I don't know any politicians or important military guys. The only people for me to appeal to are my peers."
Shira said she had found interesting and informative arguments about the violence on the message boards. Many of the posts were "hateful," she said, comparing the IDF to Nazi forces and calling for a global Arab attack on Israel. "I ignored the hateful posts, and focused on the ones that seemed to go past the ignorance," said Shira. "I found people I could relate to... I wanted them to understand me so that I wouldn't be 'the enemy.'"
Middle Eastern bloggers sprang into action within hours of the initial violence, exchanging photos via Web sites such as www.flickr.com, and long message strings on sites such as lebanesebloggers.blogspot.com. There have also been chat rooms set up by Jewish and Lebanese bloggers to allow for real-time communication between the two communities.
Take for instance, some of the posts on the www.beirut.com message board under the Politics subtopic.
"The politicians today (as they always did in Lebanon!) are playing on people's fear. Fear of the people from another religion, from another community," wrote a poster named Nouce.
In response to a post from "DJ Glutton" saying, "Israel is our enemy, and never forget it," a poster calling himself "Bloody Roses" wrote: "Thirty years of Syrian occupation had damaging results. There are many problems between Lebanese that need to be solved once we are free...
Unfortunately, there are still many [in] Lebanon who are not working for Lebanese interests, but for Iranian and Syrians ones... Hizbullah is a real threat for Lebanon, they are a group of fanatics who are heavily armed."
One of the most popular posts was from a young man nicknamed "A.D.I.D.A.S" (All day I dream of sex). "We are all Lebanese. I suggest that, if the US and the other forces leave Leb[anon] alone politically, economically and whatever alone, we can live peacefully without any troubles."
"I like reading the posts because they sounded like the way people here talked about things," said Shira. She said that although she had spent the most time on the Politics message board, she had also found that she had a lot in common with Lebanese teens when she started reading the Arts, Culture and Entertainment boards. Like her own friends, most Lebanese teens did not appear willing to let their social lives come to a halt just because a war happened to be going on.
Although the Politics board of Beirut.com appears to have gathered steam in the wake of recent violence, by far the most popular boards remain the Dating and Jokes sections.
While several dozen jokes about Haifa and other northern Israeli communities have already been posted, it was a different Haifa - pop singer and model Hayfa Wehbeh - who stole the show with 1,403 jokes in her (or about her) honor.