Blogsphere Battles in the Galaxy of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
New media are still establishing some definitional clarity but they tend to be differentiated on the basis of seven concepts as typically described by Nancy Baym in Personal Connections in a Digital Age. They are interactivity, temporal structure, social cues, storage, replicability, reach, and mobility. In modern political conflicts one is dealing with technological as well as political issues; that is, the communicative content that characterizes the relationship between conflicting groups circulates through new media that allow for increased contact and interactivity. The Israelis and Palestinians, for example, now fight their battles in competing blogspheres as well as on more traditional looking battlefields.
The blogsphere has two qualities that make it a perfect electronic location to continue the ongoing battle between the Israelis and the Palestinians. First the blogsphere is egalitarian and after overcoming some simple entry barriers anyone can participate. The ideology displayed in various blogs is on an equal basis with the other side and creates a space that transcends time and place. A less affluent Palestinian can operate an electronic platform on par with the Israeli. Second, the blogsphere shrinks distances such that one side’s case can be advanced from anywhere. The blog as an electronic space has energized confrontation and made a discourse possible that is more concerned with values, moral legitimacy, and argument.
An army of Israeli blogs (see, for example pro-Israel blogs) confront an army of Palestinian blogs (see, for example, Sabbah) in such a way that the political arena intersects with the international public sphere. These blogs are active at many levels including institutional, individual, and national. One interesting quality is the effect on the discourse of blogsphere communication that originates and lives in non-territorial space. In other words, there is no argument about where to meet or the symbolism of a physical location because the meetings are in electronic space and, from my own casual observations, lends itself to a more moderate environment. Moreover, the blogsphere media are cue rich such that messages can be appealing to a variety of senses. This has, of course, its disadvantages because of the easy availability of manipulation.
My own travels throughout the blogsphere in the galaxy of Israel and Palestine have resulted in two conclusions about this form of new media contact. One, both sides use arguments that are most advantageous to their own interests. The Israelis blog mostly about security and terror and the Palestinians about occupation. The world is most sympathetic to Israeli security concerns as well as its opposition to terrorism, but the international community also sympathizes with the struggles of the Palestinians. Interestingly, this aptly characterizes the conflict with the two sides performing individual narratives without much engagement of the other. Even in the blogsphere it seems to be the “dialogue of the deaf.” Both sides are also particularly personal; they relate personal instances and stories designed to increase the emotional intensity of the issues. They take personal instances and place them within the framework of national conflict. This is a classic characteristic of intractable conflicts when the society is saturated with the ethos of the conflict. Both sides utilize all electronic qualities of the blog including photographs, connections to other sites, and visuals.
Secondly, the blogsphere battles are filled with calls to action. Both sides use the blog to initiate campaigns designed to delegitimize the other side. Calls for boycotts and confrontations are common. Blogs in conjunction with other social media such as Facebook have demonstrated some success at organizing and arousing political action.
I should note in conclusion that access to the Internet and the blogsphere holds potential for increasing dialogic intimacy between the two sides as well as remaining a platform for conflict. The Internet can provide a channel of contact for productive communication if proper conditions are established. There are more than a few instances of successful contact where the qualities of new media such as distance shrinking genuinely serve the purposes of interaction between the two groups.