The schizophrenic surfer

December 11, 2008 by

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There can be few more schizophrenic creatures than the English-reading Israeli web surfer. This puzzled animal spends his free time browsing, to begin with, the English language sites of the Israeli media. Here, he sees the conversations he has with his friends reflected and collected in the careful prose of the writers and thinkers of Haaretz and other outlets. These conversations represent a quite diverse spectrum of opinion: there are those who agree with the war, those who don’t, and those who are not sure. Empathy is expressed with the residents of the south for their fortitude and resolve; worry and distress are felt for the soldiers in Gaza, of whom one is almost by definition a friend, colleague, acquaintance, or son thereof; and, indeed, concern is even articulated for the innocent Palestinian residents of Gaza who are caught up in this war and have nowhere to run. For the most part, there is the recognition that this is a war of no choice for Israel, and that as horrible, terrible, and awful as its results might be on the Palestinians of Gaza, it is something that we must do, win, and move on from.

And then our bi-polar browser clicks another link in his bookmarks folder. For while he enjoys reading Haaretz, he must also check the football results in England, and while there, bemoaning his team’s present misfortunes, which are scarcely less serious than those of Gaza, he follows a link or two that lead him away from the sports pages and into the main news section. Here, he is surprised to see the war in Gaza painted with entirely different colours. There is talk of massacre and war crimes; of a humanitarian disaster; of Gaza as an open-air prison; of apartheid and boycott. In this corner of the web, Israel has overacted with wildly disproportionate brutality, leaving hundreds of dead children in its wake, along with any hopes for Middle East peace. There is perhaps mention of Israeli casualties and civilian discomfort, but it is quickly drowned out by the cacophony of Gazan destruction.

What is our confused clicker to do? How can a situation appear so different just because of a slightly different URL? Being a left-leaning, rational, level-headed chap, he cannot simply dismiss the shrieks from abroad as anti-Semitism, for he himself, and his left-leaning, rational, level-headed friends, may, in the privacy of their own homes, murmur remarks which, while not quite jumping head-first into that pool of pro-Palestinian propaganda, certainly dip their toes into it with a degree of understanding. On the other hand, living in Israel, and feeling the palpable nervousness and genuinely-felt existential threat that the Hamas regime poses Israel, he cannot dismiss the emotions of the streets through which he walks each day, and cannot ignore the numerous thoughtful intellectuals who also feel that this is a war of no choice.

The truth, our schizophrenic surfer begins to perceive, even as he winces at the cliché, must be somewhere in the middle. Or perhaps: there is truth in both narratives.

But try as he might, he cannot find any websites that dance that delicate dance in the middle, seeing truth in the narratives of both sides, and seeing that the situation will not be resolved until all three parties to this conflict – the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the world at large – recognize that nothing, including this situation, is black or white.

As our schizophrenic surfer sighs in frustration and turns off his computer for the night, he hopes that some wise people will find a way towards that middle URL.

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