In Cyberspace, War Protests Abound

After the second Lebanon war blew up in the face of Israeli society, protest began to appear not just in the streets, but online as well.

After the second Lebanon war blew up in the face of Israeli society, protest began to appear not just in the streets, but online as well. Now, several weeks after the fighting has ended, it has become hard to count all the petitions, forums and Web sites, all calling for its own form of protest.

If one of the prevailing feelings of the war was a lack of leadership, it seems now that at least online, generals are abundant, each with his or her small group of followers and platform. One is calling for the government to resign, another for a national committee of inquiry, and there is even a call for a mass worker-youth rebellion, because "we must change the capitalist system that produces only war and poverty."

The writer of a chain e-mail joins soldiers' eternal claim, "If you were not there, you simply cannot understand." He does not stop there - he continues into a political protest and list of shortcomings - such as "we found a 1983 postcard in one of our flak jackets. Where did all the war reserve store units' money go?" He weaves grievances against "the bubble" and the left: "Someone who was not there cannot begin to understand why this was a war of kibbutz and farm boys, and of the religious and the black and white (a nickname for new immigrants and Mizrahim) ... why do Olmert's daughter and wife call us murderers?"

In addition, many war stories have begun appearing online in all forms, from chain e-mails to blogs. Tapuz and other major content sites, including NRG and Ynet, have offered demobilized soldiers a platform to tell their stories. Boaz, a combat paramedic, tells a bone-chilling story, over several forums, about a friend who carried a killed comrade on his back for three hours under heavy fire. The narrative, addressed to the friend's schoolteacher, is ultimately another version of the old Israeli narrative portraying the Israel Defense Forces as the real melting pot for Israeli adolescence.

Zohar Stoler, a programmer and Web developer who set up a site to gather war testimonies , says: "I consider it important that the stories appear as a whole, because every story soon turns from a testimony of failure into a tale of heroics. A friend who is still on reserve duty told me, 'Out of all these failures, I finally ended up carrying the wounded on my back all the way to the border.'"

Eli Hacohen, Technical Manager of the Netvision Institute of Internet Studies at the Tel Aviv University, says this site and its likes "somewhat remind one of the book 'Combatants Discourse,' which appeared after the Six-Day War. In 2006 the combat soldier's discourse is online, and allows microphone-shy people also to document the events."

Not only politics

Hacohen says the diffusion of the protest across so many sites and forums does not necessarily harm the cause.

"You might be reaching more audiences, and that's great," he says.

Hanan Cohen, the site manager of Shatil, the New Israel Fund's empowerment and training center, prefers to address the protest's ultimate audience - the politicians. And "they are not affected by what is written on the Web, but by what the traditional press publishes. Yet even if the main aim is still an item in the newspaper or on television, the online protest raises awareness and ultimately also influences the traditional media's headlines. In addition, the multitude of movements and petitions give individuals a feeling that they are not alone, and a legitimization to join the struggle."

David Morgenstern, a biology master's degree student and an activist in the Hapashim forum, is not surprised by the quantity of stories and protests spurred by the war. But he believes that at the end of the day, most protesters will resume their daily lives.

"As with any other cause, there are plenty of protest groups and each one is trying to fight a slightly different war. That is the problem of the reservists, that they are so heterogeneous," he says.

The Hapashim forum and the Baltam movement have been fighting over the last six years to improve the reserve forces' conditions and military regulations. Among other things, they campaigned against the use of untrained soldiers in routine security activity. But first and foremost before the end of the Knesset recess, they are trying to bring about new legislation to regulate the training allotments and reserve units' provisions and compensation. Morgenstern says such a law would cost NIS 400 million, and would "force the security establishment to allocate resources."

The two organizations, which belong to the reservists' lobby, have been online for quite some time. However, awareness of their activity - as well as of reservists' rights - had been low despite the fact that they maintain an active Ynet forum . But the problem was not only lack of exposure. Morgenstern says the public, mainly the national-religious public, found it hard to believe the state would abandon those who serve it, and saw their activity as unpatriotic whining.

Morgenstern and 53-year-old Roi Ron, a reserve captain and Baltam activists, cautiously distance themselves from the multitude of causes and protest groups.

"You can say you want heads to roll, and call for insubordination, but what good will that do?" says Ron. "Would there be equipment tomorrow? Would the families of the fallen receive proper treatment? The effort should be channeled in the right direction. Not to talk about politics, not to call for insubordination, but to set up a committee to examine all the issues the war has brought to the surface."

Morgenstern says they both believe that "all the individuals who have raised their heads now, all the anger and spontaneous protests, must be channeled toward bodies that have been at it for a long time. People demand an inquiry committee and resignations. But what's next?"