Besieged Lebanese Turn To Internet

A Lebanese man runs amongst the rubble of a destroyed apartment building after it collapsed in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2006, after Israeli jets fired missiles. Israeli jets fired six missiles into Beirut's southern suburbs Sunday afternoon, Lebanese security officials said. Loud explosions shook the capital, and a column of white smoke rose over the horizon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) AP Photo/Hussein Malla

Like many of her compatriots, artist Zena el-Khalil has turned to blogging on the Internet to express her longings and fears amid the fighting in Lebanon.

Writing from Beirut, the 30-year-old tells of wanting to have children and worries about Israeli air raids on the capital.

"Word on the street is that Israel is threatening to hit Beirut now. I feel so helpless," she said in a recent entry in her online diary. "I called my husband and told him to come home right away. If I die, I want to be in his arms."

Another blogger, 27-year-old Jamal Ghosn, bemoans the casualties among Lebanese children. "Lebanese children don't hug teddy bears when they sleep, they sleep with Katyushas in their beds, in case you didn't know," he wrote with bitter sarcasm.

Young Lebanese, feeling increasingly hemmed in by the siege of their country, are turning to the Internet to vent anger about the war and express private longings intensified by the death and destruction.

But widespread electricity cuts caused by fuel shortages and Israel's bombardment of power stations have at times shut off even this outlet.

Operating his computer by battery late one night after the neighborhood generator went off, blogger Mazen Kerbej, a 30-year-old musician, quipped: "It's quite funny to write on a laptop connected to the world with a candle next to the keyboard to see the letters."

Lebanese bloggers burst onto the Internet in unprecedented numbers last year following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the subsequent "Cedar Revolution," the mass anti-Syria demonstrations that preceded the Damascus regime's withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon after an 18-year presence.

But the bloggers' enthusiasm had subsided as politicians became mired in squabbles over relations with Syria and other issues. But the Web musings have surged again since Israel launched its offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon.

Besides blogging, Lebanese at home and abroad are using e-mails, text messages and other communications to share their feelings and ideas for ending the conflict. Anti-war petitions, cartoons and articles have been flying around the Internet since hostilities erupted July 12.

One e-mail making the rounds in Lebanon carries a picture of an "Israeli checklist" with check marks next to the words bridges, power plants, airports, children and the economy. "Hezbollah" is the only word on the list left unchecked.

Another that has circulated to thousands contains photos of wounded Lebanese infants and children juxtaposed with photos of Israeli children writing "greetings" on artillery shells.

Hanady Salman, managing editor of the As-Safir newspaper, said she never had the time or interest to keep a diary. But when Israeli missiles struck a convoy of Lebanese villagers fleeing the southern village of Merwaheen on the third day of the war, killing at least 15 people and blowing children into nearby ravines, the 38-year-old mother was galvanized.

She began e-mailing pictures of the death and destruction to everyone she knew, hoping to gain attention for what was happening. Sending pictures quickly turned into diary-style e-mails that have become hugely popular.

"It's a great way to get across your side of the story, to reach out to people. I thank God every day that there is the Internet to do that," Salman said. "It makes me feel like I'm somehow contributing, I'm doing my share."

Salman now has about 200 people on her mailing list.

On a recent morning, she wrote: "Last night the air raids were so close, I was almost out of my mind. Israeli fighters were flying so low, I couldn't wait to go home and hug my little baby (we live on the 12th floor, remember?)."

A popular Web site, Electronic Lebanon, is publishing the diaries of Salman and others from across Lebanon, written in English. The site has had more than 479,000 visits and 2,250,000 pages viewed since the start of the war.

While the devastation has fired the desire of bloggers to tell the world of Lebanon's pain, witnessing it firsthand proved too powerful for one.

"I so want to write, but I still have no words," blogger Muzna al-Masri wrote of her Aug. 2 tour of southern Lebanon. "This was Tyre, after all, the lovely city and its beach that I always wanted to call home.

"I still haven't cried, I feel I am not entitled to. If I were to cry, what would I leave to the people that have lost loved ones and houses full of memories?"
  • Melissa McNamara

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