Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Israel is not alone

March 17, 2008

It is believed that people who spend a lot of time together, tend to acquire characteristics of each other. It seems like countries that spend a lot of time side by side, tend to acquire similar policies. Here is a recent update about Iranian government now demanding the internet cafe users to register (including their ID numbers and specific times of using the cafes). Reminds me of earlier attempts of Shas to do practically the same in Israel and seems perfectly in line with the internet censorship initiative they are (unfortunately) successfully leading.


Tired of boycotts

March 1, 2008

One of my RSS subscriptions follows the blogosphere for instances of OneVoice. I blogged about this initiative before and about the ridiculous calls for boycotting it. Recently, thanks to this feed, i learned that a new season of boycotting Israel has began. How come the organizers of the boycott are not getting tired? It seems like even the media are tired of covering it and the current season is passing primarily unnoticed. Hopefully this lack of public attention will finally make the organizers rethinking this method and understanding that it is wrong and counterproductive.

Laughing for peace

December 4, 2007

Another positive piece of news i find on the Mideast Youth website – an Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour. They are a rather eclectic group of people – an orthodox Jew, a black Jewish convert, a Palestinian-American, and an American-Israeli. Interestingly, non of them is actually “native” in a sense of being born and spending their lives in a single place with one dominant identity. But they are united in their ability to laugh at themselves and to laugh at the situation. On an optimistic note, who knows… maybe if people can laugh together, they can also talk.

Joining me, CNN…


and a selection of sketches from their DVD:

Here is more about how the show is received in their own words.


November 26, 2007

A few days ago I mentioned Middle East Youth (MEY) network website. Now there is also an online video channel. It seems to be still in kind of a beta phase, but it will be interesting to see how it evolves. Great work guys!

Positive News

November 19, 2007

Kind of inspired by the positive news project (whose US branch is actually located in Ithaca :) i decided to try and post some positive news here from time to time. So, here we go (some of it is not really new though).

Following my recent, not so pleasant, encounter in the blogosphere, i came across this website titled Middle East Youth (which i actually have seen before). It appears interesting at least in a sense that it has contributors from all over the region and it has some interesting and positive stories, that seem to escape mainstream media radar. For example here is a story of Israeli and Palestinian formula one enthusiasts who are going to compete together. And here is another story that people recommended in the comments about quite an old initiative where Israeli and Palestinian kids are brought together to play soccer. Actually i heard about the last one before and even met some people who have been involved. It was an interesting initiative and wonder if it’s still going on.

Although it appears small and insignificant, i think it is important that we remain aware of such grassroots (but not only) initiatives. The more of those we have, the more there would be hope for change (i even put a positive picture :).


And on a slightly different, but still positive, note I wanted to draw your attention to the approaching deadline for Stockholm Challenge submissions. It is a competition for an award in the field of ICT and development hosted by the municipality of (surprise, surprise) Stockholm. The deadline is Dec. 31. Good luck if you are applying!

So much for the discussion 2

November 14, 2007

If you had a chance to read my previous post with a similar title, you may want to visit it again. In a nutshell, I posted an update about my follow up on the blocked/unblocked comments on a blog of a guy who blogs about Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Bahrain and as a result he completely blocked me from commenting on his blog.

You can see the entire exchange in the original post and I am also posting my messages (that he claims he had never received) here.  You can also read his comment and my reply in the original post. Could be great to hear what you think…


From: Dmitry Epstein
Sent: Monday, October 29, 2007 6:26 PM
To: ‘Haitham Sabbah’
Subject: RE: commenting on your blog

Thanks Haitham!
I am glad it was just a technical glitch.


From: Dmitry Epstein
Sent: Monday, October 29, 2007 8:11 PM
To: ‘Haitham Sabbah’
Subject: RE: commenting on your blog

Hi again!

If that’s OK, I have a question to ask. I am a doctoral student and among other things I study the blogosphere, particularly in relation to the conflict. One of the things I would really like to do is to survey bloggers about their practices. From your knowledge of Palestinian bloggers, do you think they would cooperate with such a study? Would the fact that I am Israeli make huge difference?

Thanks again!

So much for the discussion

October 28, 2007

13 Nov. Update

I emailed Heitham following his message with explanations, asking what he thinks about feasibility of my research idea (surveying bloggers). Unfortunately i haven’t heard from him since then (about two weeks now), which makes me think if approving my comments wasn’t just a reaction to this post. In other words, i wonder if the comments would get approved without me publishing this post.


29 Oct. Update

I received a reply from Haitham today explaining that it was a technical issue and that my comments are up. I still think it would make an interesting research to inquire into bloggers’ practices, particularly when it comes to blogging about the conflict.


It is always interesting when you personally encounter supporting evidence to your research in th daily life.

Just about a week ago I presented Dori’s and my research at AoIR. The study showed how the blogosphere discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is oriented towards violence and polarization. Just a couple of days ago, I commented on a blog dealing with the conflict and had a chance to experience one of the aspects of this mechanism myself.

Trying to organize my thoughts about the OneVoice incident, I follow the blogosphere buzz on the topic. This is how i reached Sabbah’s Blog, written by Haitham Sabbah, as far as i understand son of Palestinian refugees currently living in Bahrain. According to his own explanation:

The blog topics encourage healthy discussions on political, cultural, religious and life in Arab World, however, my chief interest is in the intersection between politics, individual liberty and freedom in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine. The vast majority of my blog posts touches on this in one way or another, and try to create a better understanding of what is going around and speaking the truth which is always hidden in Western media when it comes to Palestine/Israel conflict.

Browsing through the blog (which has an authority ranking of 244 according to Technorati) i saw a number of posts that drew my attention, so i left comments. After all it is a blog, and it is supposedly a discussion. Interestingly, when you live a comment on Sabbah’s blog, there is disclaimer: “Comments are free, facts are sacred but NO ZIONIST PROPAGANDA!” There is no criteria for what considered propaganda for Sabbah, but here is what I learned.

I commented on two posts. The first, titled “NO Hebrew, Arabic mix”, was a framed presentation of Haaretz article about protest to an opening of a mixed Arab-Jewish school in one of neighborhoods of Jerusalem. The second, titled “The crime of sitting next to women”, was yet another framed Haaretz article about a case of religious fanaticisms in Israel. When i say “framed” i mean that Sabbah actually re-posted the entire article, or the most of the article, preceded by a short paragraph that doesn’t leave much room for interpretation he would like to provide.

On the first item I left the following comment:

But what about ignoring the fact that this school was actually built, that the project exists, and how about making a different passage in bold, for example: “The Hand in Hand organization has two other bilingual schools, one in Gush Misgav and one in Kfar Kara, in addition to the one at Pat, which is co-managed by principals Dalia Peretz and Ala Khatib. The organization also has two kindergartens in Be’er Sheva.” Unfortunately, the nature of the news is such that they tend to pick on the negative, what good does it do amplifying it?

And here is my comment on the second item:

You don’t have to focus on the particular case to show some of the absurds that the orthodox community expresses in Israel. You can look at the protests against the gay parades, the lack of public transportation on weekends, and the list is long. But i still don’t see how is that making Israeli democracy “so-called”. Actually part of the ridiculous things that happen in Israel regarding religion is a result of organized groups taking advantage of the democratic mechanisms.

Sorry, but i find this particular post kind of funny in light of your disclaimer for comments that forbids Zionist propaganda :) There are substantive issues for criticism in Israel, but I don’t think that the particular link you make is one of them.

Please judge yourself whether it was or was not “Zionist propaganda”, but none of my comments was approved by Sabbah. This led me to assume that there was a technical problem or maybe they were considered “Zionist propaganda” and not, as i naively assumed part of “healthy discussion”. So, I sent Haitham the following message:

Hello Haitham,
I left a couple of comments on your blog the other day, but I see they are still awaiting moderation. I noticed that there is a bunch of new comments left after me, so I wondered if there is a particular reason that mine are not getting approved. Please let me know if there is any technical glitch or if you think I abused your blog policies.


I left the comments on October 26, and sent Haitham an email on the following day. However up until today i haven’t heard back. I assume that Haitham got my message because nothing bounced back and i saw him continuing blogging. Thus, after seeing another comment being approved on the same post while mine is still awaiting moderation, my conclusion is that he is not really willing to discuss, but rather to propagate his opinions (here are two screen-shots of my comments awaiting moderation: comment 1, comment 2).

Leaving the normative aspects of the particular incident aside for now, i would like to link it back to the study mentioned in the beginning. It is really interesting to see how the blogs are getting utilized as particularly individualized means of expression. Of course there are platforms where discussions happen, but it seems that there are more instances of Haitham’s behavior where people tend to control opinions presented in their personal spaces. Seemingly, the comments section is one of the features allowing the discourse thus making “new” media more democratic compared to the mainstream. However, as this particular example shows, this space can be utilized to construct a particular type of narrative and discourse, thus preserving and even amplifying dynamics of content selection in the MSM.

In general, the whole issue of comments in the blogosphere is being under-researched, and it could be really interesting to see how this space is used by both readers and bloggers. I think one way to address that would be surveying the bloggers. However i wonder, what my limitations are, as an Israeli, to conduct such a survey. I think i would need a Palestinian partner to undertake such a study.

Any thoughts or comments?

As if it wasn’t enough…

October 14, 2007

I am following up on my post from yesterday about cancellation of the Jericho part of One Million Voices initiative. Today it was reported that the Tel-Aviv part of the event, as well as the concerts in other locations worldwide, were also called off out of solidarity. So much for the moderate voice…

A few “notes on the situation” (a sad post)

October 13, 2007

1. Who needs it?

A couple of weeks ago i attended a lecture Hanan Ashrawi gave here at Cornell (you can watch the video here).  The title of the talk was: “Peace in the Middle East: Who Needs It?” and I went there with hopes to hear some new ideas and fresh perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian situation (after all, she is the only woman in the Palestinian legislation body, she must be unique).  And indeed, she started the talk with a rather optimistic and yet pragmatic note, stating that all the parties in the region need the peace and that peace is reachable.  However, a few moments later she went into a rather standard (dare i say narrow and one-sided) spiel about Israel being evil, Palestine being miserable, and the international community being impotent.  From what promised to be an intellectual conversation, the meeting turned out to be into a scene of diplomatic propaganda.  Even when faced with questions, Ashrawi didn’t take the opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation, but instead sticked to the familiar, cliched answers.

That whole experience left me disappointed.  Maybe i should not expect to hear from politicians anything meaningful, but their one-liners.  In that case there is little (if any) hope left for shifting the situation in the ME one way or another.

2. Do not let questions confuse you!

Actually this stroke me when i was watching the Ahmadinejad’s  talk in Columbia.  It reminded me too much about that previous talk i described above.  Every time Ahmadinejad was asked a question he didn’t find convenient to answer, he would go back to the few messages he decided to stick to in his talk.  Sometimes it was rather funny when the question and the answer were completely unrelated.

Ashrawi was a bit more sophisticated; probably also thanks to her good English.  But at the end of the day, she sticked to the same strategy and for a single moment did not allow the questions to distract her from the message she came to deliver.

3. October 18

This one was supposed to be more optimistic, but, sorry, it didn’t work out.

There is an initiative, called “One Million Voices” that seems innovative and different in the way it approaches the situation.  On October 18th they are organizing a demonstration that was supposed to take place simultaneously in Tel-Aviv, Jericho, and a number of cities worldwide.  In my eyes, the uniqueness of this initiative is in its focus on the solution, on the final goal, and on peace, as opposed on the endless debates about who was here first or who is more miserable or more righteous.  I think this is a very important difference that makes it to stand out compared to other peace (or so-called peace) initiatives.

The thought of seeing a first Palestinian demonstration that is not merely against Israel, but is actually for peace, was very inspiring for me.  However checking the website of the initiative today i learned that the Jericho part is canceled due to “security considerations”.  It is not clear what those considerations are, though people on the website hurried to blame Israel for doing that (which doesn’t really make sense to me, but ok).  Now it will be interesting to see if that will turn out to be yet another anti-Israeli demonstration or it will still remain a demonstration for peace.  I was actually looking forward to this event.

4. The absurd of boycotting

I wrote about my thoughts on using boycott as tool for promoting peace before.  Reading the comments on “One Million Voices” website, i witnessed another example for the absurdness of this approach.  Some people commenting on the website called for boycotting the event because it “falls under the category of normalization”.  It is accused in assuming “equal responsibility of ‘both sides’ for the ‘conflict'” and in being “sponsored by Israeli institutions (mostly from the private sector) and endorsed by mainstream Israeli political figures”.

I’s probably my ignorance, but i always thought that bringing people together and making them to step over issues of pride and prejudice is actually a step towards peace.  Boycotters on the other hand view cultural and political violence as the only way to solution.  Well, one thing this whole development does not add is hope for any change in the ME.


Media at war

September 27, 2007

One of the articles in the last issue of Newsweek dealt (surprise, surprise) with the the mysterious Israeli operation in Syria, Iranian nukes, and the potential developments in the region. One phrase particularly caught my attention:

In Iran, preparations for war are underway. “Crisis committees” have been established in each government ministry to draw up contingency plans, according to an Iranian official who asked for anonymity in order to speak freely. The regime has ordered radio and TV stations to prepare enough prerecorded programming to last for months, in case the studios are sabotaged or employees are unable to get to work.

I find the emphasis on media particularly interesting. I am probably stating the obvious, but it fascinates me how information has became inseparable part of modern warfare.