Anyone armed with a keyboard, an Internet connection and knowledge of
the web can be a participant in the Mideast conflict. For most people
that means using legitimate websites, petitions and discussion areas to
try to sway public opinion. Others are using sophisticated techniques
to hack into computers, deface websites and disrupt the flow of data.
Wired.com wrote about a group of Israeli students who developed a program to overload pro-Hamas websites. The Help Israel Win collective formed in late December as the conflict in Gaza heated up. “We couldn’t join the real combat, so we decided to fight Hamas in the cyber arena,” said “Liri,” one the group’s organizers. The group claims to have shut down sarayaalquds.org and qudsvoice.net. Ironically, the Help Israel Win website is no longer at its original address, since it “has had to shift from website to website, as they come under attack from unknown assailants.” http://www.tinyurl.com/webwar01
Last year, visitors to the Bank of Israel website noticed something was amiss when a hacker left a message saying, “As an anti-colonial Muslim, I fully support the armed resistance of the Palestinians, Iraqis and Lebanese against the U.S. and Israel. I am serious about the liberation! By any means rendered necessary!” [http://tinyurl.com/webwar02]
While most Internet skullduggery is hush-hush, such is not always the case. Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Tehran office of Hamas announced it was offering the equivalent of about $2,000 to anyone who hacks into a “Zionist” website. Contest organizers described the competition as a “peaceful and non-violent initiative.” I did not find any word on whether the winnings have been claimed. [http://tinyurl. com/webwar 03]
Another ongoing battle involves online petitions. Several Internet sites like ipetitions.com and petitionspot.com have sprung up. At PetitionSite.com, more than 17,000 people want to “Suspend EU-Israel Association Agreement.” [tinyurl.com/ webwar04] Alternatively, there is also a petition calling for “Fair Play for Israel at the United Nations,” with 2,974 signatures. [http://tinyurl.com/webwar05]
By the way, not all online petitions about Israel are quite as political as the ones mentioned above. A search also turned up a petition to “Stop the Huge Expansion of Horse Racing in Israel!” [tinyurl.com/webwar07] and another to persuade the English alternative rock group, Radiohead, to perform in Israel. [http://tinyurl.com/webwar08]
Other online conflicts attempt to exploit the power of search engines and cause people to click on their links. Let’s say you want to find information about “Palestine.” Type that word into Google and the first results you are presented (after the Wikipedia entries) are from PalestineHistory.com and PalestineFacts.org. You might expect the content of both sites to be similar, but that’s not the case. The former presents arguments about the conflict from the Arab point of view, while the latter defends Israel’s role. It’s no coincidence that those viewpoints are not readily apparent from the website names. Sites often attempt to raise their search engine ranking and traffic by adopting popular but ambiguous names. Try to guess where ZionismExplained.org and DoingZionism.org fall on the political spectrum. [http://tinyurl.com/webwar09]
No contemporary cyber-conflict would be complete without Twitter, the social messaging service. In its article, “Winning the propaganda war, in 140 characters or less,” the Jerusalem Post recently reported that David Saranga, the head of media relations for the Israeli consulate in New York, has turned to Twitter to help get his message across. [http://tinyurl.co/webwar12]
While some have mocked trying to discuss the conflict in micro-bursts and shorthand lingo, Saranga defends its use. “Since the definition of war has changed, the definition of public diplomacy has to change as well.”
Here’s a public Twitter exchange between Saranga and an individual named “backlotops” during the Gaza war. Can you decipher it all? Backlotops: “1 side has to stop. Why continue what hasn’t worked (http://mass arial/grndretaliation)? Arab Peace Initiative?”
Israelconsulate: “We R pro nego. crntly tlks r held w the PA + tlks on the 2 state soln. we talk only w/ ppl who accept R rt 2 live.” [http://tinyurl.com/webwar11.].
Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based website producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.