July 24, 2006
Link by Link
Anne Frank 2006: War Diaries Online
By TOM ZELLER Jr.
JUST over a decade ago, as another of the world’s great ethnic tinderboxes — the former Yugoslavia — was about to catch fire, 11-year-old Zlata Filipovic of Croatia began keeping a diary.
The poignancy of the journal rises in large part from Zlata’s sober acclimation, in latter entries, to life as it was disintegrating around her. From the concerns of a modern middle-class girl in 1991 — school, a new pair of skis, Madonna’s fan club — Zlata’s journal became a diary, too, of bombs and snipers’ bullets zipping through her bedroom, of food shortages and blackouts and death. Her journal was eventually published and she was billed as a latter-day Anne Frank.
But as the world’s gaze has turned to another ethnic and religious calamity — this time between Israel and militants in Lebanon — a question that almost immediately arises is just what Zlata Filipovic, or even Anne Frank, might have made of YouTube.com.
That’s where Galya Daube, a 15-year-old from Haifa, Israel, uploaded a jittery, first-person video clip last week, made as she ran through her home, rushed down whitewashed staircases and blurred her way from room to room toward the family’s bomb shelter (snipurl.com/Galya).
Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based militant group that set off a furious air and artillery assault from Israel on July 12 by crossing the border and kidnapping two Israeli soldiers, was raining missiles of its own on Galya’s seaside city, where she was enjoying summer break between her freshman and sophomore years of high school.
A civil air raid siren can be heard in the background.
“I was home alone with my mom during the alarm,” Galya wrote in an e-mail message. She has since fled Haifa to stay with her brother in Tel Aviv. “Since my camera was right next to me, I made a short clip of my running down to the shelter. Once I saw the clip, I decided to post it online so people could get a glimpse of what we go through when under attack.”
Call it an entry in the diary of Galya Daube, for whom the self-generated distillation of daily life online is, after all, as it is for most people her age, a given. “We don’t really have a chance to speak our minds and share our thoughts on TV and in newspapers,” she said.
From the ravaged parts of Lebanon, meanwhile, several young scribes have been documenting Israel’s relentless pounding from their point of view in English-language blogs.
“Six blasts in the past 10 mn made this building rock,” wrote Mana, a diarist blogging from Beirut at cedarseed.livejournal.com, on July 15. “The sound of the jets is so faint I don’t think they’re very close.”
An hour later, she wrote: “I don’t want to become a refugee.”
Another Lebanese blogger, using the screen name Finkployd, delivers regular dispatches from the streets of the country’s capital city at BloggingBeirut.com.
In a phone conversation, the 24-year-old, who works as a human-computer interaction specialist, said he preferred not to use his real name because “this country has quite the history for these kinds of events,” he said, “and the less you give away about yourself, the more you feel like you can stick around when it’s all over.”
Like the diary of Zlata, BloggingBeirut.com has evolved from a carefree, hobby blog to an embattled — and embittered — document of life irrevocably changed by war.
“This blog is about the Lebanon that is never in the news,” Finkployd wrote 18 months ago, “culture, environment, human rights, heritage, places, people, events — and lots of photography.” More than a year of entries followed, with posts and images covering Lebanon’s vibrant night life, gorgeous landscapes and the best places to go swimming.
Then came the Israeli bombs. “Here we go again,” Finkployd wrote on July 16. “More bombings, less sleep, and yet another drained battery. I wonder if they’ll ever invent candle-powered computers?”
Now he roams the country snapping pictures of exploding buildings, fleeing foreigners, garbage piling up as essential services are cut, and even dissonant signs of normal life amid the chaos: fruit for sale, smiling locals, defiant night life.
There is no getting around the outrage at BloggingBeirut.com: Israel, he and many commentators suggest, has gone too far in its attacks, punishing — and killing — scores of innocent civilians in its retaliation against Hezbollah. The site’s author, however, said he was frustrated by the actors on both sides.
“Both have their agendas,” he said, “and both will carry them out whatever the cost.”
Just 80 miles to his south, his cynicism is shared by 23-year-old Yuval Kantor. As Hezbollah missiles rained down on Haifa, Mr. Kantor, along with his 12-year-old brother, Eyal, huddled in an inner corridor of their home. Mr. Kantor picked up his digital camera, shot some clips and posted them online at YouTube.com.
In one, Eyal jokingly fakes the sound of an explosion (snipurl.com/Kantor).
“Don’t do that,” his older brother admonishes.
“O.K. It’s over, Mom,” Eyal tells his mother, who can be seen lying on the floor, a pillow pulled down hard against her head and ears.
“It’s not over,” she replies, and a few seconds later, she’s proved right. The low boom of a missile strike can be heard. “Oh, God! That was close,” she says.
Eyal gazes beyond the camera as his smile fades.
Mr. Kantor, a student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote in an e-mail message that his mother had since taken his brother south, out of Haifa and — presumably — out of the reach of Hezbollah’s missiles.
He has remained behind in Haifa, while on summer break, to keep watch on the house, and he said he posted the videos online because he wanted friends and family to see what was going on — “to show them my reality,” he said.
That reality, Mr. Kantor suggested, appears increasingly bleak, despite all of the technological aids human beings have developed for facilitating communication, the flow of information, and access to each others’ stories — despite the Internet, blogs and YouTube.com.
“We tried to live together, in one country, and failed,’’ Mr. Kantor wrote. “We tried reaching peace based on two states for two people and failed. We tried to withdraw and close ourselves behind walls and failed.”
“Frankly, I’m losing hope. Perhaps we just have to get used to living in a war.”