Web Watch: Dispatches From The Middle East

The promise of the Internet includes the chance to get unvarnished accounts from people caught in the thick of a crisis. On Sept. 11, when phones were jammed, that promise held.

So, could technology lead us deeper into the current Palestinian conflict? We picked one test case: what happened in the Jenin refugee camp. This time around, the phone worked better than the Web. Internet access from the refugee camp is susceptible to blackouts, fighting and widespread destruction, and many Web sites based in the area have gone off-line.

An American activist in the Jenin camp, however, called in a report to a pro-Palestinian Web site (www.ramallahonline.com) that the Israeli military allowed a four-hour window for ambulances to collect bodies. B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, displayed similar phoned-in reports on its own site (www.btselem.org).

A quick search for sites further afield found, unsurprisingly enough, numerous well-produced Web sites advocating either side. This brought to mind another test: If the two sides can’t agree on a peaceful solution, can they recognize each other’s online existence with a hyperlink? The Palestinian National Authority, however, links to no Israeli sites at its official Web home (www.pna.org). The Israeli Government Gateway (www.info.gov.il/eng/), meanwhile, had no links to Palestinian sites that we could find.

The Electronic Intifada site (electronicintifada.net) linked to Israeli newspapers such as Haaretz (www.co.haaretz.co.il) and the Jerusalem Post (www.jpost.com); the latter, meanwhile, points to a variety of Palestinian sites, including some that appear to support terrorist groups.

What about Israel.com and Palestine.com? They’re both commercial sites, run far from the scene of the conflict. One’s a Web directory and the other is a travel guide. As far as we could tell, they don’t link to each other either.