JERUSALEM—The monthlong battle between Hezbollah and Israel has provided another example—as if one were needed—of how pervasive the Internet has become in modern life.
During the 34 days of fighting, with nearly 4,000 Hezbollah rockets raining down on their country, Israelis fired off e-mail as never before, doubling the usual number of outgoing messages handled by Netvision, Israel's largest Internet provider. As the cease-fire took hold last week, the number plummeted back to normal.
In intimate, information-intensive Israel, the trend made sense. With cell-phone service sometimes spotty and thousands of people called up for reserve duty or spending hours, if not days, in underground shelters, e-mail became a simple way to keep up with friends and family and share tales.
Instead of ringing Mom, Dad and a host of friends, an e-mailer could fire off a collective "I'm fine," and get on with life.
"I'd say this is the first war that the Internet was a key player, a critical part in the connectivity path of people," said Ariel Pisetzky, a Netvision operations manager who tracked usage. "Instead of phone and TV, we expect our e-mail and our Internet to be there all the time."
When rockets hit a railroad depot in Haifa at 9:10 a.m. on July 16, killing eight Israeli workers, the e-mail meter at Netvision spiked twice—between 9 and 10 a.m. and between 2 and 3 p.m.
It was as though everyone rushed to his or her personal computer to dash off an e-mail—You OK? I'm OK—then responded as more information became available.
Israelis' in-boxes were stuffed with everything from messages to cell-phone photos of spent rockets in someone's garden. Some people sitting on the fringes documented the banality of a country at war.
Consider this Aug. 13 e-mail from a resident of a kibbutz on the northern border, who signed it only as "Barry," reporting to 30 or so friends how he and his black mutt, Zed, were managing:
"My breakfast was nearly interrupted by a rocket barrage," he wrote. "I rushed outdoors to retrieve Zed, who was in the garden ... grabbed him by his collar and dragged him indoors."
One popular e-mail, forwarded again and again across the country, included accounts of how a Reuters news agency photographer doctored photos in Beirut, Lebanon, making the damage that Israeli warplanes had wrought look even worse.
Even the Israeli government got in on the act: Employees covertly e-mailed government photos—unmarked and untraceable—that illustrated Israeli damage and defiance, said Daniel Seaman, the director of Israel's Government Press Office. The covert operation was meant to counter news photos from Lebanon that showed suffering on the other side, he said.
The trend illustrates how Israel has adapted to the information age across its wars.
Television had yet to arrive in the 1967 Six-Day War, so Israelis got their news from state-run radio and newspapers. By the time Syrian and Egyptian troops overran Israel's defenses in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, TV had become part of the mix.
During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, CNN and other cable news channels broadcast 24-hour coverage of missile attacks. When a Palestinian uprising erupted in September 2000, soldiers carried cell phones to street battles in Bethlehem.
"The technologies have changed. People move very fast," remarked Susan Hattis Rolef, the editor of the Political Dictionary of Israel, who said her e-mail inbox was jammed with cartoons and political commentary reflecting a range of attitudes about the most recent conflict.
In Haifa, Pisetzky tracked the trend from Netvision's headquarters, usually staffed 24 hours a day by nearly 1,000 employees working in three shifts to support some 300,000 residential broadband users plus 15,000 business clients.
Once Hezbollah's missiles struck, the staff scattered. Some went to a secure call center at Haifa headquarters, set up for just such an occasion. Another 150 were dispatched to a call center in Tel Aviv, south of the strike zone. And many simply stayed home, coordinating their work by—what else?—e-mail. When civil defense sirens sounded, warning of incoming missiles, employees rushed to neighborhood shelters but left themselves signed on.
"People didn't want to leave their houses, out of a sense of security," Pisetzky said. "I personally worked from home from time to time."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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