TECHNOFILE

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
In hypermedia, the traveller has any number of paths to take, and that makes it all the more important to establish common ground where different themes meet. The most telling thing about Jerusalem, a CD-Rom developed by New Media Solutions at the suggestion of Lord Weidenfeld, is that its starting image is not one but three figures: a nun, a Jew and an Arab, each signifying one of the religions for whom the city is a place of spiritual significance.

The nearest thing to a synthesis is a feature in which a selection of individuals speak about the prospects for the city, mostly in lukewarm generalities about tolerance and harmony. Only one, Rabbi David Rosen, provides a useful element of analysis, when he says that the problem is not of religious co-existence, but that of the conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian national movements.

While the disk details major turns of history, ancient and recent, its point of view is primarily that of a tourist - specifically, that of a tourist standing on the roof of the Citadel. You can swivel round 360 degrees and summon close-ups of places of interest. An endearing quirk is the shot of a row of buses at the Central Bus Station. This seems to pop up all over the place: the buses are a lot more prominent than the 150,000 Arabs of the city, a number of whom I eventually found in a video clip of the old market area.

The CD-Rom Jerusalem founders on its founding principle, that of shared identity. But at least it tries, going beyond being a glossy guide to tourist attractions and archaeology in the process. Virtual Jerusalem, by contrast, has no such scruples. This "Internet City with a 3000 year Tradition" [sic] (http://www.jer1.co.il/) is an all-Jewish construction. Its tone is mostly hearty, in the manner of a holiday camp; which sits a little oddly with its religious enthusiasm. Elsewhere it is sharper, inviting support for what it bizarrely calls an "apolitical" movement for an undivided Jerusalem as Israel's capital. "It is important to note that Jerusalem is mentioned 657 times in the Jewish bible, 154 times in the New Testament, and not a single time in the Koran," it warns.

Virtual Jerusalem doesn't have a monopoly on the rhetoric of historical numbers. Taking the long view - especially for a document entitled "Environmental Profile for the West Bank" - the Applied Research Institute: Jerusalem (http://www.arij.org/) observes that for the first 3000 years of its history, Jerusalem's inhabitants were the Canaanites, not the Israelites. But, it notes, the Canaanites were not displaced, and "archaeological findings indicate that Jerusalem has always been an inter-ethnic city". It goes on to argue that, contrary to this tradition, Palestinians now face displacement from Jerusalem.

Nor is their place in cyberspace yet secure, according to the Birzeit University Website (http://www.birzeit.edu). Palestine has 29 Web sites, but the development of Palestinian Internet connections has been hampered by a prohibition on leased lines, the sort used for data networks. Further problems are arising as part of the telecommunication infrastructure passes into Palestinian hands, while the rest remains under Israeli control.

So from Lord Weidenfeld's shining brochure to the state of Palestinian telecoms, the pictures are of fragmentation. The only way to engage with Jerusalem - in hypermedia or any other - involves grasping the nettle of politics and listening to different, incompatible narratives. Meanwhile, at the humblest levels of cyberspace, the CIA World Fact Book (http://www. odci.gov/cia) reports that only 8 per cent of Palestinian households on the West Bank have an ordinary telephone.

Marek.kohn@mcr1.poptel.org.uk

Comments