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by Samir Raafat
Cairo Times, 13 January 2000

During a NGO-sponsored peace conference held earlier this year in Cairo, Israel's Shimon Perez talked of information technology melting hostile borders and man-made demarcation lines. Looking around the hall it was painfully obvious his words were falling on deaf ears. To the geriatric veterans of Egypt's Peace Treaty with Israelinformation technology and Internet-related sciences were something out of La-la-land.

Therefore to those people who couldn't or wouldn't make out what Perez was vocalizing I have this message. Go visit the Golan Heights.

Yes, visit the Golan Heights but not for the usual reasons; not so you can taste first hand Israel's scorched-earth policy in Qunaitera or see for yourself how all this talk about 'security' is hogwash in an era where ballistic missiles leapfrog several nations at a time. If ever there was factual evidence of how technology can eradicate artificial borders, that is the place.

Here's what I saw and heard at the Shouting Valley only a few weeks ago.

As we approached our destination a veteran photographer exclaimed it being Friday we were in for a show. He was thinking in terms of his last visit when members of several displaced families using strong lungs and megaphones shouted messages across the 'Line of Control' separating Israeli-occupied land from the rest of Syria

Separating the two groups of mainly Druze shouters was a steep green valley its width the length of two football fields punctuated with barbed-wire fence and squat olive trees. Clearly visible from our Syrian vantage location was what seemed a bustling Druze village hugging a nearby cliff. The dividing man-made border rendered it inaccessible, a situation which exists since the 1967 June War.

But the throngs were not there. Instead there were several jeans-clad youngsters shouting seasons greetings to their relations across the crisp valley. "They're getting less and less explained a bored Slovak Blue Helmet standing guard in a nearby United Nations lookout tower. "Now there are the phones."

Granted there are no direct telephone lines linking Damascus to the 50+ villages scattered across occupied Golan. But then we forget that telephones hardly existed in this predominantly rural area before June 1967--perhaps one line for every five or ten villages. So the fact that today there was hardly anyone at Shouting Valley underscores how far communication technology has come since those horse 'n buggy days.

The availability of electricity and affordable satellite dishes on every roof also says something. Watching enemy television networks is old hat and that in the space of 10 years everyone is watching everyone else. And now, in the age of cellular phones the world is shrinking even more.

So why not imagine that a venturesome Druze has already smuggled a few Israeli cellular phones into the occupied area. All it would take is for another enterprising compatriot to set up a private (albeit clandestine) cross-border phone service: TALK TO YOUR LOVED ONES FOR ONLY 20 LIRAS A MINUTE.

golan-1.gif - 8492 Bytes But Um Farid wants to see her son who's been away for three years and refused entrance into the Israeli-held zone. What does she do? Does she trek over to the Shouting Valley armed with a megaphone and binoculars? And what if it's a rainy day where visibility is zilch?

Ah, but there's this cool guy down the road who has a computer and he's ready to help out. For a small fee Um Farid can e-mail her son. And in a few months, when Doctor Bashar al-Assad finally introduces Internet in his father's ripening realm, Um Farid will be able to simultaneously see AND net-talk with her loved ones.

And while Um Farid acquaints herself with the wonders of cyber communication she might even decide to netsurf some of the heretofore forbidden zones so that even the most virulent of psychological barriers will ultimately come down.

While this is no balm to hawks on either side of the border, the age of teleconferencing and virtual traveling is available to anyone with a PC and phone.

Even as we talk, the ephemeral republic of Cyberia is spreading exponentially.

It therefore comes as no surprise that Shouting Valley is suffering from lack of patrons these days. Even as Um Farid repeats her message over the megaphone for the fifth time to her exasperated son standing on the other side of the Line of Control, someone else might be talking to his cross-border relation by clandestine cellular phone courtesy of Bezek, Israel's state-owned telecom.

Whether we like it or not Silicon Valley is rendering obsolete the Shouting Wadis of this world.

articles posted on were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

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