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Published:April 23rd, 2011 10:30 EST
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Engaging Arab World in Dialogue: Israeli Soldiers Use New Social Media Site

By SOP newswire2

Friend-a-Soldier, a brand new interactive social media site that aims to foster dialogue between individuals from all over the world and Israeli soldiers, has succeeded in attracting participants from over 100 different countries within an impressive two-month period. Officially launched in February of 2011, the former soldiers and IDF activists have been corresponding with hundreds of users via email, and the results so far have been both unusual and exciting. The site continues to show a remarkable increase in new visitors each week; however, many participants have been returning to the site to engage in extended conversations with the 12 IDF reservists currently responding to inquiries on a daily basis.

The all-volunteer outreach initiative was conceived in 2010 by three former IDF combat soldiers " Daniel Nisman, Josh Mintz and Yagil Beinglass - who were frustrated with what they perceived as the growing, inaccurate anti-Israel bias and misinformation found in online social communities and traditional media coverage. In response, they concluded that the solution to countering the growing anti-Israel sentiment was to establish an interactive site that encouraged one-on-one dialogue between users and IDF soldiers.

The forum challenges individuals to ask us anything " regarding Israel and the region, including settlements, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, terrorism, peace negotiations ad the Gaza blockade, amongst a multitude of other topics. Although the volunteers promise to provide an answer to every question submitted by a user, the real objective of the organization is to reach out to individuals from countries with traditionally hostile views of Israel.

Our goal is relatively simple: to offer individuals the unique opportunity to approach and converse with an IDF soldier on a personal, one-on-one basis, " says Daniel Nisman, founder and managing director of the site. By revealing ourselves to the international community, we`re showing the world that we have no reason to hide or be ashamed of our country or our military. We`re proud to serve as soldiers in the IDF.

The entire process is a truly unique experience to witness in action: a diverse group of former soldiers lounging casually in a Tel Aviv apartment; a TV broadcasts the latest Qassam and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants and the subsequent IDF response, while a group of reservists sit in front of their laptops typing diligently in an attempt to address inquiries they receive in an open and honest manner. Avi, who recently served on the Gaza border, discusses his opinions on the Gaza blockade with Rami, a Syrian user of the site. Ilana, a female IDF soldier who served in a combat search and rescue unit, discusses the peace process with Noor, an Israeli-Arab in the northern region. Daniel, a former combat soldier in the Special Forces, shares his thoughts about the two-state solution with Tarek, a Palestinian from Ramallah.

"It is our belief that by forging these personal connections, we can create a level of mutual understanding between us and our adversaries," remarked Josh Mintz, who serves as the organization`s director of communications. "That understanding, we hope, can help serve as a basis for achieving a comprehensive peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people, as well as improving Israel`s image in the international community."

The project has received substantial praise and criticism from each side of the political spectrum since its inception, and has garnered considerable news coverage from Israeli and Palestinian media outlets.  As more soldiers volunteer to contribute to the growing site, one thing is certain: what started as a modest initiative to encourage dialogue between Israelis and the outside world is quickly becoming an online revolution in people`s diplomacy.

Friend a soldier is not associated with any official Israeli or IDF organization. For more information on Friend-a-Soldier, please visit their website at www.friendasoldier.com