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Home Movies from Hell

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What strikes you first about the war is how beautiful everything is. A picture-postcard landscape, rolling hills, Mediterranean-style buildings with terra-cotta roofs. But in the center, towering over everything like the canopy of a coal-black tree, is a plume of smoke. It is the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, and Israeli warplanes are bombarding it.  "These motherf___ers are killing everybody here," says an American-accented voice. " Holy shit! This is your liberation of Lebanon."

This is what the Israel-Hezbollah war looks like on your desktop, now that a battle zone full of highly educated, urbanized civilians are empowered to upload their terror almost instantly. We’ve experienced the immediacy of a war covered by embedded reporters, and in these very pixels Ana Marie Cox wrote about collections of videos shot by U.S. troops in Iraq. Now we’re seeing the actual populations under attack chronicling the air raids and posting raw video on sites like YouTube the day it happens. They counter images of Lebanon’s bombardment with shots of Hezbollah rocket strikes on Israel and roughly debate the fighting in the Comments sections: they are wiki-ing the war.

Network news shots tend to bring you the close ups–the anguished refugees, the rubble, the reporters ducking under fire. These amateur videos, shot by inexperienced camerapeople from windows and balconies, without benefit of powerful zoom lenses, give you the panorama, and the mundane. Missiles strike the Beirut skyline at night and a lonely car alarm goes off. Air-raid sirens wail in an unnamed city in northern Israel as the video shooter dashes onto a balcony–potted plants, metal deck furniture–to try to catch a missile strike. (The distant, muffled explosions are augmented with  crude supertitles: "BOOM.") Israeli helicopters hit a radar station and a tourist tapes it from his hotel room, blasts echoing over the blue Mediterranean vista as we hear a child give play-by-play in the background. ("The water’s blowing up over there!") "Un Lapin"–an 18-year-old Israeli girl whose previous YouTube videos include her lip-syncing Britney Spears with her friends–huddles by her camera and describes spending five days hiding from missile attacks: "Most of my friends ran away to the south of Israel, but I’m staying here because my family don’t want to go, and I don’t want to leave them," she says. "Today the bombs–one of my friends’ house is ruined… I’m really scared."

There are few pyrotechnics to find in these war videos–the amateur journalists don’t have the benefit of training or fancy equipment, and we usually only hear the explosions, which happen off-camera. Strangely, that makes the videos more frightening, not less. There is a sense of menace, confusion and immediacy that comes from sharing the cameraperson’s perspective, not knowing if or where a missile will hit or if the next one is headed for you.

The other difference between the amateur and professional coverage is that the video is not filtered and organized for you, though YouTube has featured war videos on its home page most days recently. Start with the videos linked above, then do a search: Israel, Lebanon, war and rockets are a few helpful starter keywords. You’ll probably find more new material than you wish you could, as the war, however far away from it you are, draws ever more uncomfortably close.