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Previously in Web Citations:

Politics Made Simple

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Front Runners

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All Crime, All the Time

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Modem Bride

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Be Fruitful and Multiply

When it comes to modern reproductive technology, many are turning to the Web for a helping hand.

See the complete Web Citations Index.

Sim City
June 30, 1999

Virtual Holyland King Herod the Great may have died long ago, but thanks to a site called Virtual Holy Land and RealPlayer technology, Herod lives again. A click of the mouse puts you face-to-face with an actor playing the Roman king of Judea, who graciously introduces you to the city. Despite the camp factor -- the actor looks like he just stepped off the set of a Mel Brooks picture -- Virtual Holy Land (VHL) is an immersive experience, treating the user to a wealth of interesting information on Jerusalem. VHL is just one of many Jerusalem sites, each purporting to recreate the aura and weighty grandeur of this historic city. However, like its earth-bound counterpart, the virtual Jerusalem community reflects thousands of years of persecution and religious differences. As the city's competing religious and ethnic groups find their way onto the Web, their long-held grievances color their attempts to forge a perfect, virtual Jerusalem.

View of Jerusalem
A view of the Western Wall, from Holy Cams

VHL offers several detailed photo galleries, allowing the user to make a "CyberPilgrimage" to the city's holy sites. The aforementioned RealPlayer feature treats the user to a narrative of several of the city's landmarks, including the Jewish Quarter and the Southern Temple. (A sister Web site, Holy Cams, offers real-time snapshots of the Western Wall and various locations throughout the city.) There are also bulletin boards for discussing Israel-related issues, and an interesting "prayer" form in which users write their own personal prayer, which is then printed and delivered by the Webmasters to the Western Wall, following Jewish tradition.

Dig a little deeper, however, and you'll discover that VHL is not simply a public-interest Web site. A link on the site's main page asks visitors to sign their "Jerusalem Undivided" petition, a document that opposes plans to divide the city into Palestinian and Israeli zones. In the news section, an article explains what a compromise between Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak's administration and the PLO would mean, and forecasts the lack of security and order that such an agreement might bring. As a whole the site strives not only to make Jerusalem more accessible to Anglophones, but also to reinforce their perception of whose city it is -- namely, one belonging to the Jews.

Online Jerusalem At the opposite end of the spectrum, Online Jerusalem presents a Palestinian viewpoint. Like its Israel-boosting counterpart Virtual Holy Land, Online Jerusalem delivers not-so-subtle political commentary under the guise of an attractive tourism-promotion site. Here, the message is more overt; a link to a "list of Israeli acts of aggression" rests just to the left of a link to an innocuous photo gallery. Under the heading "News" lie several articles outlining the Palestinian position on Jerusalem and the Palestinian historical claim on the Holy Land.

The Jews and the Palestinians are not the only two groups with a claim to Jerusalem. The Christians are not to be overlooked, and of the myriad Christian denominations who have settled here over the past two millennia -- from the Greek Orthodox to the Lutherans -- few have left a longer or more residual imprint than the Armenian Orthodox Church. The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem is located here, and provides one of the major epicenters of a tradition that dates back to the disciples Thaddeus and Bartholomew. Armenians in the Holy Land, supported by a California non-profit organization, provides an extensive chronicle of one of the oldest continuous presences in modern Jerusalem. Offering a less dogmatic position than the previous two sites, the Patriarchate presents a simple historical resource for those interested in this small yet historically rich denomination.

In contrast to these sites, Virtual Messiah combines a personal approach with a unique entrepreneurial spirit: its proprietors manufacture and sell a 3D-rendered Jerusalem CD-ROM, recreating the city as it stood in the time of Christ. For those possessed of the need to "own" Jerusalem, this disc may be a reasonable compromise. Once the current Israeli government has cut its deal on partition, the opponents of the partition will always have their virtual Jerusalem just as it existed thousands of years ago, stored away safely in silicon.

--Eric Manch

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More on Technology and Digital Culture in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Eric Manch is a new-media intern at The Atlantic Monthly.

Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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