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22 Jan, 2009 06:02

Gaming for peace in the Middle East

As the fragile truce between Israel and Hamas continues to hold, a new computer game dealing with the complexities of Middle Eastern politics has come on the market.

The last Israeli soldier has left Gaza as the shaky truce between Israel and Hamas enters its fifth day. Israel says it'll return if militants fire just one rocket onto Israeli soil.

It's good news for the tens of thousands of Israeli reservists who can finally return home to their wives and children

“I'm getting out of Gaza with a confused feeling. On the one hand I'm very happy to come home – I'm not wounded and our brigade was away from home for six weeks. But on the other hand, we are coming back without kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and my feeling is that if we'd stayed another day or two inside Gaza we would've definitely been able to bring him home too,” said Alexander Nepomnyashi, an Israeli-Russian reservist.

According to Israeli law, every man between the ages of 21 and 42 can be sent to the battle zone whenever the country needs it.

But for those who are too young, too old, or too ill to go to war, there's somebody satisfying their thirst for fighting too.

Peace game

The Peres Institute for Peace, named after the Israeli president, has just released a new game called 'Peacemaker'.

Its goal is to show everyone just how difficult it is to solve the Middle East conflict.

“It works like this. If you manage to satisfy the Israelis, the Palestinians immediately shoot Qassam rockets at you; but if you move settlers out of Palestinian land, right-wing Israelis immediately start demonstrating. If you want to win the game, you have to, all the time, find the solution somewhere in the middle,” game creator Yossi Kovensky said.

The creators have tried to stay as true to life as possible by involving the Israeli army, Fatah and Hamas supporters, journalists and even the international community.

“In this kind of game it's better to be Palestinian because then it's enough not to ever use violence and you've already won the game. If you're an Israeli, you have to make more difficult decisions,” player Sasha Gorelik said.

But sometimes the line between reality and fiction blurs.

The Israeli secret service reports that some Palestinian youngsters, inspired by such games, have been opening fire on Israeli settlers.

“Of course these kind of games can affect youngsters very badly, but at least here on the screen, it finishes without blood, and I believe in real life it's not going to be worse than what they see here,” said game designer Eran Blum.

But there’s another battle taking place – between Jewish and Muslim designers. And on this front, Israelis say their strongest enemy is the Syrians, with each keen to tell a different version of the truth.

“It's unbelievable when during the game you succeed in bringing peace, but then you step out of the computer and switch on the television news, and see that nothing in the world has changed,” Gorelik said.

Sadly, nothing can prepare the young Israeli gamers for what they’ll see when they grow up and join the army.