Israelis, Palestinians battle on Web
Historic conflict strains tensions on social networking site
By Laurie Copans
The Associated Press
updated 2:01 p.m. ET March 18, 2008
JERUSALEM – Israelis and Palestinians have taken their conflict to Facebook.
Members of the social networking craze who are Jewish settlers living in the West Bank were incensed to discover that they had to choose “Palestine” as the state, not Israel, when filling out the address section of their profile pages.
For the Palestinian residents of the territory, it only made sense that their state would be listed as Palestine. Palestinians hope that the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem will make up a Palestinian state as the result of peace negotiations now underway.
But Jewish settlers hope the land, which many believe was given to the Jews by God, will remain under Israeli control, rejecting their own government’s policy favoring creation of a Palestinian state.
Following an Israeli campaign, the online hangout decided to allow residents of some Jewish settlements the option of listing Israel or Palestine, settlers said.
Facebook Inc. did not immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment.
Channah Lerman, a Jewish settler who started a group to fight the cause, said Tuesday that Facebook was letting many settlers list their state as Israel.
“Slowly they have added a few bigger settlements to the list,” Lerman wrote in a message. “But the bottom line is that the majority of settlements are not (yet) listed.”
Some Jewish settlers were upset that Palestine is even an option for them.
“I am still not happy about Palestine being listed as a country of residence on Facebook (or any other site for that matter),” Facebook member Ahuvah Berger wrote on a discussion of a group formed to fight for the cause. “But at least Facebook understood and respected their users enough to give them options.”
Palestinians themselves had fought their own battle with Facebook. Originally, Palestinians could only choose West Bank or Gaza Strip as a country option, according to a group that organized to change the policy. Facebook has since agreed to make “Palestine” an option. But more than 200,000 Palestinians living in east Jerusalem are unable to list Palestine as their country.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem shortly after capturing it in the 1967 war, but Palestinians claim it as their capital.
“This is a very sensitive, complicated, and emotional issue for millions of Palestinians around the world,” wrote a group called “All Palestinians on Facebook” on its information page. “For you to interfere in such a political issue and (side) with one party in the conflict is simply outrageous.”
Some Arab citizens of Israel who would like to consider their towns still a part of Palestine — which the area was called until Israel was established in 1948 — are unable to list them as such on Facebook. Israeli Arabs comprise about 20 percent of Israel’s population.
Israeli and Palestinian groups on Facebook also openly strive to gain the most members, displaying their enrollment as the numbers grow into the thousands.
One Facebook member fed up with Israelis and Palestinians fighting on the Web has formed a group “Arguing on Facebook is the Only Way to Solve the Israel/Palestine Problem.”
“If you truly love whichever side you claim to love, you will step up to the challenge, make it your personal struggle, to (anger) people and look like the (idiot),” the group wrote in a scatological promotion to attract members, of whom there were 663 on Tuesday.
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