Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Israelis, Palestinians fight on Facebook

By LAURIE COPANS, Associated Press Writer
Tue Mar 18
JERUSALEM - Israelis and Palestinians have taken their conflict to Facebook.

Jewish settlers living in the West Bank were incensed to discover they had to choose Palestine, not Israel, when filling out the address section of their profile pages on the popular social networking site.

Palestinians hope the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem will make up a Palestinian state as the result of peace negotiations now under way. But Jewish settlers want the land to remain under Israeli control, rejecting their own government's policy favoring creation of a Palestinian state.

Following an Israeli campaign, Facebook decided to allow residents of some Jewish settlements the option of listing Israel or Palestine as their country, settlers said.

Facebook Inc. did not immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

Channah Lerman, a Jewish settler who organized a protest of the issue, said Tuesday that Facebook was letting some settlers list their state as Israel.

"Slowly they have added a few bigger settlements to the list," Lerman wrote. "But the bottom line is that the majority of settlements are not (yet) listed."

Some Jewish settlers were upset that Palestine is even among the options.

"I am still not happy about Palestine being listed as a country of residence on Facebook (or any other site for that matter)," wrote Facebook member Ahuvah Berger. "But at least Facebook understood and respected their users enough to give them options."

Palestinians have fought their own battle with Facebook. Initially, they could only choose the West Bank or Gaza Strip as a country option. Facebook has since agreed to list Palestine as well. But more than 200,000 Palestinians living in east Jerusalem are unable to opt for Palestine as their country.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem shortly after capturing it in the 1967 Middle East 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 calling itself All Palestinians on Facebook. "For you to interfere in such a political issue and (side) with one party in the conflict is simply outrageous."

In addition, some Arab citizens of Israel want their towns designated on Facebook as part of Palestine — which the area was called before Israel was established in 1948. Israeli Arabs comprise about 20 percent of Israel's population.

Israeli and Palestinian groups on Facebook also compete 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 called "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.

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