JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Complaints by Jewish settlers angry at Facebook for listing them as residents of “Palestine” prompted the popular social networking Web site to allow users to switch themselves back to Israel.
Facebook users living in Maale Adumim, Ariel and other large Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank protested when the site automatically listed their hometowns as being in “Palestine.” A group of settlers accused the California-based company of having a political agenda.
“I was surprised and disappointed to find that my hometown of Ariel is listed in Facebook as being part of a country called ‘Palestine,”’ wrote Ari Zimmerman in a posting on Facebook. “I am a citizen of Israel, as are all of the other residents of Ariel. We do not live in ‘Palestine’, nor does anyone else.”
Brandee Barker, Facebook’s director of communications, said users living in major settlement blocs can now choose between being listed as residents of Israel or Palestine.
“Facebook users in the Israeli West Bank settlements of Maale Adumim, Beitar Illit, and Ariel can now choose between Israel and Palestine,” Barker said last week in an email to Reuters.
Israel wants to hold onto Maale Adumim and other major settlement blocs under any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
“We also offer Hebron in both Israel and Palestine,” Barker said, referring to the major West Bank city which is home to about 150,000 Palestinians and some 400 Jewish settlers.
Barker said about 18 West Bank settlements were currently listed on Facebook and that many more would be added in the future, giving users the option of choosing Israel or Palestine.
In a posting on a Facebook page used by settlers, Channah Lerman wrote: “Be aware! Should you restore the cities of Judea, Samaria (the West Bank) ... people will get more enraged than they are already. Palestine is not a country.”
Palestinian users have set up their own Facebook group whose members threatened to cancel their accounts if Palestine was removed from the site. Called “If Palestine is removed from Facebook, I am closing my account,” the group has over 4,700 members.
“We created this group to let our voices be heard not only among Facebook’s management but all the users, and to tell everyone that Palestine is and will always be a country,” Saif Qadoumi, the group’s 20-year-old founder, told Reuters.
Sara Al, a group member, urged users in one entry to join a group called “It’s not Israel, It’s Palestine,” saying it was a response to another group set up by Israeli users advocating the opposite message.
“Please join to beat another group called ‘It’s not Palestine, it’s Israel’ which has 13,000 members,” she wrote.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war, and annexed Arab East Jerusalem in a move that has not won international recognition. It regards all of Jerusalem as its capital.
Facebook, for its part, identifies Jerusalem as part of Israel. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they aspire to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Editing by Paul Casciato