Haifa, Israel — Israelis in the West Bank woke up earlier this week to be informed that they now live under Palestinian rule, though they were restored to Israeli rule on Friday.
Who was responsible for changing the map, and how did it change back so quickly? As it turns out, the Israelis in question were told they lived in Palestine not by any governmental bodies, but rather by Facebook.
The social networking Web site had defined all West Bank neighborhoods — even Israeli ones — as “Palestine.”
Israelis in the West Bank refer to their region as “Yesha,” a Hebrew acronym that refers to Judea and Samaria and implies Israeli ownership of the area. Facebook users had been able to specify “Yesha” as their country of residence in the site’s user profile section. But this week, everyone whose profile previously showed Yesha began to be listed as living in Palestine. All new accounts set up for West Bank addresses were automatically displayed as Palestine.
A Facebook group set up to protest the move, called “Stop Discriminating Against Yesha,” has more than 1,200 members. One, Seth Vogelman, who lives in the city of Ma’aleh Adumim, told the Forward that he felt the people behind the site should know better.
“Facebook is all about a sense of ‘anything goes,’ but when it comes to our identity, we can’t list our homes where we want,” Vogelman said. “We feel we’re living in the State of Israel, and out of the blue they decide we can’t say that.”
Representatives of Facebook would not explain why the Palestine choice was made. But late afternoon on Friday, just before the Sabbath, Facebook bowed to pressure.
A spokesman said that now, “Facebook users in the Israeli West Bank settlements of Ma’ale Adumim, Beitar Illit and Ariel can now choose between Israel and Palestine.”
“We also offer Hebron in both Israel and Palestine,” the spokesman added. “We only support 18 cities in the West Bank at this point, so most settlements are not yet supported, though we certainly intend to add them. We also have many more cities in other countries yet to add and will continue to do so over time.”