'Ma'aleh Adumim, Palestine'

Facebook no longer allows settlers to list hometowns as being in Israel.

Maaleh Adumim 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Maaleh Adumim 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Ma'aleh Adumim resident Julian Czarny woke up recently to discover that he lived in "Palestine" - at least according to the popular Internet social networking site Facebook. Facebook no longer allows members from Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel, Betar Illit and other settlements over the Green Line to list their hometowns as situated in Israel, but instead provides only a preset location, with their country listed as "Palestine." "Someone at Facebook is simply prejudging whatever may or may not come about in future negotiations," said Czarny. "Who exactly decided on this computerized transfer of over a quarter-million Jews from Israel to Palestine?" Fellow Ma'aleh Adumim resident and Facebook user Seth Vogelman also found his country of residence changed from "Israel" to "Palestine." "I don't think what they've decided to do is coming from a misunderstanding," Vogelman said. "It could be nefarious, but I think this is a reflection of the fact that what's going on in Israel is distorted in the American media. "What does Facebook do? They proudly tout themselves as a forum of freedom of expression. But by this act, they negate their own raison d'etre of how people express themselves. If this were an issue involving homosexuals, I doubt they would curtail anything we're doing. But because it has to do with Jews returning to their homeland and expressing their Jewish identity, Facebook feels they can limit freely without any qualms." Facebook defines itself as "a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them." The move to seemingly impose geopolitical borders on users comes as the network is under fire for increasingly controversial sentiments being circulated throughout its site. Various groups on the site call for the destruction of Israel, and last week, a group was created celebrating the "martyrdom" of the terrorist who perpetrated the shooting attack at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem. That group is still in existence on Facebook. Another group, called "Facebook-stop discriminating Yesha!" has been established in protest of the site's apparent territorial decisions. The group's description cites the fact that "It's no longer possible to list any yishuv in Yesha as your hometown," and calls on Facebook to stop the alleged discrimination. One group member, Neriel Maarek, posted a comment on the group's page, citing a response she received from Facebook after writing to them to complain. The response, which could not be verified by The Jerusalem Post, reads, "Thanks for expressing your concerns to us. We understand that Facebook's geographical classifications are not satisfactory to all of our users. We are currently working on new ways to address this issue, and we hope you will bear with us as we work towards a solution that will be acceptable to everyone involved." Efrat resident David Curwin, a member of the "Yesha" group, told the Post that his community suddenly wasn't listed on Facebook at all. He e-mailed the Web site to complain and received a response similar to Maarek's: "Facebook's geographical data is currently drawn from the UN. We understand, however, that the UN's geographical classifications are not satisfactory to all of our users," etc. "I don't think Facebook was aware of the political ramifications in limiting choices for hometowns," Curwin told the Post. "I think they wanted to list as many countries as possible for marketing purposes, and consulted the UN. I do believe that the UN has a political bias, but I don't think the average person thinks of the UN as biased. Here, we are more aware of that." Facebook did not return e-mails from the Post by press time, and a working telephone number to contact the Web site is not available. But many feel that the continued policy of listing certain Israeli towns as located in "Palestine" and omitting other Israeli towns entirely does say something about Facebook's political leanings. "Facebook and other similar social networking sites were set up to encourage friendship," Czarny said. "Can it be called friendly when the supposedly liberal managers of Facebook unilaterally change the map of Israel in such a way that takes no account of the realities on the ground?"