Media Re:Public posted a short note about blog-about-Palestine day, created by za3tar in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, which roughly coincides with Israel’s independence day. It seems like a good day to check in on the online battles over Israel and Palestine. Wikipedia’s post on Nakba is heavily footnoted, as are most posts on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The contention arising out of differing viewpoints on independence v. national catastrophe is especially evident in Wikipedia’s edit wars on the subject. A snippet illustrates the conflict:

“The battles that are going on at Palestine/Israel articles are now getting out of hand and the community is no longer able to handle them….What it boils down to is severe ownership issues from certain members of the dispute, and an unwillingness for parties to make compromises and stick with consensus.”

Wikipedia has developed a fascinating process for mediating ethnic and cultural edit wars. These mediations over language and history in contested territories directly engage core disagreements and seek processes for acceptable language by both sides. It’s a kind of track-two negotiation over issues completely driven by volunteers. Sri Lanka/Eelam, Northern Ireland, Armenia/Azerbaijan, and Turkey/Greece are some of the more prominent mediations.

Wikipedia’s list of countries approaches this question by allowing multiple interpretations to exist simultaneously, using the word “country” in a broad, colloquial sense that goes beyond sovereignty. Palestine gains entry to the list of countries as the Occupied Palestinian Territories – the article itself is heavily footnoted and disputed. Wikipedia is interesting for the process it offers, but because of this, perhaps isn’t the best source for a definitive argument on any particular disputed territory.

For those interested in a rigorous international law perspective on sovereignty and statehood, see James Crawford’s The Creation of States in International Law (Oxford U. Press, 2nd ed, 2006). Crawford has a chapter on Israel and Palestine. He broadly takes the position that Palestine was granted some sovereign rights by the Mandate for Palestine, and hence Israel technically seceded. Israel does not acknowledge this position as a starting point for negotiating Palestinian rights as its acceptance would validate some Palestinian sovereignty claims. In practice negotiations over Palestinian statehood have no accepted common historical and legal starting point. Thus negotiations elide the question, and take an ad hoc approach. See also Tom Grant’s work on secession, and Hurst Hannum’s Autonomy, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination for further background on statehood (disclosure, Grant and Hannum are respectively, colleague and former professor).

Back in the virtual world, Google Earth is another territory where the Palestinian dispute has advanced. Palestine Remembered uses the Google feature allowing users to post images and text to map a Palestinian history on Israeli territory. Here’s an example of the pop-up:

In February 2008 the Israeli town of Kiryat Yam sued Google for slander, claiming that Google Earth shows that the town was built on the ruins of an Arab town. Story on Haaretz here.

Facebook faced a similar dilemma in March 2008, over the question of naming country locations for towns in Israel/Palestine in its groups. Facebook solved the problem by allowing members to choose their own “country” affiliation. Different Facebook groups have taken strong positions on the issue, such as “Palestine is not a country!” and “Palestine should be a country!.”

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