Exploring basic bias on Wikipedia

13 September, 2010 at 07:02 | Posted in Israeli-Arab conflict, Wikipedia policy | Leave a comment
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An interesting way to examine the basic bias of editors in different Wikipedias toward a certain subject is to look at the initial edits of articles dealing with disputed issues. The first sentences of a new article resemble, in a way, a game of association. The initiator of the article tends to write the first things coming to he/his mind when he thinks about the subject. It is also interesting to see how long it takes before balancing information, or balancing changes to the phrasing, are introduced and how they are welcomed. In many cases

kineret

Sea of Galilee. Image by mprivoro via Flickr

such balancing information or edits are never introduced, and in some cases a fairly balanced text turns into biased one.

The followings are examples of initial edits of articles about certain subjects related to the Middle-East conflict from the Arabic Hebrew and English Wikipedia (all translated into English). Note – These are all obsolete versions currently found only in the “history” of the articles.

Jerusalem
Arabic Al-Quds is one of the biggest cities in Palestine, named Urshalim in the ancient scripts of the New Testament and the Torah. Its oldest remains go back to 3,000 before the Birth. Al-Quds is the most common name for Jerusalem among Arabic speakers. The use of Palestine could indicate non-recognition in Israel, but not necessarily.
Hebrew Yerushalayim is the capital of the State of Israel. It is one of the oldest cities in the world. The holiest city for Jews and Christians and third in sacredness to Muslims after Mecca and Medina. Yerushalayim is the Hebrew name for Jerusalem. The article seems to open with a political statement, though Jerusalem is indeed the Israeli seat of government. The remark about the status of Jerusalem in Islam might be an allusion to the Israeli-Arab conflict, but not necessarily.
English Jerusalem is a city straddling the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. Prior to the 1967 War, Jerusalem was divided, with the Western half in Israel and the Eastern half in the West Bank. East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel during the 1967 war, and then in 1981 Israel declared the whole of Jerusalem to be its “eternal capital” and annexed East Jerusalem to Israel. This act however has not been recognized by the international community; therefore most countries have their diplomatic missions to Israel in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. The English text seems to be the most neutral; however it deals almost entirely with the political aspects of Jerusalem, rather than its geography or population, i.e. Jerusalem is perceived more as a “political problem” than an actual city.
Golan Heights
Arabic A Syrian land on the southwest part of the Syrian Arab Republic. The Israeli military managed to capture it and control it since the War of 1967. Israelis see great importance in controlling Hadbat al-Jawlan for its advantage in overlooking the State of Israel. It does not require more than standing on the edge of the plateau to cover the Israeli city of Tel Aviv with a naked eye, due to its height advantage. Hadbat al-Jawlan is the normal name for this region among Arabic speakers. The text includes an error – Tel Aviv is too distant from the Golan Heights to be seen from there in any way. Only political and military aspects are mentioned.
Hebrew Ramat Ha-Golan is a flat plateau located on the border between Israel, Syria and Lebanon. The Israeli part of the plateau was captured from the Syrians in the Six Day War, then recaptured in the Yom Kippur War. Geographically speaking, the plateau is delineated in the west by a 1700m fall to the edge of the Kinneret and River Yarden. All geographical names used are the most common among Hebrew speakers. The political status of the region is described carefully. There is a geographical description of the region.
English The Golan Heights is a plateau on the border of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. One of the territories captured by Israel during the Six-Day War, the Golan Heights are currently under Israeli control, though claimed by Syria. Formed of volcanic rock it rises up to 1700 ft above the surrounding land, it drops off to the west to the Sea of Gallilee, the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret, and to the south to the Yarmouk River. The Sea of Galilee and Lake Kinneret are two names for the same geographical entity. Mentioning them as separate entities is probably an error. It is unlikely that an Arab would use the name Kinneret.
Shabaa Farms
Arabic Shabaa Farms is a region at the southmost edge of Lebanon, within the official borders of Lebanon. The Zionist army refrained from handing it over to the government and state of Lebanon following the Israeli withdrawal from the south. The issue of the Shabaa Farms still triggers problems, opinions and discussions regarding the legitimacy of its occupation, while the Lebanese Arabs reject its remaining occupied and Hizbullah keeps public confrontation to liberate it. The official Lebanese-Syrian position is presented. There is no reference to the backstage conflict between Syria and Lebanon or to the UN position. The terms used when referring to Israel indicate non-recognition. The area itself and its population are not mentioned or described.
Hebrew The Shabaa Farms are at the border junction of Syria, Israel and Lebanon, between the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights and the Lebanese village of Shabaa. The region stretches on 25 sq km, 14 km long and 2.5 wide in average. The region’s height is 150-1880m. The land in this region is fertile and well-watered, and it used to include 14 farms growing barley, vegetables and fruits. The region is today under Israeli control, as it captured it from the Syrians in the Six Day War. The region was annexed to Israel in 1981 as part of the application of the Israeli law on the Golan Heights. The dispute over the region started in 2000 with the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the UN declaration that Israel had withdrawn completely from Lebanon. Hizbullah claimed that the Farms are Lebanese soil and saw them as a pretext to continue its attacks on Israel, despite the complete withdrawal.  Many international bodies asked Syria and Lebanon to All geographical names used are the most common among Hebrew speakers. The political status of the region is described carefully. There is a geographical description of the region.
English The Golan Heights is a plateau on the border of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. One of the territories captured by Israel during the Six-Day War, the Golan Heights are currently under Israeli control, though claimed by Syria. Formed of volcanic rock it rises up to 1700 ft above the surrounding land, it drops off to the west to the Sea of Gallilee, the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret, and to the south to the Yarmouk River. The Sea of Galilee and Lake Kinneret are two names for the same geographical entity. Mentioning them as separate entities is probably an error. It is unlikely that an Arab would use the name Kinneret.
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