How do you pass an elephant through the eye of a needle? With force of course.

8 November, 2010 at 22:31 | Posted in Israeli-Arab conflict, Wikipedia policy | 1 Comment
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If you feel frustrated about the Middle East conflict, you are not the only ones. Well, yes, President Obama seems quite frustrated too, but even more than that, the admins on the English-language Wikipedia feel helpless in face of endless cyberspace wars between pro-Israeli and pro-Arab editors on Wikipedia. The admins have been called to convene on yet another “Project Page”, let off steam and comment on some suggestions about the matter.

The “Arbitration Committee” of the English-language Wikipedia has already addressed this issue in January 2008, and decided that “Wikipedia is a project to create a neutral encyclopedia” and that “Wikipedia users are expected to behave reasonably, calmly, and courteously” and also that “Wikipedia works by building consensus. This is done through the use of polite discussion”. In short, the Arbitration Committee had nothing to say about the matter accept shouting “behave!” at the wayward children. It did, however, provided the admins with new “rules of engagement”, regarding the use of the lethal cyberspace weapons they already possess. Consider the following article in its decision (emphases added).

Any uninvolved administrator may, on his or her own discretion, impose sanctions on any editor working in the area of conflict if, despite being warned, that editor repeatedly or seriously fails to adhere to the purpose of Wikipedia, any expected standards of behavior, or any normal editorial process. The sanctions imposed may include blocks of up to one year in length; bans from editing any page or set of pages within the area of conflict; bans on any editing related to the topic or its closely related topics; restrictions on reverts or other specified behaviors; or any other measures which the imposing administrator believes are reasonably necessary to ensure the smooth functioning of the project.

The admins used the weapons handed to them abundantly as can be seen in the log kept for recording the course of events. If you look at the names of the administrators who impose the bans and restrictions, you will notice that there are no longer “uninvolved administrators”. Actually, I am sure there are, but they are unwilling to enter this hot kitchen. Those who are willing, have by now become involved in this cyberspace conflict up to their neck, and it is hard to treat them as impartial at this point.

Looking at their suggestions to lower the ever growing flames, you will see much more of the same. If solving the conflict is as hard as passing an elephant through the eye of a needle, the admins suggest to force the elephant even harder into the tiny hole. Well, admins, take a deep breath and realize that what you have been doing so far is wrong. There are politically motivate editors who have been gaming the system. Show them the door. They do not deserve the benefit of the “assume good faith” principle. Many good editors were blocked, but peculiarly not these ones. Do without the edit war phobia. Edit wars are often a blessing. Let people argue and fight about the right phrasing and the right way to put things. If they act in good faith, this “war” might end with an interesting solution. If you see an edit war, do not look for the person who initiated it. Look at the content and think if you can rewrite it in a way that would solve the problem. A good admin is first and foremost a good editor, not a virtual policeman.

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A Tale of a Tub on Wikipedia, or from the Heights of Golan to Wikipedia’s Lowest Point

31 October, 2010 at 16:45 | Posted in Israeli-Arab conflict, Wikipedia policy | Leave a comment
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Some are still left on the Golan Heights, some are being planted on Wikipedia - Beware of the mines. (Image by Randall Niles via Flickr)

Some are still left on the Golan Heights, some are being planted on Wikipedia - Beware of the mines. (Image by Randall Niles via Flickr)

Anonymous user introduces changes to the article about the Golan Heights

An anonymous user, known only by his IP, enters the English-language Wikipedia and makes some edits to the article about the Golan Heights (a geographical region of disputed sovereignty that straddles the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria). The changes are not too radical.  The term “occupied”, which entails support to the Syrian position is changed to the more neutral “administered”, the politically-charged term “settlements” is replaced by “post-1967 communities”. The words “Internationally recognized as Syrian territory occupied by Israel” are toned down to “Administered by Israel, claimed by Syria, subject to UN Security Council’s resolutions 242 and 338”. Whether or not you like the new phrasing, the edits are quite in line with Wikipedia’s policy known as “Neutral Point of View”, namely that Wikipedia does not take sides in disputes, and accurately describes the facts on the ground (the Golan Heights are under regular Israeli civil administration since 1981).

An editor fond of controversial topics intervenes and reverts

The edits are naturally contested, some of them maybe rightfully. The term “post-1967 community” does sound a bit enigmatic, and perhaps settlement is the preferable term here. The user who quickly reverts the edits is “Unomi“. Unomi is an interesting figure on the Wikipedian scene. He is relatively new to the English Wikipedia (since March 2009), although he claims to have been using the nickname “Unomi” on Wikimedia projects for several years. He is very much concerned about the ambiguity of Wikipedia’s policies and lack of neutrality, and indeed most of his edits are on controversial topics. He also contributes quite a lot on Middle East-related articles and usually sides the pro-Arab line in the description of the Middle Eastern conflict.

Two pro-Arab advocates end the discussion

Even though “Unomi” is an eloquent mouthpiece of a certain view of the Middle-Eastern conflict, he seems to have found an equal rival. The debate between the user identified by his IP address and Unomi gets longer and longer, several users even support the anonymous user’s edits. “Nableezy” and “Supreme Deliciousness” soon come to the rescue. These two users are Wikipedia’s worst nightmare. They have no interest in free content or free access to knowledge. They sensed the reputation Wikipedia enjoys as being comprehensive and impartial source of information (well, that’s the reputation, you’ll be the judges whether or not it is justified). Both Nableezy and Supreme Deliciousness are political advocates that realized that the introduction of their political perspective into Wikipedia worths thousands of articles in blogs and newspapers. Of course Wikipedia has some mechanism to make their work hard, but they diligently learned how to manipulate the system. When all fails, they resort to blocking. Look at this dialog from RolandR’s talk page (a personal page dedicated for posting messages to a certain editor). RolandR, by the way, is a self-proclaimed anti-Zionist, so he has a common language with “Supreme Deliciousness” and “Nableezy”. The former is an obsessive reader of Israeli sources in English, and he informs RolandR that he was mentioned in some talkback on an Israeli English-language website. Nableezy then raises the issue of how to “eliminate” the anonymous user that makes edits to the Golan Heights article. The solution is easy – alleging that he is a “sock puppet” of yours humbly (DrorK is my username on Wikipedia).

The cabal convenes

You are mentioned

  • Hello, just wanted to make you aware that you were mentioned by the first poster in the comments section in this news article:[1] —Supreme Deliciousness (talk) 09:45, 19 August 2010 (UTC)
  • Thank you. It’s clearly more of the same harassment I have encountered on- and off-Wikipedia for several years now; it doesn’t bother me. These juveniles are wasting their time, but at least this keeps them out of mischief. RolandR (talk) 21:19, 19 August 2010 (UTC)
  • What harassment have you encountered off-Wikipedia? –Supreme Deliciousness (talk) 21:27, 19 August 2010 (UTC)
  • The same person who stalks me on Wikipedia has created an offensive blog about me, and has sent countless comments in my name to loads of internet forums and blogs, trying to smear me as an antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab terrorist with homoerotic and anal fantasies. It says more about him than about me. Most websites (even thoise unsympathetic to my political views) delete them on sight. If you email me, I can tell you more; I don’t want to give more details here. RolandR (talk) 21:43, 19 August 2010 (UTC)

Return of Drork?

  • Hi Roland, I wasnt around when most of the IPs Drork was using were brought to SPI, but what do you think the chances are that this IP is another sock of Drork? nableezy – 06:37, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
  • I don’t think so. The IP is in the same range as several of Drork’s blocked socks; but these seem to be assigned to Bezeq, so many editors in Israel could be usiung them. Drork never edited the Golan article, and the style of argument does not sound like him. It is reminiscent, though, and I will see if I can recall who it reminds me of. RolandR (talk) 11:16, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
  • Drork edited that article, see here where the same argument over “settlement” is made. Or here where a “retired” Drork edits as an IP and makes the argument that “occupied” cannot possibly be an accurate or neutral description (collapsed section on that page), a continuation of this (also collapsed). nableezy – 12:52, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
  • Oh, I missed that. You may be right; but the tone and obsessions do not seem the same as Drork’s. Certainly no smoking gun there, as far as I can see. RolandR (talk) 13:00, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
  • Im not sure either. The arguments over “occupied” and “settlement” have a Drork taste to them, but a lot of people are opposed to using those words. Combined with other factors such as a clear familiarity with wiki syntax though this is clearly not a “new” editor. nableezy – 13:14, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
  • I’m sure of that. But proving it is another matter. RolandR (talk) 13:20, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
  • Drork returned some days ago on wikimedia [2] –Supreme Deliciousness (talk) 17:52, 21 August 2010 (UTC)
Final remarks

All the information given above, including the conversation from RolandR’s talk page, is available to anyone through Wikipedia and its mirror sites. All users I have mentioned could have been great contributors to Wikipedia had they come with a genuine objective to enrich this source of knowledge. In fact, they are all very diligent and possess information and perspective that I, as well as many other people, could benefit from. However, they do not care much about enriching Wikipedia. They have a political battle to fight, and Wikipedia is just another mean to carry on this fight. Such conduct was a threat to Wikipedia from its very beginning. Right now, the project is unable to protect itself from this kind of conduct because there are many rules, but little spirit. When breaking trivial rules like avoiding more than two reverts in 24 hours becomes the most punishable offense, then it means that the basic ideas behind the project are forgotten and the door is open to all kinds of manipulators.

Bus-stops and the Jewish Question

11 October, 2010 at 20:07 | Posted in Israeli-Arab conflict, knowledge, Politics, Wikipedia policy | Leave a comment
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Holiday bus

The bustle around the bus (Image by RahelSharon via Flickr)

I can’t have enough of reading this cute article on the English-language Wikipedia: Judaism_Bus stops (now deleted from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaism_and_bus_stops).

Naturally, it is not a “real” article, and it will be deleted eventually. It was written in order to prove that any two issues can be associated, like Judaism and bus-stops or Israel and apartheid.

Many thanks to Wikibias (http://wikibias.com/2010/10/judaism-and-bus-stops) for bringing this information, and to follow its recommendation, don’t forget to read the fascinating deletion discussion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Judaism_and_bus_stops

Had Wikipedia been invented only so we could read such discussions, it would have been enough to justify the effort. Complements to User:Chesdovi who has just won my admiration.

By the way, I have just noticed that pro-Palestinian editors on Wikipedia managed to push the limit a bit further, changing “Israel and the apartheid analogy” into “Israel and apartheid”. Of course we have no proof for such allegations, just politically biased sources and some exaggerated rhetorics, but we’ve never said there are any reliable sources, have we? We’ve just said “Israel” and “Apartheid” in the same phrase. Is that a violation of Neutral Point of View? Come on, can’t a person speak freely these days? Just don’t say Afro-American, it’s offensive, you must say African-American. And don’t say Syria violates human rights or that there is persecution against Copts in Egypt. It is hardly civilized to say such things…

Palestinian-made Israeli settlements

1 October, 2010 at 18:12 | Posted in Israeli journalism, Israeli-Arab conflict | Leave a comment
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Qedumim settlement up close

Qedumim, Israeli settlement in the northern West Bank, near Kafr Qaddum - the settlements are actually built by Palestinians (Image by michaelramallah via Flickr)

The veteran Israeli journalist, Nahum Barnea, went t0 Gush Etzion to see with his own eyes the end of the moratorium on construction works in the Israeli West Bank settlements. He published a report today, on his weekly column in Yedioth Aharonoth‘s weekend supplement (Ha-Musaf Le-Shabbat, 1 Oct 2010 ). Nahum Barnea reveals a phenomenon that should not come as as a surprise to anyone who is acquainted with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories are actually being built by Palestinian Arabs. The Israelis provide the plans, of course, but it is local Palestinian contractors and workers who carry out the building projects. No one can force them to do this job, they come out of their own free will. When asked why, they say it is the only way to make a living. In Nahum Barnea’s report today, the Palestinian contractor says that in Hebron, where he lives, everyone builds his own house, so construction workers are hardly needed. Nahum Barnea points out to new plans for construction of tower blocks in Ramallah, but the Palestinian constructor dismisses these plans as unserious. Nevertheless, he refuses to be photographed saying that the Palestinian Authority “makes troubles” to those who work at the settlements. Barnea explains that the PA plans to forbid the Palestinians who live under its jurisdiction from working at the settlements.

The Palestinians have a simple way to extend the “settlements moratorium” – they can refuse building the settlements. What about the economic damage to Palestinian families? First of all, the Palestinian were willing in the past to launch wide-scale attacks on Israelis. This attacks brought about a serious crisis in the Palestinian economy, and yet the Palestinian deemed these attacks necessary (by their logic). Refusing to build in the settlement seems much less harmful and less damaging to all sides than launching armed attacks. But there is another thing – it is time that the Palestinians stopped relying on either Israel, Arab countries or foreign wealthy nations for economic support. The Palestinian have never been economically independent, not even in the days of the British Mandate of Palestine. The Palestinian economy has always relied on the Jewish Zionist economy (which has later become the Israeli economy), on wealthy Arab countries (most particularly the Gulf countries before the 1991 Gulf War), on UNRWA (the special UN agency for taking care of Palestinian refugees) and on donations from Europe. Considering this situation, it is hardly surprising that most of the Palestinians are poor, and that the Palestinian People cannot establish an independent state of its own.

Barnea’s account also reveals the hypocrisy of pro-Palestinian campaigners in Europe. Flotillas are relatively easy to organize, and they create a lot of fuss. So are demonstrations and calls to boycott Israel. It is much harder to think of ways to help Palestinians reach economic independence. Communication lines are numerous and free these days. Pro-Palestinian organizations could give preference to Palestinian Arabs in various works that can be sent over computer networks. Translations into Arabic are often needed in Europe, and they can be easily sent via email. Programming from a distance is also a possibility. If special courses are needed, they can also be performed online and  in video conferences. European publishers can support Palestinian artists by publishing and distributing them. This are some very basic ideas, I’m sure many more could be found. Perhaps they are not so relevant to construction workers, but their children who might have received better formal education and get along with computers, could make some much needed money in such projects and provide for their families.

I know chanting “boycott Israel” is much more fun, and condemning the end of the settlement moratorium is something one can do without fund raising and without disturbance to his quiet afternoon rest, but there is little help for the Palestinians in such actions. The real help, which, by the way, would also be beneficial for Israelis and other inhabitants of the Middle East, is finding creative ways to help the Palestinian civil economy.

Listening to a nightly interview with Shlomi Eldar

21 September, 2010 at 00:50 | Posted in Israeli journalism, Israeli-Arab conflict | Leave a comment
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Shlomi Eldar, Israeli journalist covering Gaza Strip

Shlomi Eldar, Israeli journalist covering Gaza Strip (Image via Wikipedia)

I am currently listening to a radio interview of Kobi Meidan with Shlomi Eldar on Galei Tzahal. Kobi Meidan is one of the most prominent TV and radio interviewers in Israel, and Shlomi Eldar is one of the best and most appreciated among Israeli Hebrew-speaking journalists. Eldar has been covering the Palestinian Territories, particularly the Gaza Strip, for the Israeli Hebrew-speaking media during the past twenty years or so.

Shlomi Eldar is the perfect journalist – he is very courageous and extremely sensitive both to people as individuals and to public trends. He relies not on official statements or briefings but on information he collects meticulously with his bare hands and from ordinary Palestinians who act as his contact persons. He avoids falling into the trap of taking sides and preaching. He says he tries to capture the complex picture of this delicate Israeli-Palestinian situation, and in his case you can believe it because his reports leave you with clear deep thoughts rather than futile rage or stupid schadenfreude.

The main topic of the interview with Kobi Meidan, to which I currently listen, is Eldar’s new documentary film about a Palestinian baby with serious genetic immunodeficiency who has been treated in Israel after his two brothers lost their lives to the disease shortly after their birth. Eldar says he became emotionally involved with the subjects of his films, to a degree that he made his best efforts to facilitate the treatment. He says he nearly abandoned the project when the baby’s mother said before cameras that she would happily send her child to be a suicide-bomber. Then he realized that he should understand the deep streams that cause this paradox of a woman trying to save her baby and at the same time wishes him to become a suicide-bomber rather than get angry and abandon the scene. Kobi Meidan suggested that the mother tried to be “more Catholic than the pope”, namely that she has to make extremist statements in order not to be suspected with collaboration.

Two very important points I heard in this interview relate to the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit in June 2006 and to “Operation Cast Lead” in December 2008. Eldar says he managed to reach the kidnappers of Gilad Schalit through one of his contact persons in Gaza. The contact person did not want to be the courier. “You Israelis are mad”, he said, implying that the Israel Defense Forces might relate him to the kidnapping and kill him. Eldar eventually convinced him. He came back with the following information: The kidnappers are confused and frightened. They want to end this affair as quickly as possible and ask for a low “price” (much lower than the current demands of the Hamas kidnappers, according to Eldar). Eldar further says that when he delivered this message to Israeli military officials they told him to mind his own business. This story reminded me of another report, according to which Israeli military investigators knew almost for sure that Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev had been killed during Hizbollah’s invasion into northern Israel in July 2006, i.e. Hizbollah kidnapped dead bodies rather than living soldiers, but this crucial information did not reach the higher-rank officials.

Apparently Israel has good intelligence, good professionals and it succeeded in having strong deterrence against its adversaries. This begs the question: why doesn’t Israel make wise use of these assets? Why does it let itself fall into traps set by organizations like Hamas and Hizbollah when it has all the information and measures needed to avoid them? Why does it let an Israeli soldiers remain at the hands of his kidnappers when it can end the affair within a short while? Why isn’t it more prudent about using force when it has the capability to carefully assess the benefit against the damage? In short – the brain is there, the means are there, so how come the decision making is so poor?

Shlomi Eldar went on telling about consequences of the bloodcurdling phone call he received while on air from Dr. Abu al-Aish, a Palestinian Gazan physician who used to work at Tel HaShomer medical center in Israel. Dr. Abu al-Aish told Shlomi Eldar with heart rending cries about the killing of his daughters from an Israeli shell, while Israeli television viewers hear it all live through their TV sets. Eldar says the then-Israeli Prime Minister shed some tears when hearing the broadcast. A ceasefire was declared the next day. Israel had every right to attack Gaza, Eldar says, pointing out to the Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot and southern Israel. But at the same time he said Israel used too much force. He says he was condemned for his view during the first days of Operation “Cast Lead”, but not after the phone call from Dr. Abu al-Aish. People like Shlomi Eldar can and should be more common in our society.

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