Wikipedia: A New Battleground in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Earlier this month, it was reported that right-wing Israeli groups were teaching courses on how to edit Wikipedia entries to give them a zionist slant ("Gaza flotilla raid," for example). Now Palestinian groups say they'll be watching the online encyclopedia and editing in the other direction.

The stories, both in Israel's Haaretz newspaper, reveal a PR battle in the rolling conflict between the two nations. Two right-wing groups, the Yesha Council for settlements and Israel Sheli, started classes in the middle of August. The Yesha Council also revealed a prize for "Best Zionist Editor"--the person who incorporates the most zionist edits on Wikipedia over the next four years will win a hot-air balloon ride over Israel.

Representatives for the organizations could not be reached by time of publication, but Naftali Bennett, the director of the Yesha Council, told Haaretz that "The Internet is not managed well enough, and Israel's position there is appalling. Take for example the Turkish flotilla [to Gaza]. During the first hours, we were nowhere to be found. In those first hours millions of people typed the words 'Gaza-bound flotilla' and read what was written on Wikipedia." About 50 people took part in the course.

On Monday, Abd A-Nassar, chairman of the Palestinian Journalists' Association, told the Israeli newspaper that he is coralling Palestinians to fight back. He described the conflict as a "public relations war."

Wikipedia, of course, prides itself on fairness and peer review, concepts far removed from partisan editing of supposedly unbiased information. Though many of the most controversial entries are professionally edited, the Israeli groups expressed plans to target less obvious topics (such as "the Jewish family"), too. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a telephone interview late last year, he said that the site "is a medium that we're trying to make into something important," and that depends on the good intentions of its editors. "You can have all the new software or technology in the world," he said. "But if people are just using it for bad then it doesn't really help with anything."