By Jack Saltzberg
One word can completely change a meaning. Compare “I love you” to “I like you.” This is why there are endless contentious debates in controversial Wikipedia articles over single words and phrases.
Nowhere is this more evident than in articles pertaining to the Arab-Israeli and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, and nowhere is the example clearer than in the Wikipedia article “Israeli West Bank Barrier”. This article shows how a Wikipedia article is created and then morphs over time into a completely different article, based entirely on political, religious, and philosophical views, agendas, and biases.
Here is the first version of the Wikipedia article, initially titled "Israeli Security Fence," in its entirety [published November 16, 2003]:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In 2003, Israel began construction on a security fence along much of its border with the West Bank, called the "seam zone". The purpose of the fence is to prevent terrorists from entering into Israeli cities, a problem which has plagued Israel since 2000. Israel emphasizes that the fence is solely for security measures: the fence is intended to make patrolling the border easier, not to completely prevent travel across the border in either direction.
Israeli citizens have shown huge support for the wall, but other countries have expressed considerable opposition to it, some going so far as to suggest it is a "blatant grab for land".
Thirteen years, hundreds of editors, and thousands of edits later, here is the same article’s lead paragraph [as of July 21, 2016]:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Israeli West Bank barrier (for further names see here) is a contested separation barrier that was unilaterally built by the Israeli government in the West Bank or along the 1949 Armistice Line known as the "Green Line". At a total length of 708 kilometres (440 mi) upon completion, the border traced by the barrier is more than double the length of the Green Line: only 15% of the barrier sits on the Green Line or in Israel, with the remaining 85% cutting at times 18 kilometres (11 mi) deep into the West Bank, isolating about 9.4% of the West Bank and 25,000 Palestinians from the bulk of that territory.
Not one word about security. Not one word about Palestinian terrorism. Not one word about suicide bombings that murdered thousands of Israelis. Not one word about why the fence was initially built. It is just one long paragraph alleging that Israel is stealing Palestinian land. (When the "for further names" link is clicked, people see "Wall of Apartheid.")
Regardless of whether the recent version is more or less factual, or better sourced than the first version, it is clear that they are two different articles. The first version was about building a security barrier to stop Arab terrorism against Israelis. The 2016 version insidiously promotes Israel’s role in building a separation barrier in order to unjustly confiscate Palestinian land.
After reading the most recent version, a reasonable person—without real knowledge of the barrier’s historical circumstances, or any bias—might justifiably side with the point of view that the barrier violates Palestinian human rights and was built as part of an Israeli plan to annex the West Bank. In essence, to the reader, it would be an “Apartheid Wall” as the Arabs proclaim.
Propaganda articles like this exemplify that Wikipedia's neutral point of view policy is meaningless -- unless it is against Israel. And these types of articles form negative impressions that often cannot be overcome.
It is obvious that the 2003 and 2016 versions of the Wikipedia article were written from opposite perspectives and with different intentions. But how did the article change so dramatically?
The answer is simple: Nearly anyone with any point of view or agenda can edit Wikipedia. Then, every word can be deleted or debated by anyone with an opposing agenda. In most cases, editors discuss the material and try to reach a consensus. In this article's case, several anti-Israel editors formed a consensus to publish in Wikipedia that it is part of Israel's master plan to annex all Palestinian land.
The Lead Paragraph
The most important section of any Wikipedia article, especially a controversial one, is the lead. Many wikipedia visitors read just the lead. Its purpose, directly from Wikipedia [as of November 17, 2017] is:
The lead section (also known as the lead or introduction) of a Wikipedia article is the section before the table of contents and the first heading. The lead serves as an introduction to the article and a summary of its most important contents. It is not a news-style lead or "lede" paragraph.
Wikipedia policy also states:
The lead should stand on its own as a concise overview of the article's topic. It should identify the topic, establish context, explain why the topic is notable, and summarize the most important points, including any prominent controversies. The notability of the article's subject is usually established in the first few sentences. [Emphasis added.]
Did the 2016 version of the Wikipedia article in any way reflect the topic, establish context, or summarize the most important points? I would suggest that leaving out the fact that the fence was established by the government of Israel to stop suicide bombings and terrorists entering Israel would violate Wikipedia's own policy. This article clearly exemplifies how Palestinian nationalist editors (with the assistance of Wikipedia administrators) have successfully overtaken the entire Israeli-Arab conflict topic area, with the goal to delegitimize and demonize Israel, while establishing a fictional Palestinian history.
Here is a more recent Wikipedia lead. Notice, the pro-Israel editors finally succeeded in getting the word "security" back in. But in the process, they had to make a deal. Now the anti-Israel editors included "[What is the addition to highlight?]"
The Israeli West Bank barrier or wall (for further names see here) is a separation barrier in the West Bank or along the Green Line. Israel considers it a security barrier against terrorism, while Palestinians call it a racial segregation or apartheid wall. At a total length of 708 kilometres (440 mi) upon completion, the border traced by the barrier is more than double the length of the Green Line, with 15% running along it or in Israel, while the remaining 85% cuts at times 18 kilometres (11 mi) deep into the West Bank, isolating about 9.4% of it, leaving an estimated 25,000 Palestinians isolated from the bulk of that territory.
Forget fact, forget truth, those have no place in Wikipedia. The pro-Israel editors in Wikipedia are simply outnumbered and unable to counter the anti-Israel editors and Wikipedia administrators.