Wikimania, the annual conference of the Wikimedia community to be held in the Israeli city of Haifa this August, is to be partially sponsored by the East Jerusalem Development Company (EJDC), an Israeli government-owned company responsible for “the development and operation of tourist sites in eastern and greater Jerusalem.”
EJDC projects, including settlements, conservation areas and new “heritage” sites, have been sprouting up steadily across East Jerusalem. Palestinian residents in Silwan, for example, are under direct threat from the excavation of the “City of David”, while the Jerusalem Municipality has issued plans to convert much of the Wadi Hilweh and Al-Bustan neighbourhoods into a settler-run archeological park. To support this plan, Palestinians are evacuated from their homes, denied building permits, and demolition orders are often issued through the municipality on tenuous licensing pretenses.
According to the UN, Israeli authorities have zoned only 13 per cent of occupied East Jerusalem for Palestinian construction. Since 1967 thousands of Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem have been demolished, including an estimated 2,000 homes. OCHA (The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) calculates that at least 28 percent of all Palestinian homes in eastern Jerusalem are built without the required permit, putting 60,000 people at risk of having their homes demolished. The BADIL resource center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee rights estimates that the archeological park in the Bustan neighborhood of Silwan would demolish an additional 90 homes, displacing close to 1,500 Palestinians.
In 2009 construction initiated by the settler-affiliated Elad Association and carried out by the EJDC in Silwan was suspended after an Israeli court ruled the planning illegal because no construction permits had been issued. In reference to the verdict Justice Noam Solberg stated, “There is no logical reason to make shortcuts and facilitate permits in violation of legal requirements.”
The EJDC is also responsible for laying out a national park comprised of fifteen separate areas including Silwan. The project brochure defends the project expounding on the fact that tourism infrastructure must be protected from wide-scale illegal construction and squatters. In speaking of the project an EJDC spokesperson used the phrase “the battle for Jerusalem,” making it clear that this project encompasses more than establishing green spaces and preserving tourist attractions.
Wikimania aims to promote impartiality, collaboration and a shared culture of information exchange for participants of Wikipedia and its sister projects. Accepting sponsorship from a company that deliberately misconstrues information to advance their own political aims and which is intent on bending permitting laws to advance Israeli interest and literally demolish Palestinian rights places Wikimania at odds with its endeavors to promote neutrality and collaboration.
Already Wikimania has generated criticism of their decision to hold the conference in Israel and has come under the attack of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel which asked the Wikimedia Foundation to choose a “non-terrorist state, which doesn't practice apartheid, and which has not been acting outside of international law for all of its existence.”
Wikimania defends its decision to hold the conference in Haifa, citing the city’s multicultural and multilingual heritage and stating, “it is easily accessible to the Palestinian community.”
In reality it is exceptionally difficult for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to obtain the necessary permits that will allow them entrance into Israel. By holding the conference in Haifa, Wikimania is tacitly supporting this discrimination and turning a blind eye to Israel’s occupation.
The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is encouraging supporters to send letters to Wikimedia on the Wikimania mailing list, requesting that it reconsider holding the conference in Israel. Supporters can also send letters to the mailing list or to
requesting that Wikimania reconsider accepting sponsorship from a company actively participating in the demolition of Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem.