Syria has reportedly blocked access to Facebook following a change to the social network that lets residents of Katzrin, a town on the Golan Heights, identify themselves as citizens of Israel.
The change came following pressure from a Facebook group called "Facebook, Golan Residents Live in Israel, Not Syria," which demanded that people who live in Katzrin, also known as Qasrin or Qazrin, be given the option to identify themselves as Israeli. Previously, people in the town were forced to identify their nationality as Syrian. Israel took most of the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and officially annexed it in 1981.
"Although the Golan falls under Israeli law, residents of the region wishing to write 'Israel' in the Hometown section of their profiles are not give the option. For example, if someone from Qazrin fills in the Hometown space, the only option will be 'Qazrin, Syria'," the group said.
"It is not for Facebook to decide the national origin of Golan residents," it continued. "At the very least, Facebook must include the option of writing "Israel" in the hometown section, as it has done with Jewish residents of the West Bank."
It's a sticky situation because in spite of being a de facto part of Israel for the past 40-plus years, during which time numerous "settlements" have sprung up throughout the territory, the United Nations does not recognize the annexation and continues to call on the country to return control of the territory to Syria. Syria, for its part, has refused to sign any kind of peace deal with Israel unless it includes the return of the Heights.
In such an emotionally-charged and long-running conflict, every little move and misstep can have far-reaching ramifications and so it's no great surprise that Syria cut off access to Facebook in response to the change. Syria previously blocked access to Facebook in November 2007 as part of a crackdown on "online political activism" and according to Al Bawaba, some analysts believe the Syrian government is using this controversy as an "excuse" to repeat the measure. Not everyone is cut off, however; a Sept. 15 report by Al-Quds Al-Arabi claims that some users have been able to bypass the restrictions.