Israeli-palestinian Conflict Extends Even to Most Mundane — Phone Bills

If you thought that at least your phone bill was immune from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, think again.

The politicization of the phone bill began late this summer when Sprint long-distance customers complained that the company displayed “Palestine” next to the 970 country code.

With sensitivities regarding the Middle East always high — especially since the Sept. 11 terror attacks — even issues such as a phone company’s rendering of disputed areas in its billing system can raise eyebrows.

Sprint insists that the mistake was inadvertent, and changed the displays to read “Palestinian Authority.”

Internet reports claiming that calls to Israel using the 972 country code also were billed as “Palestine” were false, said Monica Evans-Trout, a company spokesperson.

The International Telecommunication Union reserved the 970 code for the Palestinian territories, and Sprint began using 970 last year.

Different companies have dealt with the issue in different ways.

AT&T lists Jerusalem as a city in Israel and does not list “Palestine” as a separate country. It designates both the 972 and 970 codes as Israel.

Things get complicated when it comes to cities in Palestinian-ruled territories, said Mark Siegel, an AT&T

spokesman.

Siegel noted that Israel is a bona fide country while, technically, no country called “Palestine” exists.

“A billing statement is not the right place to make a political statement,” he said.

MCI Worldcom lists “Palestine” for the 970 code. Company spokesperson Audrey Waters said there are no political motives involved in the decision to use Palestine rather than Palestinian Authority.

Other phone company matters also have taken on political overtones.

The Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco is urging members to write to AT&T in support of a commercial that refers to Jerusalem as part of Israel. Pro-Palestinian groups reportedly have tried to lobby AT&T to change the commercial.

AT&T said it had received no complaints about the commercial.

“I’m not sure what else to call it besides Jerusalem, Israel,” AT&T’s Siegel said.

Heightened sensitivity to such matters is not limited to phone companies. Last year, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club were thought to be selling globes denoting “Palestine” but not Israel.

The globes did identify the State of Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, while the word “Palestine” also appeared — without a land mass attached.

CNN also came under fire last year for listing Jerusalem on its Web site’s weather map — with no country identifier. After protests, the station placed Jerusalem beneath the “Israel” heading.

NEXT STORY