#GoogleMapPalestine: How Google Reinforces Israel’s Separate and Unequal “Narrative of Space”

In its early years, Google famously used the motto “Don’t be evil” in its corporate code of conduct. After Google was restructured under the parent company Alphabet, the new unofficial motto became “Do the right thing.” However, in occupied Palestine, it seems Google is doing the exact opposite.

The tech giant has joined the pantheon of tech companies whose actions have sadly demonstrated that the World Wide Web can be a tool of oppressive regimes. Facebook deletes Palestinian pages at Israeli command, Paypal refuses to let Palestinians open accounts, illegal settlers can profit from their plunder of Palestinian land on Airbnb, and Google Maps has adopted Israel’s mapping of the land.

[From the Journal of Palestine Studies | Queering Palestine]

7amleh, the Haifa-based Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, has released a new report — Mapping Segregation, Google Maps and the Human Rights of Palestinians — documenting how Google Maps does not display internationally recognized borders, which Israel seeks to obfuscate for its expansionist purposes, nor does it display most Palestinian population centers if they’re unrecognized by Israel, but it displays Israeli settlements, which are recognized by no nation and illegal under international law.

Moreover, the search term “Palestine” is absent. Beyond the adoption of Israel’s “narrative of space,” as 7amleh puts it, which is contrary to international law, Google Maps imperils Palestinians. The maps do not list the roadblocks and permanent as well as so-called flying checkpoints throughout the West Bank. In effect, the maps are designed for Israeli citizens and illegal settlers and fail to take in to account the millions of West Bank Palestinians who do not have the same freedom of movement.

Google’s failure to recognize the separate and unequal space to which Israel has relegated the Palestinians not only leads the latter to a literal dead end because they cannot use the same roads, but it can also threaten their lives. It’s worth noting that Google Maps is based, in part, on the Israeli GPS application Waze, which Google owns and has used to upgrade its own services.

[From the Journal of Palestine Studies | The Great March of Return: An Organizer’s Perspective]

Waze allows Israeli drivers to select routes in the West Bank that avoid Arab areas but has no such feature for Palestinian drivers who wish to avoid armed soldiers and settlers. In one incident, a Palestinian driver using Waze was shaken to find herself traveling near Israeli settlers. Meanwhile, Palestinian business owners have complained that Waze’s “Avoid Dangerous Areas” feature stigmatizes their communities and reroutes tourists away from their towns and cities.

7amleh has called on Google Maps to recognize Palestine and the international status of Jerusalem in line with UN General Assembly Resolutions. Google must always recognize all Palestinian villages and provide the same degree of detail in displaying Palestinian villages in Area C, which is under direct Israeli occupation, as it does illegal settlements. Moreover, in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Hague Regulation, Google must properly identify Israeli settlements as illegal under international law.

To highlight these demands, 7amleh has launched a social media campaign with the #GoogleMapPalestine to pressure Google to adhere to human rights norms and international law.

Jewish Voice for Peace has further promoted it:

 

Palestinians have shared their own experiences of how Google reinforces Israel’s separate and unequal “narrative of space”:

The Zionist occupation of Palestine is not solely one of old-fashioned colonial conquest, but of the very denial that there was anything else worthy of a name on the land. Palestinians continue to fight for basic recognition, both off- and on-line.

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About Khelil Bouarrouj 44 Articles
Khelil Bouarrouj is a Junior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies.

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