When the American technology giant Google was accused of deleting Palestine from its Maps app, following a global protest it admitted that it was never labelled as such in the first place, even though 136 members of the UN recognise Palestine as an independent state.
Now Google Maps is mired in controversy yet again. This time it’s because Israel’s Apartheid Wall – called somewhat euphemistically the “Separation Barrier” – which snakes its way around Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank can be seen from outer space, but it can’t be seen on Google. It is not shown on any of the maps provided by the search engine.
The Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland both feature on Google Maps and so does the relatively modest 500 metre “Western Wall” in Jerusalem alongside the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa. However, the 700 km-long concrete wall which cuts into 85 per cent of Palestine’s West Bank does not feature at all on the electronic mapping system.
Bethlehem, home to a dwindling Palestinian Christian community, has lost thousands of residents since the wall surrounded the historic city. Traders are being choked out of business due to the artificial barrier. Critics and Christian pilgrims point out that the historic route taken by the Biblical Mary and Joseph prior to the birth of Jesus would never be accomplished today because of the hideous structure and the numerous military checkpoints facing Palestinians.
Now Scottish politician Alyn Smith has launched a petition urging Google to show the Apartheid Wall in its entirety, including checkpoints, watch towers and other features installed by the Zionist State. The Scottish National Party member of the European Parliament (MEP) has sent repeated letters to the company complaining about the wall’s omission from digital maps of the region.
Smith’s #ShowTheWall campaign includes an online petition in conjunction with global campaign group Avaaz. It is expected to make Google confront its apparent reluctance to recognise the existence of Palestine.
The popular MEP, who grew up in Scotland and Saudi Arabia, is a lawyer and a member of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee. “Frankly, I am astonished that there is no sign of the separation wall on Google Maps,” he told journalists. “I am not sure how it is even possible that Google Maps has managed to get away with this for so long.” This is not a temporary fence we’re talking about, he explained. “Its foundations were laid years before the Google Maps service was launched.”
The concrete wall was started in 2000; Israel insists that it keeps its citizens safe from suicide bombings. Palestinians and their international supporters say that it is an abuse of the right of Palestinians to move around on their historic land. Furthermore, the wall in its entirety is built well inside Palestinian land beyond the 1949 Armistice (“Green”) Line, when it could have been built equally as effectively on the Israeli side if it was indeed intended solely to prevent attacks on Israeli citizens. In reality, it is a land grab on a massive scale.
The International Court of Justice has called the structure illegal and the UN General Assembly voted 150-6 when calling on Israel to respect this judgment. However, along with around 180 other UN Resolutions, this has been ignored or violated by the Israeli government. No other state in the world has ever treated so many UN Resolutions with contempt as Israel has.
The #ShowTheWall petition reads: “Google’s motto is ‘Don’t be evil’, yet by distorting reality in Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, and only showing the routes available to the Israeli army and illegal settlers, Google is providing a partial service that goes against its key values. It should show the world as it is.”
“Google Maps is not showing any images in real time,” said Smith, “and we are talking about public areas here, public roads, which in theory should be accessible to anyone.”
Google, insists the Scottish MEP, should be pushed to show the wall and understand that its current practice is unacceptable. “It distorts reality, applies unwarranted censorship and undermines the efforts of millions of people around the world who are campaigning for a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine.”
Whether or not Google executives agree with exposing Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians in this practical way, they must realise that their current position is untenable. A map should reflect reality – it has no purpose otherwise – so Google Maps should show the Apartheid Wall in its entirety. Google is letting us all down if it doesn’t, not just the Palestinians.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.