Late in the 19th century, Albrecht Penck, a German geographer led an international World Map Project through which maps could be designed according to an international standard. Nevertheless, Penck's project never materialized.
Despite the general understanding of maps such as an indisputable and universal archetype, there is no such a thing as a neutral map; there is not a general and shared conception of the globe. Every map reflects in some way the cultural, historical, political and aesthetic vision of its makers.
Google Maps is probably the most widely used map in our digital era, its services are not only useful tools for finding the best and fastest routes, but they do play a significant role in shaping, setting and legitimizing territories, especially in a background where the land's ownership is burdened with political meaning.
In this regard, during the past years, many institutions and journalists have reported the way Google is "mapping" Occupied Territories of Palestine, such as the routes that are given by the Google maps app and the inexistence of Apartheid walls, Google is ignoring the reality of the occupation.
Despite the international recognition of Palestine such as de jure sovereign state supported by 138 of the 193 states of the United Nations Google Maps has never used Palestine State or Palestinian Territories. when looking up Palestine on Google maps no specific location comes up.
Furthermore, the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement published Mapping Segregation report – Google Maps and the Human Rights of Palestinians in last September. The report points out how Google has marked Bedouin villages -unlike other cities and villages- under their tribe's and clan name rather than their village's names. Besides, these villages are only visible when zooming in very closely; otherwise, they seem to be non-existent, this misrepresentation of the reality is followed by a strategy which is "a method of enforcing the eradication of unrecognized Palestinian villages" according to the report that was published in September 2018.
Meanwhile, Israeli settlements and locations in the West Bank -even the smallest ones- are clearly defined in the map.
Trying to calculate a route between two of the main cities in the West Bank, Bethlehem and Ramallah, all routes Google Maps suggests pass through Jerusalem and come back to the West Bank. That means that only Israeli IDs and international passport holders can follow these indications.
Routes offered by Google Maps prioritize Israeli citizenship, at the same time it hampers movement to Palestinians; showing routes which Palestinian citizens can’t follow. Furthermore, in the West Bank there are different kinds of roads which compose a segregated system ignored by Google mapping. Checkpoints, walls, road blocks, road closures and permissions needed, make it difficult for Palestinian citizens to move freely within the Occupied Territories. Almost 80 kilometers are “sterile roads” which cannot be used by West Bank Palestinians; the roads are usually connecting settlements where Palestinian presence is illegal, it could involve arrest and detention. Road divisions also shows through license plates: yellow car license plates for Israelis and green and white car license plates for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians.
Segregated road system poorly connects Palestinians cities, which remains isolated like islands because of the internal division of the West Bank -fragmented among three different areas since the II Oslo Agreement signed in 1995 by the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority; Area A is under the Palestinian Authority (PA) control; Area B keeps a shared control between the PA and the Israeli and Area C lies under the Israeli military control.
Land fragmentation into three areas are also misrepresented by Google Maps, there is no division within the West Bank.
The city of Hebron has the largest population in the West Bank and the only one which has settlements within the urban areas. According to Hebron Protocol approved in 1997 by Israel government and the PLO; Hebron city is also divided into H1 (80% of the city approximately under Palestinian civil and security control) and H2 (under Israeli military and Palestinian civil control). Nevertheless, this double division –the three areas plus a division into H1 and H2- don’t come up in Google Maps.
The location of the Apartheid wall is not respecting the Green Line –a demarcation line marked in 1949 Armistice Agreements by Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Syria after the 1948 War-. Currently, the Green Line marked the boundaries among Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. In fact, the wall is built within the West Bank territories not in Israeli territories. The separation barrier is planned to be 712 kilometers long; this is twice as long as the Green Line.
Surrounding urban areas such as Bethlehem, Qalqiliyah and Jerusalem, the barrier takes a concrete wall form, which means about eight or nine meters high.
According to The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’TESELEM), about 150 Palestinian communities were cut off from accessing their lands; thousands of Palestinians cannot cultivate in their territories.
Despite the obvious and imposing presence of the Apartheid Wall establishing limits and violating the rights of Palestinians, the wall isn’t marked in the satellite view of Google maps. However, Google maps' street view can visualize the wall.
Mapping services should be as closer to reality as possible and they should act according to human rights. Nevertheless, Google is ignoring the Palestinian reality of occupation; instead lined up with the Zionist strategy. Google mapping service is misrepresenting the Occupied Palestinian Territories and is hiding the human rights violations.
Mapping is a way to show the reality, but it is also a way of segregation. Google Maps is not only reflecting the complexity of the Palestinian Occupied Territories, but they also are contributing to make Palestinian life more difficult and to hide the atrocities that Israel government is perpetrating in the West Bank and Gaza.
- 7amleh Arab Center for Social Media Advacement (2018). Mapping Segregation. Google Maps and the Human Rights of the Palestinians. [online] Available at: http://7amleh.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Mapping-Segregation-7amleh.pdf [Accessed 1 Aug. 2019]
- Chacar, H., Rapoport, M., Noy, O., Guarnieri, M., & Iraqi, A. (2019). Lost in Occupation: How Google Maps is erasing Palestine | +972 Magazine. Retrieved 3 August 2019, from https://972mag.com/mapping-occupation-how-google-erases-palestine-from-its-maps/138008/
- Economic Cooperation Foundation (ECF). (2019). Hebron Protocol (1997). Retrieved 3 August 2019, from https://ecf.org.il/issues/issue/220
- Kanas, A. (2019). Hebron: A synthesis of the Palestinian question - PNN. Retrieved 3 August 2019, from http://english.pnn.ps/2019/03/19/hebron-a-synthesis-of-the-palestinian-question/
- United Nations (2016). Joint UN Strategy for Hebron. [online] Hebron. Available at: https://unsco.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/joint_un_strategy_for_hebron.pdf [Accessed 2 Aug. 2019].