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How Google Maps refocused our attention on Palestine’s borders

Middle East

How Google Maps refocused our attention on Palestine’s borders

Tony Karon

Google found itself at the centre of a social media firestorm last week, accused of erasing Palestine from its maps. The company said it had never, in fact, used the term “Palestine” in the first place, and promised to fix what it said was a software bug that had removed the designations “West Bank” and “Gaza” from a map that distinguishes those occupied territories from pre-1967 Israel only by a dotted line.

The uproar was hardly surprising, but Google may actually have inadvertently done the Palestinians – and all who support their struggle for justice – an important service: its map reminds us that the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem that began in 1967 is not a temporary anomaly. Having persisted through three quarters of Israel’s history with no prospect of ending in the foreseeable future, it is a permanent feature of the political landscape.

The majority of Israel’s current Jewish population was not yet born or had not yet immigrated to Israel in 1967. They are not taught at school that East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights are occupied territory, in which settling Israeli civilians violates international law. The maps in most of their textbooks don’t distinguish between pre-1967 Israel and occupied territories.

Israel’s leaders no longer even pretend that they intend to withdraw from those territories, and illegal settlements continue to expand. The 1993 Oslo peace process that envisaged creating a Palestinian state in the 1967 territories died in the year 2000. Sporadic conversations between president Mahmoud Abbas and his various Israeli counterparts in the 15 years since, when they weren’t simply photo ops, were “talks about talks”. And they don’t even bother with those any longer.

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