Where is Palestine?

A postcard written by former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in Egypt was addressed to Shoshana Golotzinskit in Tel Aviv, "Palestine" in 1930.

Google: a bug wiped some names!

BY Ben White

Google was at the center of a storm recently, after a group of Palestinian journalists claimed that the tech giant had removed ‘Palestine’ from its map. As the statement was picked up and circulated, the hashtag #PalestineIsHere went viral on Twitter, and international media outlets covered the story.

Following the social media frenzy and press coverage, Google stated that ‘Palestine’ had not been removed because it had never been there in the first place. Instead, Google claimed, a “bug” had removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip,’ which would be restored shortly.

Old maps dating as far as the 1800s clearly recognize the state of Palestine.

Old maps dating as far as the 1800s clearly recognize the state of Palestine.

For many, however, Google’s response simply highlighted an inexcusable omission; according to Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) spokesperson Xavier Abu Eid: “It’s definitely not up to Google to define what’s a state and what isn’t…The state of Palestine is a state on the 1967 borders and that’s what should be in their maps.”

Abu Eid has a point. Palestine is recognized as a state by 137 countries, has been a non-member observer state at the United Nations since 2012, and its athletes have competed in the Olympic games in Rio under the Palestinian flag.

At the very least, some pointed out, Google could label the West Bank and Gaza Strip as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory,’ the name used by certain U.N. bodies and the International Court of Justice.

Others had a different angle. Ali Abunimah, author and co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, tweeted in response to the debate: “I’m totally opposed to Google adding ‘Palestine’ to maps if it applies only to bits of Palestine and not the whole country from river to sea.”

A Change.org petition asking Google “to recognize Palestine in Google Maps, and to clearly designate and identify the Palestinian territories illegally occupied by Israel,” had attracted more than 300,000 names by mid-August, over a period of five months (pre-dating the latest controversy).

This is clearly not just a technical issue; the story gained such traction because of a much wider, political context—specifically, the various efforts expended by Israel since 1948 to wipe Palestine from the map, and to deny that Palestine, or Palestinians themselves, ever existed.

In 1947-’49, pre-Israel Zionist militia and later the Israeli military destroyed some 400-500 Palestinian villages, expelling their inhabitants. Most villages were blown up, their lands leased to Jewish communities or made part of national parks.

But it wasn’t just dynamite and bulldozers; Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion cited “reasons of state” when he demanded that Arabic place names be removed. In three years, the Jewish National Fund assigned 200 new names.

Furthermore, this settler colonial process of erasure and replacement is still ongoing – and note that Israel’s borders remain undefined.

The expropriation of land in the West Bank for the expansion of illegal colonies continues, while in East Jerusalem, settlers promote the ‘City of David’ in Silwan. In the Negev, Israeli authorities seek to demolish the Palestinian village of Umm Al Hiran, in order to construct Hiran, a Jewish town.

Maps and mapping are at the heart of Israel’s colonization of Palestine, not only practically—it is an integral part of seizing land for settlements in the West Bank—but also with respect to how histories are rewritten and narratives created.

For example, the official map for tourists visiting Jerusalem’s Old City lists one Muslim site and five Christian sites out of a total of 57 locations—but does include the 25 buildings occupied by Jews in the Muslim Quarter.

In Jaffa, meanwhile, tourists are similarly given a map which does not once mention the words ‘Palestinian,’ ‘Arab’ or ‘Muslim.’
As a U.S. company, perhaps Google is following Washington’s lead in not putting ‘Palestine’ on the map (in any shape or form). Google also has economic interests in Israel. Furthermore, in 2013, Google acquired the Israeli map app Waze.

Whatever Google’s own motivations are, however, the issue is not going away anytime soon, as Palestinians contest and resist colonization and appropriation at every level—a battle ground that now includes online mapping.


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  1. Bernard Katz

    Israel was created after a 5.5 month struggle (Nov. 29, 1947 to May 15, 1948), at which time newly declared Israel was invaded by the surrounding Arab states. This amounted to a civil war following the UN General Assembly’s Nov. 29 vote (33 to 13, with 10 abstentions) in favor of the partition plan presented on Nov. 25 by the UN Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP’s plan of Sept. 3 was not the one voted on), and then a full blown war with external forces challenging Israel’s existence.

    Terribly wrong choices were made in 1947 and again in 1948 by the Palestinian leadership together with the leaders of the surrounding Arab states (the Arab Higher Committee). The Palestinian people were very badly served by those choices. Since their leaders lost the UNGA vote by 59% to 23% (with 18% abstaining) and their objections had some significant legal merit, they should have taken the issue to the International Court of Justice for a decision as the the legality of the partition vote – as it was in the GA – did not carry the weight of international law. The Security Council never had a chance to work out the ramifications due to the ensuing and virtually immediate violence started, sad to say, by the Palestinian leadership.

    Apart from this important lacunae in his piece, I agree with almost all of what Ben White has written. In addition I would add that in most Israeli produced maps starting about 12 years or so ago, the “Green Line” marking the cease fire lines agreed to in 1949 by Israel and her various neighbors has been eliminated, making it appear that Israel runs from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea!

  2. Bernard Katz

    Further to my previous comments, the history of what became of all the Palestinian villages whose inhabitants either fled, or were coerced by rumor and fear, or who were actually marched out at gunpoint by the Israelis (before or after the state was declared on May 15, 1948 – cf. details in Israeli historian Benny Morris’ “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited” – Cambridge University Press, 2004 ), can be found in Meron Benvenisti’s “Sacred landscape : the buried history of the Holy Land since 1948” (University of California Press, 2000). Benvenisti was deputy mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kolek, and is a distinguished Jewish Israeli.

  3. Eric Levine

    Is this just a bad racist joke? Even the map the author uses actually shows Palestine as a region made up of what appears to be several states. Certainly no state named Palestine ever existed anytime in history. (i.e. all nations must have a unique culture, capital, a monetary unit, its own government and borders. Where are all these missing necessities? The Palestinians are part of the Arab world. Nothing more. No such nation ever existed. This reminds me of Abbas giving the Saudi King a front page of the ‘Palestinian Post’ which is ironic because it is a Jewish paper! So where is this imaginary Palestine border? (Israel is 1/3 historical Palestine, named by the Romans). The Arabs conquered, then the Turkish Ottoman Empire, British Mandate and finally Israel/Jordan. Shame on you NewsweekME!

  4. Robert

    Israel was part of British mandate Palastinian not the country of Palastine
    let’s not forget Arabs and Jews lived there. In all their wisdom the absentee landlords sold land to the Jews. Not that some Arabs weren’t forced out, because they occupied stratic territory.
    This was a war nothing done anything different from most other wars. If the shoe was on the other foot and the Arabs had found the power do you believ they would show the restraint Israel has and not murder every Jewish person they found. In what way have the Palastinians shown any real effort for pease for them it is all or nothing. They would behave the same way as the others around them like Syria, Libia, ISIS, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, so on and so on all these governments surly beloved by their citizens and treat their minority’s so well. Palastinians will surely thank their hosts for such respect. Say what you want Israel treats all religions with respect Israel can win a 100 wars but can only loose one.

  5. Gail Ellis

    @Patrick – it’ sad (if true) that a Jewish family was so ignorant. ‘Palestine’ did exist (as shown by these coins and documents. HOWEVER the ‘Palestine’ which existed was CREATED by the victorious allied powers after WWI, whose maps and agreements defined its boundaries, and whose agreements defined its purpose – as the BRITISH MANDATE for Palestine.

    The stated purpose OF THAT MANDATE was the creation of Jewish national home in the captured territory which had formerly belonged to the TURKS. Here is the text of the Mandate (and I will just further note to prevent any quibbles about the use of the term ‘national home’ and not ‘state’ that the Peel commission of 1937 looked into why that term was used at the time and concluded that the expected outcome was for a JEWISH Commonwealth to be established)

    Here is the text of the BRITISH Mandate for Palestine

    Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have agreed, for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, to entrust to a Mandatory selected by the said Powers the administration of the territory of Palestine, which formerly belonged to the Turkish Empire, within such boundaries as may be fixed by them; and

    Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country; and

    Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country; and

    Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have selected His Britannic Majesty as the Mandatory for Palestine; and

    Whereas the mandate in respect of Palestine has been formulated in the following terms and submitted to the Council of the League for approval; and

    Whereas His Britannic Majesty has accepted the mandate in respect of Palestine and undertaken to exercise it on behalf of the League of Nations in conformity with the following provisions; and

    Whereas by the afore-mentioned Article 22 (paragraph 8), it is provided that the degree of authority, control or administration to be exercised by the Mandatory, not having been previously agreed upon by the Members of the League, shall be explicitly defined by the Council of the League Of Nations;

    confirming the said Mandate, defines its terms as follows:

    ARTICLE 1.

    The Mandatory shall have full powers of legislation and of administration, save as they may be limited by the terms of this mandate.

    ART. 2.

    The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.

  6. Havah

    This piece is pro-terrorist propaganda for a “state” that never existed except as a territory under the British Mandate. Jordanian Arabs lived in the British-contolled area of the Middle East that was home to Jews, Christians and Arabs for millennium. When the British left, rather than try to live in peace with their non-Arab neighbors, the Jordanians chose the begin an intifada against the “infidels,” the first documented terrorist attacks, in Safed. Rather than protect all citizens of the region, the British retreated, with a concession that the Jews should create a Jewish homeland state in the wake if the ghastly holocaust. The State of Israel was declared in 1948, and to this day, the Jewish people living in Israel want nothing but to live in peace in their homeland, even while murderous Arabs from the area want only bloodshed and murder for everyone not dedicated to kill in the name of Allah. It is a scandalous usage of a highly cultured religion that once stood for art, medicine, music and love. Realize Israel as a Jewish country, surrounded by non-occuppied territories of starved, beaten Arabs who need to be liberated from the of oppressive, abusive government that use Jews and Christians as scapegoats while the “Palestinian Authority” is the true oppressor.

  7. M. Edward Triefler

    Israel’s borders; Lebanon to the North, Egypt to the South, Jordan to the center of the Jordan River to the East and the Mediterranean Sea to the West. This includes all of the “Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria”!

  8. rafi

    Yes, there was a place known as Palestine before 1948 and before 1917.
    It was an Ottoman Province and included what is today called Jordan and parts of Syria. It was administered from Damascus.
    The inhabitants included Muslims, Jews (yes Jewish Palestians) Christians and others. None were more indigenous than others.
    Muslim Palestinians, Arabs, grew in numbers during the same period as Jews increased in number from the 1880’s, legally and with approval and appreciation by the Turkish authorities. Arabs enjoyed the increased economic opportunities. But there was also animosity and strife began. Jews were attacked by Arabs from the early twentieth century – totally unrelated to any dream of statehood. Western style countries with birders did not exist in the area. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia had not yet exist within today’s borders. These countries have no history as countries.
    Never in all of human history was there ever a state called Palestine.

  9. Les Brown

    You will not find Israel mentioned on any maps produced by Fatah and Hamas either. “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free”, doesn’t seem to allow any room for a Jewish State. All maps produced in Arab countries, don’t even mention Israel.
    Most Israeli maps do have a delineation between Israel and the territories, although there is a general understanding that in the event of an peace agreement, land swaps would be made as per the Oslo Accords which would make any map produced before then obsolete.

  10. Steve Steinberg

    “Old maps dating as far as the 1800s clearly recognize the state of Palestine.” The old map shown in the figure in this article can be seen in its entirety at https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:cj82m624h . In case no one noticed, nearly the entire area, including part of current day Jordan, is clearly and unambiguously covered by areas designated Asher, Naphtali, Dan, Zebulon, Manassah, Issachar, Gad, Ephraim, Benjamin, Reuben, and Judah – 11 of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, Jacob’s sons. It is a map of the ancient kingdom of the Jews. In 135 AD it was renamed “Palestine” by the Romans after defeating a Jewish rebellion. The name was taken from “Philistines”, a long extinct seafaring nation that had once occupied the area around Gaza. The motive for renaming was to obscure the Jewish connection to the land. The name stuck, and that is why the map refers to this geographical area as “Palestine”. It no more demonstrates recognition of a state of Palestine than a map of Siberia or Appalachia would demonstrate recognition of a state of Siberia or a state of Appalachia. What this article does demonstrate is the political bias of its author.

  11. Dan Benson

    Rationally this argument makes zero sense. According to the logic used in this article:

    “France” should be “Francia”
    “UK” should be “Anglia”
    “Germany” should be “Prussia”
    “Iraq” should be “Babylon”
    “USA” should be “The New World”
    “Syria” should be “The Levant”
    “Lebanon” should be “Phoenicia”
    “Iran” should be “Persia”
    etc. ad infinitum

    The names of every country in the world have changed countless times in history. What makes more sense is that the writers of this article don’t like Israel…

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