TEL AVIV – Google has come under fire for removing “Palestine” from its maps, according to pro-Palestinian groups, even though the search engine giant never used the term in the first place.
More than a quarter million people have signed an online petition demanding that Google put Palestine on the map.
In an Arabic-language statement, the Forum of Palestinian Journalists released a statement lambasting Google for removing the label “Palestine” from its maps.
“The Palestinian media forum condemns the crime carried out by Google to delete the name of Palestine and calls for Google to rescind its decision and apologize to the Palestinian people,” the statement said. “A new crime to be added to the list of those ongoing against the Palestinian people of crimes committed by the global search engine Google on July 25 when it removed the name of Palestine [from its maps].”
The accusation resulted in outcry on social media sites, with thousands of posts accompanied by the hashtag #PalestineIsHere.
But according to the Times of Israel, the petition urging Google to reinstate Palestine began nearly half a year ago, long before Google allegedly removed Palestine. The large majority of its signatures, however, were received in the past few days.
The report noted that even though 136 UN countries recognize Palestine as an independent state, Google’s policy is in keeping with that of the U.S. and 49 other countries in that it doesn’t list Palestine as a country.
“There has never been a ‘Palestine’ label on Google Maps,” a Google spokesperson told the tech news site Engadget on Wednesday. “However, we discovered a bug that removed the labels for ‘West Bank’ and ‘Gaza Strip.’ We’re working quickly to bring these labels back to the area.”
Today, Google Maps does show Gaza as a label but searches for “Palestine,” “Gaza Strip” or “West Bank” yield an unidentified area within a dotted line.
The former director of Google’s public policy team Robert Boorstin, cited in the Washington Monthly in 2010, said: “We work to provide as much discoverable information as possible so that users can make their own judgments about geopolitical disputes.”
In May 2013, Google was slammed by Israeli officials for changing the tagline on its Palestinian edition from “Palestinian territories” to “Palestine.”
The term “Palestine” is controversial because to date, there has not been any final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and thus there is no Palestinian state.