North Africa, West Asia

Google Maps in Palestine

The landscape of Jerusalem is some of the most confusing and fractured in the world. Various armistice lines, illegal annexations, settlements, the 26ft Israeli wall, etc. have made it nearly impossible to make sense of the landscape in any coherent way.

Quinn Coffey
14 July 2014

Google maps does not work in Palestine -- i.e. they have not mapped it. However, the settlements are mapped. The Israeli 'security wall' is conveniently absent from these maps. Numerous Palestinian villages and cities across the West Bank are labeled and appear as grey blobs, with only major roads and settler roads appearing (and labeled). Some Palestinian hotels and restaurants appear on the map, but only if they are verified by Google, for which you must have a mailing address.

Given that there isn't an infrastructure in place to have a mail service here, most companies have P.O. boxes and cannot verify their physical address. Those who somehow can get verified are placed onto random locations within the grey blobs. Looking at the map now, it would appear that if I walk from my apartment (in the eastern part of the grey blob) up the unlabeled white squiggly line, I will eventually be in Jerusalem. In reality, I would walk quite a distance and then run into the Israeli wall, go through the gigantic Checkpoint 300, cross the ever-expanding armistice line, hop on an 'Arab bus' and take that into the center of Jerusalem. At no point in time would I have any sense of direction or point of reference because the proper maps simply don't exist or if they do, I haven't found one detailed enough to make any sense.

The other night I walked home to Bethlehem from Jerusalem. To be sure, this was ill advised, but I missed the last 'Arab bus' -- they stopped running early because the drivers were too afraid to be out at night due to recent tensions. I also had a very hard time finding a taxi to take me back to the checkpoint. As a person who doesn't mind long walks (and this one takes about two hours), I began walking. First along the western border of the Old City and continuing on Hebron road. The thing is, in any other city I would have known, more or less, exactly how to get to where I was going. The landscape of Jerusalem, however, is some of the most confusing and fractured in the world. Various armistice lines, illegal annexations, settlements, the 26ft Israeli wall, etc. have made it nearly impossible to make sense of the landscape in any coherent way.

Walk the wrong way and you encounter a group of heavily armed soldiers, walk another way and you get harassed by heavily armed settlers, walk with your head down to avoid confrontation and end up somehow surrounded on three sides by the Wall. You can certainly find Bethlehem if you walk from Jerusalem--there are occasional signs, but retracing your route on a map afterwards would be very difficult. You could certainly trace the route along Hebron road as far as Ramat Rachel, south of Jerusalem, but then the map changes from labeled streets, to unlabeled squiggles--unless of course, you veer to the east and want to drive to a settlement, in which case I'm certain that it is all very well-lit with plenty of signs--oh and you could just punch it into Google Maps. If, in the future, someone asks me to point out the settlements in the West Bank, I will suggest they just look for the places on Google Maps that actually have street names and details.

With all the recent trauma happening here, I can't help but think of the rhetoric continuously put forth by Israel and most of the western media...'Palestinians deny Israel's right to exist'...yes, this is certainly true in some contexts, but the rhetoric of Israel, the US, Google, etc. denies the very fact that Palestine and Palestinians exist at all.

As a people, a nation, a culture--they are treated like blank spots on a map. They are the unnamed other who are caged behind a wall. If we cannot physically see them or interact with them, who’s to say there is anything over there? But sure enough, whenever I cross the wall I see friends chatting, families eating dinner together; humans just trying to get on with life. Not blank spots on a map at all.

It is a tragedy when any human life is taken. If both sides could look one another in the eye and meet on equal terms (given that the context is structurally unequal), I don't believe that this cyclical violence would continue. But right now there is 26 feet of wall between them and politicians/media who have absolutely no interest in challenging that.

Instead the focus is on pointing fingers, revenge--eye-for-an-eye. The fact of the matter is that there are tens of thousands, if not millions, of people that are fed up with it all. What scale of tragedy has to befall us before it becomes enough to satiate the blood feud? Admit fault where there is fault, reconcile, and move on. The world is tired of this bloody narrative.

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