Palestinian territory as a result of the usurpation of their land, and the gradual transformation of historic Palestine into the State of Israel. Image Credit: Gulfnews

Abu Dhabi: Palestinians have criticised Google and Apple for the alleged removal of Palestine from maps issued by these technology giants and accused the two companies of siding with Israel.

The official Palestinian News Agency (WFA) reported that Twitter users launched a campaign against Google and Apple under the hashtag #FreePalestine, for ignoring the documented historical facts of the Palestinian cause.

Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Riyad Al Maliki, said he sent an official message to the management of the two companies to protest the removal of the map of Palestine, accusing the two search engines of submitting to “pressure and blackmail” of Israel.

Al Maliki told the official Palestinian radio that “delisting the name of the state of Palestine in the maps of the two companies constitutes a violation of international law and subject to Israeli pressure and blackmail, and in the event that they do not retract, we will resort to filing lawsuits against them.”

He added that work is being done to determine the international legal body that will be approached, to file a case against the two companies, and it will be easy to try the officials of the two companies if they insist on violating international law.

No labels for Palestine

Apple and Google have been accused of deleting Palestine from their online maps, despite it never being labelled in the first place.

Searching for Palestine on Apple Maps and Google Maps shows an outline for the Gaza Strip and West Bank, but no labels for Palestine.

The claims that it was removed appear to stem from a viral Instagram post by a user called ‘Astagfirvlah’ on Wednesday, which accused the technology giants of “officially removing” Palestine from their maps.

An update has since been added to the post, stating that it contains “false information”. However, news articles and posts on other social media platforms have continued to spread the claims, with supporters of the Palestinian cause accusing the tech firm of supporting Israel’s occupation.

Possibility of adopting an alternative search engine

Isaac Sidr, the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, said that the ministry was looking into the possibility of adopting an alternative search engine for “Google”, such as the Russian or Chinese, in response to the decision to delete the state of Palestine from its maps.

Sidr added that the action taken by American search engines Google and Apple recently to delete the name of the state of Palestine from their maps, testifies to the blind bias to Israeli occupation. He added the ministry has developed more than one step to deal with the matter, including pressuring the two companies through services or servers that some Palestinian companies use.

Sidr pointed out that there are legal steps that will be taken, such as raising cases to the competent authorities, “because what is going on is in violation of international laws, and relevant United Nations resolutions, and there will also be a work team and a crisis cell in the ministry, to work systematically and scientifically in this framework”.

Palestine is recognised by the United Nations and 136 of its members as an independent state, but not in the United States, where Apple and Google are headquartered.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest accusations, but a section of its website dedicated to disputed boundaries states: “Disputed boundaries are displayed as a dashed grey line. The places involved don’t agree on a boundary.”

Israel captured and occupied the West Bank, Gaza strip and Golan Heights during the 1967 war. It asserts that it no longer occupies Gaza after dismantling the colonies in 2005. However, as it retains significant control over the coastal territory’s airspace and borders, Gaza is still classified as occupied land by the UN.

Observers say there are more than 130 Israeli colonies in the West Bank, despite being deemed illegal under international law.

It is not the first time Google has been accused of removing the name Palestine from its popular map service.

In 2016, a change.org petition claimed that all mention of Palestine “was removed at the insistence of the Israeli government”, adding that “Google’s two Jewish founders have close links with Israel and its leaders”.

The ‘Google: Put Palestine on your Maps!’ petition remains active and to date has received more than 800,000 signatures.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to begin annexing parts of the occupied West Bank, prompting more than 1,000 parliamentarians from across Europe to sign a joint letter of protest.

But, Arab and European countries, as well as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said any annexation would be a major factor to destabilise the region and called on Israel to listen to the condemnation of its plans.