Google Maps Says 'Palestine' Never Removed, Was Not Labeled

Zachary Volkert

Google Maps was hit with intense online backlash earlier this week when Middle Eastern media began to report that Palestine had been removed from the digital atlas.

There was just one problem, though: Google had never featured the name "Palestine" as a country on the map at all. In a statement, the company did say that the usual labels "West Bank" and "Gaza Strip" did temporarily disappear -- though even that was unintentional.

"There has never been a 'Palestine' label on Google Maps, 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."

— AJ+ (@ajplus) August 11, 2016

"[This] is part of the Israeli scheme to establish its name as a legitimate state for generations to come and abolish Palestine once and for all. The move is also designed to falsify history, geography as well as the Palestinian people's right to their homeland, and a failed attempt to tamper with the memory of Palestinians and Arabs as well as the world."

— Sanz khan (@sanzkhan812) August 12, 2016

— anne from accounting (@dearmrchrist) August 6, 2016

"That language might not seem especially journalistic. But it is typical of Hamas rhetoric — which is not surprising when considering that the director of the Palestinian Journalists' Forum, Imad al-Efranji, is also the head of the Gaza branch Quds television station, a Hamas station that traffics in naked anti-Semitism — assertions that Jews make Passover matza out of Christian blood and global Judaism is a "plague" that controls the world's financial system, for example — and broadcasts explicit calls to anti-Jewish violence."

Google Maps finds itself in a difficult position as the world's go-to resource for physical representations of the earth. Palestine is just one of dozens of disputed territories that, no matter how they are divided, will manage to irk one group or another. Writing for The New York Times, Frank Jacobs noted how the service had become the de facto way that many demarcate the world's frontiers.

"Over the past decade, Google Earth and Google Maps have become the online cartographic resources of reference. But popularity does not bestow authority.... Yet by virtue of its ubiquity, Google is often the arbiter of first recourse for borders and toponyms. So where Google's maps show borders or place names that deviate from official usage or stray into international disputes, they may cause confusion, offense or worse."

— Hassan. (@Larbiva) July 30, 2016

— News18 (@CNNnews18) December 14, 2014

"Google Maps makes every effort to depict disputed regions and features objectively... Where we have local versions, we follow local regulations for naming and borders."

[Image via StrelaStudio/Shuttershock]