Palestinian Villages Misrepresented or Missing on Google Maps

There are 36 unrecognized Palestinian villages in the Naqab (Negev) desert in southern Israel (Nasasra 2018), and numerous unrecognized Palestinian villages in the West Bank’s Area C that are faced with a constant threat of demolition. These villages are not officially recognised by Israeli authorities, who systematically deny building permits to Palestinians in order to justify their illegality. The villages often lack basic services, which includes connection to the electricity grid and water supply, as well as infrastructure, health care and education (Jarzmik 2018). Israeli civil law applies to the villages located in the Naqab, and military law is enforced upon the villages inside Area C of the West Bank.

The Naqab – Palestinian Bedouins as Israeli Citizens Under Civil Law

There are in total 46 Bedouin villages in the Naqab, the majority of which existed before Israel’s creation in 1948. Some claim to have existed since the 7th century. Israeli authorities do not recognise Bedouin ownership of the land, and instead label them as ‘trespassers on state land’ (Adalah 2018). The infrastructure and socio-economic living standards in these Bedouin communities are among the lowest in Israel (Adalah 2018). The Prawer Plan (2011) and the Memorandum of Law on the Regulation of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev (2016), which approve the mass forcible transfer of over 70,000 Bedouins and the destruction of their villages, have created an atmosphere where the threat of demolition and forced evacuation is constant. In contrast, 70 Jewish farms in the Naqab have received recognition from the Israeli authorities in order to sustain a Jewish majority population. (ACRI 2012; ACRI, Bimkom, RCUV 2011; Swirski, Hasson 2006; Adalah n.y.; 2011; 20174; Arab Center for Alternative Planning 2013; Bimkom 2014; Bimkom, RCUV 2012; Mossawa Center 2017). A method of enforcing the eradication of unrecognized Palestinian villages is to ensure their misrepresentation on maps. As part of this policy, these villages do not appear on first sight on Google Maps or at all on Israeli maps, with the exception of army and hiking maps. They are labelled on NGO maps designed to increase their visibility. On Google Maps, the Bedouin villages are marked – in contrast to cities and other villages – under their Bedouin tribe and clan names (Bimkom) rather than with their village names and are only visible when zooming in very closely, but otherwise appear to be non-existent. This means that when looking at Google Maps, these villages appear to be not there, only when zooming on to a very high degree, do they appear with their tribe or clan names. At first (and second and third) sight, therefore, these villages are simply not there. Despite their small size, Israeli villages are displayed even when zoomed-out, while unrecognized Palestinian Bedouin villages, regardless of their size are only visible when zooming in very closely.

Image: Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab - Bimkom

Screenshot: Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab - Google Maps

Screenshot: Nevatim Israeli village visible on Google Maps despite low level of zoom

Area C – Palestinians Under Israeli Military Law

Responsibility for land planning and zoning in Area C resides with the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), the power of which is centralised within the Israeli military (ACRI 2012, Bimkom 2008). The Israeli zoning policy has only delegated 1% of Area C for Palestinians to build on; building on the remaining 99% is prohibited (UNRWA n.y.). The Palestinian Authority Geomolg portal for spatial information in Palestine provides an interactive map showing the building restrictions for Palestinians, which includes illegal settlement boundaries, approved master plans, British Mandatory Plans, nature reserves, demolition orders of 2017 and outlines Bedouin communities. Between 2010 and 2014, only 1.5% of Palestinian building permit applications were approved, forcing Palestinians to build structures illegally and risk demolition. In 2015, 11,000 demolitions of Palestinian buildings were ordered, impacting 149 Palestinian villages in Area C (OCHA opt 2015, OCHA opt 2009). The ramifications of home demolitions and planning policy in Area C of the West Bank are visualized in B’Tselems interactive map. Unlike Palestinian villages in the Naqab, some villages in the Jordan Valley in Area C are represented on Google Maps. While the Israeli settlements can be seen when looking at the larger area of the map, Palestinian villages are only visible when zoomed in, as a result of data provided and pressure by the NGO Bimkom. The settlements in the occupied West Bank appear on the map as being located within Israel, despite the fact that the term ‘West Bank’ also appears on the map.

Screenshot: Jordan Valley on Google Maps zoomed-out

Screenshot: Jordan Valley on Google Maps zoomed-in