Thursday, March 13, 2008


Google Maps and Israel

Something weird is going on at Google Maps... particularly pertaining to their coverage of the Middle East.

It's been pointed out before that Google Maps happily displays the names "West Bank" and "Gaza Strip" before the name "Israel" is large enough to show up.

But this is more interesting. Look up Israel on Google Maps, and see this:

Notice anything interesting? Let's zoom in a bit more:

Hmm. Israel doesn't seem to have roads... or cities. (Egypt and Jordan both do, as you can see; so do Lebanon and Syria.)

Let's zoom in some more:

Now the national labels have disappeared... and so Israel is simply... nothingness. No cities, no roads, nothing, just a wide area that happens to have national boundaries. (Disputed national boundaries, no less, given that they're drawn with dotted lines -- and even multiple dotted lines, in the case of the Golan Heights in the north.)

Please note, however, that it isn't just Israel. The Gaza Strip is now completely unlabeled as well.

Let's zoom in some more:

Now we can see Karama, Jordan... which, as near as I can tell, is a town of less than 45,000 people. But we don't see a somewhat larger city, southwest of Karama -- right where the dotted line bulges to the right for a bit -- a city called Jerusalem, home to well over 300,000 people.

Let's zoom in on that unidentified area a bit more:

Yup, that's a major center of habitation, all right -- you can see lots of neighborhoods, as well as some major and minor roads.

Oh, and what's what square thing near the center of the image, with a little circle in it? (And some incompletely erased text just beneath it?)

Yes, that's the Temple Mount... with the gold Dome of the Rock featured prominently. Just across from a grove of trees, which appear below the Dome in this picture, we can see the Western Wall plaza on the left. Other landmarks of the Old City of Jerusalem can also be seen.

Now... in Google's defense, it has been claimed that the missing text was deliberately removed -- at Israel's request, for security reasons! (We certainly wouldn't want terrorists using Google Maps for targeting purposes.) This is borne out -- slightly -- by the fact that I can zoom in on, say, an Amman residential neighborhood one level more than I can in Jerusalem.

My only issue with this is to point out that, say, Yahoo Maps doesn't feel the need to do it:

You can't zoom in to see, say, streets in Jerusalem... but you can't do that in Amman either.

And MapQuest is almost gregarious, offering street names in downtown Jerusalem -- although it mysteriously goes dark outside of a central area. (Start here and zoom in.) The same is true, though, of Cairo.

All I can say is: if this curious lack of detail is for the purpose of increased Israeli security, I'm in favor of it. (And if Israel's neighbors ever feel the need for similar levels of security, as a means of protection from Israel, no doubt they'll ask for it.)


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