Google and the eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish people

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Google Earth January 7 2012
Google Earth January 7 2012; Star indicates that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital

Although maps are never neutral documents, most maps we see and use are benign and have no particular mission to cause harm or further wars. Yet the history of cartography is replete with maps made to deceive, to prove, to exploit, to kill, to intimidate, to curry favor, to create a desired reality. 

What if a mapmaker came along who could control a single map that much of humanity looked to as a standard reference? In a clinical, scientific setting that seemed to place it above falsehoods or political manipulation? 

The capital of Israel is and always has been Tel Aviv. Why, then, do GoogleEarth (above) and GoogleMaps insist on marking Jerusalem as the capital? Israel occupies East Jerusalem in a brutal military occupation illegal under international law and condemned by UN Resolutions that not even the United States challenged. But Israel claims that an “undivided” Jerusalem is its capital, and that is what Google tells the world.

Is Google waging war-by-map on behalf of Israel? If not, what is its standard for accuracy?[1] As regard physical geography, that’s relatively straight-forward. But standard for accuracy in political geography? What else could be a guide but the rule of law?

The 1947 UN Partition Resolution that created the Israeli state stipulated that Jerusalem would be an open, international city administered by the UN. But like the Partition itself, this was not to be: Zionist forces quickly seized most of the city, with both David Ben-Gurion and his political nemesis Menachem Begin vowing never to relinquish it, and Jordan’s Abdullah I taking East Jerusalem and the West Bank in exchange for delaying any Arab defense.

The uneasy balance remained until the 1967 war, after which Israel claimed it had annexed East Jerusalem (in contrast to the West Bank and Gaza, which it claimed to be occupying). That ‘annexation’ has never been recognized by international law, yet in 1980 the Knesset went a step further and passed the Jerusalem Law claiming all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Seven UN Resolutions between 1968-1980 address this illegal seizure. What is remarkable by today’s perspective is that in no case did the US vote against them.

In 1968, Res 252 “reaffirms that acquisition of territory by military conquest is inadmissible, and deplores the failure of Israel to comply with [previous] General Assembly resolutions.”[2] There were no votes against. The US and Canada abstained. Israel defied the resolution.

In 1969, Res 267 “deplores the failure of Israel to show any regard for the resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council… Censures in the strongest terms all measures taken to change the status of the City of Jerusalem… Confirms that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel which purport to alter the status of Jerusalem, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, are invalid and cannot change that status…”.[3] This resolution was adopted unanimously. Israel continued to defy the resolutions.

The same year, Res 271 reaffirmed the previous resolutions, and addressed Israel’s destruction of non-Jewish holy places. It determined “that the execrable act of desecration and profanation of the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque emphasizes the immediate necessity of Israel’s desisting from acting in violation of the aforesaid resolutions and rescinding forthwith all measures and actions taken by it designed to alter the status of Jerusalem.”[4] There were no votes against. Four countries abstained: Colombia, Finland, Paraguay, and the US. Israel continued to defy the resolutions.

Two years later, in 1971, Res 298 “deplores the failure of Israel to respect the previous resolutions…” and “confirms in the clearest possible terms that all legislative and administrative actions taken by Israel to change the status of the City of Jerusalem, including expropriation of land and properties, transfer of populations and legislation aimed at the incorporation of the occupied section, are totally invalid and cannot change that status…”[5] No votes against. Syria abstained. Israel continued to defy the resolutions.

After nine more years, Res 465 of 1980 could only repeat much of the same. “All measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention…” It adds concern over the reported “serious depletion of natural resources, particularly the water resources.”[6] The Security Council had asked the mayor of Hebron to testify; but Israel, which now illegally occupied Hebron, blocked his departure, and so the resolution included a protest at this new outrage. Resolution 465 was adopted unanimously. Israel continued to defy all the resolutions.

The same year, Res 476 deplored “the persistence of Israel, in changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem,” and reconfirms “that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal validity.”[7] No dissenting votes; the US abstained.

Yet thirty days after Res 476, the Knesset defied the UN on a whole new level by enacting its “Jerusalem Law”[8] which claimed Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. Within three weeks, the Security Council passed Res 478 in response. It states that Israel’s action is “a violation of international law” and asked any member countries with their embassy in Jerusalem to move it to Tel Aviv, lest its location be construed as an endorsement of Israel’s military annexation.[9] No dissenting votes; the US abstained. Israel continued to defy the resolutions.

 Each of these UN Resolutions made explicit that building ‘facts on the ground’ can not be used to leverage expropriation of land and transfers of populations in the future. Doing so with the idea of making such seizures irreversible is “totally invalid and cannot change that status.” Israel cannot erase the historic record, but forces such as Google can make the world believe falsehoods by having control over what cartographic data most people see.

By 1987, the presumably knowledgeable Thomas Friedman failed even to question Ariel Sharon when, in an interview from Sharon’s disputed residence in East Jerusalem, he emphasized that it lay in Israel’s capital.[10] Every four years, US presidential candidates promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, presumably aware that US law itself would have to be circumvented. Obama had already called Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel when running for his first term; the ‘vote’ to put it in the Democratic Party platform in his second campaign was a mockery of process (

Not surprisingly, given Israel’s expertise in technology, Google has invested much in the country, and in June of 2012 Google executive Eric Schmidt met with PM Netanayhu. During the meeting, a fawning Schmidt managed even to eulogize the IDF (video

What of Google’s competitor in the smartphone field? Apple’s iPhones had used Google’s maps until its iPhone 5, which introduced Apple Maps and its now-infamous repertoire of errors. One apparent ‘error’ was its failure to mark a capital of Israel. Indignation over the missing capital quickly hit the internet and Israeli media, bloggers demanding that Apple mark Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Yet at writing (9 Jan ‘12), four months later, Israel still has no capital, and the iPhone’s world clock app shows Jerusalem as a city without an associated country. Apple appears to have taken the tack used by the CIA, whose World Factbook map[11] marks no city as Israel’s capital. Given the cartographic conundrum, this makes sense: Israel has every right to say that Tel Aviv is not its capital, so it is not shown as such, but nor does it have the right to place its capital in other people’s land, so it is not shown in Jerusalem either.

The map war continue to be fought in physical media as well. Four years ago, British authorities forced Israel to replace tourism billboards in London Transit because they flaunted a map labelling all of Palestine as Israel.[12] Cyber map warfare is more insidious, however. In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, a news clipping makes the protagonist realize that Big Brother has been lying (all copies of the article were to have been destroyed, but one mistakenly survived). But if instead of physical copies, it were digital in cyberspace? Big Brother would simply have modified the file.

If enough of a fuss were made, Google would have to respond to the issue of Jerusalem on its maps. In the spotlight, would it really defy international law?

Author’s postscript: This article presupposes a huge gift to Israel: all the Palestinian land between the UN Partition and the 1949 Armistice or Green Line, more than half of what was to have been Palestine. The Green Line was merely a cease-fire line, not a border granting Israel the Palestinian lands within it, but Israel refused to budge and the line is now commonly presumed to be Israel’s unofficial border. The present article, like everything written on the ‘conflict’ since the Suez War, is predicated on accepting this state of affairs, vastly tilted in Israel’s favor.

                        Thomas Suarez is the author of several works on the history of cartography.


1. The author’s attempts to contact Google or correct the error remain unanswered.







8. Passed by the Knesset July 30, 1980. It’s full name is Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel.


10. Thomas Friedman, In Jerusalem, Sharon Apartment Creates a Stir. NY Times December 31, 1987.



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Babble all you want.
Jerusalem is the capital of Israel it’s the seat of government and of parliament
and of the judiciary system.
Not recognizing it as such is tantamount to not recognizing the earth revolves around the sun.

Eternal my ass.
Undivided- sure , habibi
The Crusaders had that arrogance thing as well.

This is phenomenal writing and the author is highly knowledgeable about this subject. Well done, and thanks.

This discussion of cartography omits one salient fact: Jerusalem is 72% Jewish and 28% Arab. Jerusalem has an undisputed Jewish majority since the mid 19th Century. Its always been the most Jewish of cities in the world.

And no UN resolution nor world disapproval can ever erase this fact.

They hope to achieve a fait accompli, just like the settlements they now say cannot be moved, if anyone protests, the Israelis are furious and lash out at anyone brave enough to point out the illegality of it all, in contrast to the US/EU’s diplomatic language “this is unhelpful” etc… Read more »