For some unexplained reason, an uproar on the internet erupted on social media after it was announced that Google Maps removed Palestine. An online petition has garnered over 800,000 signatures even though Google Maps, as an accurate portrayal of geography and history, has never had a country called ‘Palestine’ on any of its maps.

The campaign was launched on Wednesday on an Instagram account called “Astagfirvlah,” also spelled “Astagfirollah,” which is a concept in Islam. Literally translated from Arabic it means I ask forgiveness from Allah.” 

The post initially accused Google and Apple of trying to obliterate the Palestinian identity and change facts to satisfy American and Israeli goals. It has since been updated to reflect that neither company had ever acknowledged Palestine as a geographic location or political entity with actual borders.

A call was put out to sign a petition posted on Change.org stating:

“Palestine does not appear on Google maps. Why not? Israel, established on Palestinian land, is clearly designated. But there is no mention of  Palestine. According to Google, Palestine does not exist. The omission of Palestine is a grievous insult to the people of Palestine and undermines the efforts of the millions of people who are involved in the campaign to secure Palestinian independence and freedom from Israeli occupation and oppression. Whether intentionally or otherwise, Google is making itself complicit in the Israeli government’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine.”

Eyad Rifai, head of Sada Social Center, which monitors social media violations against Palestinian content, made a statement to The Media Line, confirming that Palestine was not identified as such on these maps, but rather as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Rifai noted that added that since the beginning of 2020, Google began to remove the names of cities and roads in areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority while keeping Israeli roads. Rifai claimed that Palestinians who followed directions based on the Arabi maps may enter an Israeli settlement and be endangered. Though this has been known to happen, Israeli law enforces the right of Arabs to enter Israeli settlement while prohibiting Jews from entering Arab towns. Jews are routinely attacked if they enter Arab towns.

“We have been working and sending letters to several parties to include Palestine in accordance with the laws of the United Nations,” Rifai stated. “After the announcement of the so-called deal of the century [in January 2020] as well as the [subsequent] Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank, activists started highlighting such issues of not recognizing Palestine as a country on official maps by Google and others.”

In 2016, when the issue of Palestine was first raised with Google, a Google spokeswoman told the Guardian, “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.”