Why Google Earth Can’t Show You Israel but a Helium Balloon Can
Posted June 16, 2011on:
How can you see the influence of the pro-Israel lobby on a map? You could, I suppose, look up the address of AIPAC headquarters, but that wouldn’t be nearly as illustrative as this.
You see, I spend A LOT of time (probably too much time) working with maps and statistics, and, when you study a conflict over land, the precise location of every square meter is important. For years, Israel’s continued colonization of Palestinian territory has happened one settlement or one settlement home at a time. Hilltops, aquifers, valleys, walls, checkpoints, distances, locations are all vital for understanding the intricacies of this conflict. So, as with just about every field, technology has revolutionized the study of Palestinian geography, especially with the advent of widely available satellite imagery (e.g. Google Maps) which allows anyone with a computer to see how big illegal settlements around Jerusalem are, just how deep Ariel protrudes into the West Bank or how tiny Gaza really is.
Google Maps is a truly amazing tool. Take a look at this image, for example. What you are looking at, at Google Maps’ highest available resolution, is Military Aircraft parked at Area 51, the secret U.S. military base in Nevada’s desert used to test and develop state of the art weapons and planes. Go ahead, zoom in and out.
But if we were to look at any random location in Israel at Google Maps’ highest resolution, not say a top-secret military facility, we get this:
This image is supposed to be of the Dahmash village outside of my ancestral hometown of Al-Lyd. Dahmash is an Arab village unrecognized by the state and thus homes there do not receive permits and they are subject to demolition. Hardly a sensitive military location, in fact, it is more like a shanty town. If you zoom out you can see it. But you won’t be able to see it, or any other area under Israeli state control (including in the Occupied Territories) at the highest resolution. Why is that?
Well, it’s because Congress passed a law which stipulated that Israel and any territory it controls deserve more privacy than the USA’s most secret military installations. In bipartisan fashion, Republican Senator Jon Kyl and Democrat Jeff Bingaman put forward an amendment to the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act (see Sec. 1064) assuring that Israel, and only Israel, was protected from high-resolution imagery, available through sources like Google Maps which everyone can use, of territory it controlled. It tasks a federal regulatory agency within the Department of Commerce with enforcing this provision for Israel, and it is worth repeating, only for Israel. Kyl and Bingaman have both announced they will not seek re-election after their current terms expire, but they will leave the Senate among the top career recipients of pro-Israel PAC contributions.
Is there any better way to illustrate how our Congress is literally turning a blind eye to appease the Israeli lobby?
Since Google launched its Google Earth feature in 2005, the company has become a worldwide leader in providing high-resolution satellite imagery. In 2010, Google Earth allowed the world to see the extent of the destruction in post-earthquake Haiti. This year, Google released similar images after Japan’s deadly tsunami and earthquake. With just one click, Google can bring the world—and a better understanding of far-away events—to your computer.
There is one entire country, however, that Google Earth won’t show you: Israel.
That’s because, in 1997, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, one section of which is titled, “Prohibition on collection and release of detailed satellite imagery relating to Israel.” The amendment, known as the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment, calls for a federal agency, the NOAA’s Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs, to regulate the dissemination of zoomed-in images of Israel.