Residents of Gush Etzion, located in Judea and just south of Jerusalem, were shocked recently to see that, according to Google, they live in "Palestine," according to a Wednesday report in the Yisrael Hayom daily.
Gush Etzion is the location of Jewish communities that existed before Israel was declared a state in 1948. However, the area was lost to the Jordanian Legion during the war. All but four of the 157 male defenders of Kfar Etzion (the women and children had been evacuated) were murdered in cold blood despite their surrender and the white flag they carried as they stood outside. The area was retaken by Israel in 1967 and many of the orphaned children of those defenders returned to live there.
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel told Yisrael Hayom that it has been receiving a steady stream of complaints from Gush Etzion residents as of late.
Web users who live in the bloc have apparently been astounded to discover that while trying to log into Google to perform searches, the search engine has been redirecting them to google.ps, the Palestinian Authority handle, instead of google.co.il, as in the rest of Israel.
Shahar, a resident of one of the communities in Gush Etzion, responded to the geographical tangle, calling Google's apparent decision to include as “Palestine” the cluster of communities just south of Jerusalem "simply outrageous."
"It's unfortunate that the Google company, which is a business entity and not a political body, has decided that the residents of Judea and Samaria belong to the Palestinian Authority," the Legal Forum’s Director-General, Nachi Eyal, wrote in a letter to Google quoted by Yisrael Hayom.
"We are calling on you to remove this kind of proclamation," wrote Eyal.
Google spokesperson Nathan Tyler clarified that Google Israel -- the company has offices in Tel Aviv and Haifa – was not the one that made the decision to include the Gush Etzion bloc in the Palestinian Authority, adding that the search engine aimed to provide the "best experience" for all of its users.
A few weeks ago, Google decided to place the name "Palestine" on its search engine instead of "Palestinian Territories", in recognition of the Palestinian Authority’s unilateral statehood bid at the United Nations.
The domain name www.google.ps now brings up a homepage with "Palestine" written underneath the Google logo.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin later sent a strongly worded letter to Google CEO Larry Page, in which he called on the internet giant to reconsider its decision.
In his letter, Elkin explained that Google’s move does not bring Israel and the PA closer to the negotiating table but in fact achieves the opposite, adding that such decisions further solidify the PA’s position, that by taking unilateral steps they will be recognized as a state without having to negotiate with Israel.
"Google's decision is puzzling," wrote Elkin, "especially given the fact that this is intervention by an international company in local politics, which does not serve the interests of either party in the long-term."
The Gush Etzion area includes the city of Efrat as well as Elazar, Alon Shvut (and the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva), Kibbutz Migdal Oz, Beitar, Neve Daniel and more.