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The anti-Israel blog crowd has been crowing over the past week or so (check out the talkbacks on http://tinyurl.com/27lzna) since Google Earth came out with its updated, higher resolution photos of Israel, which include images of areas that until now have been off-limits to the "eye in the sky," at least as far as the public is concerned.
Google, of course, would never do anything to violate the letter of the law by releasing information that was not permitted under previous agreements - you don't get rich by opening yourself up to lawsuits, after all.
Cordy Griffiths, a Google spokesperson in London, told reporters that "these new images fall within the law (http://tinyurl.com/ysp3xo). "It is higher resolution than the imagery we had before, but it is freely available material that we buy from third parties. The onus is on them to check that everything is legal."
So Google's you know what is sufficiently covered. Whew! That's a relief.
But Google, as the image of modern open-mindedness (remember the "10 commandments of Google," cited last week at http://tinyurl.com/6qztb), is prepared to do what it can to ensure that no one's feelings are hurt. If Israel had any complaints about how Google Earth was handling its state secrets, "We would be happy to discuss any concerns the Israeli government might have," Griffiths said.
However, noted expert Professor Gerald Steinberg, chairman of the political science department at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, who was quoted in the piece, said the images were no biggie. "They are not real-time pictures, and they were not taken yesterday. I don't think this is a major change in security," he said.
Regardless, it's awfully nice of Google to be concerned about Israeli worries over its security, theoretical or actual. And since the company is in such a placatory mood regarding Israel, perhaps it would care to consider the issues I raised last week - the fact that Israel is not getting a fair hearing in Google Earth when it comes to the loaded political issues we face.
Of course, "the settlements" and "the occupation" figure largely in the anti-Israel propaganda appearing in what has quickly become the default atlas and gazetteer for a generation of cyber-kids. But as I demonstrated last week (http://tinyurl.com/yo48xc), Israel is not getting a fair shake even on issues we all agree on - and that we believed were resolved long ago, like the integrity of pre-1967 Israel.
Other issues where Israel's point of view is little heard by the vast majority of GE users includes the security fence, roadblocks in Judea and Samaria, and limiting the access of Palestinian Authority Arabs to Israel proper. The political arguments on both sides of these issues are well known in our neck of the woods. But what happens when a ninth grader in the US downloads the program in order to do a homework assignment on "the Middle East conflict?" Actually, one can tailor GE to fit one's needs; there are plenty of downloadable KMZ files (the format GE uses to load information into the program) that more accurately describe Israel's positions on the issues. That's fine for savvy users of the program, who know how to search through the GE community site (http://bbs.keyhole.com/) for content that better shows Israel's point of view in the Mohammed al-Dura controversy, for example, where the GE entry, of course, ignores Israel's claim that it was Palestinian gunmen who killed the youth. Or the death of James Miller, which was a "deliberate targeting" of the reporter by Israeli soldiers that does not take into consideration Israel's position that "Cameramen who knowingly enter a combat zone endanger themselves as well as the troops, and clearly run the risk of being caught in the crossfire" - as the IDF spokesperson said after the incident.
You can't avoid getting these opinions in GE; they're part of the "core layers," the default data supplied with the program. The core layers include topography, information about natural events, NASA photos, YouTube videos, dining information, hotels, traffic and many others.
As it happens, GE is very Ameri-Euro-centric, with the more interesting information - restaurant reviews and links to live traffic cameras on major highways - being limited to what the GE moderators clearly see as the "civilized" areas of the world; Asia, Africa, the Middle East and other less fortunate areas of the world have fewer entries.
Most of the entries in the core layers for "the rest of the world" are actually supplied by members of the GE communities. And there's the rub; while there are many areas of the world with regional conflicts, it seems that only in Israel do GE users find blatantly political opinions, mostly favoring the Palestinian point of view. Tibet, Kashmir, Iraq, even Darfur does not have anywhere near the same level of politicization that is found in the entries for Israel.
And how did this situation come about? Why are the entries about Israel so one-sided? While Google is not clear on exactly how it chooses content for its core layers from the user community, a little Web work shows that most of the uncomplimentary to Israel posts are written by the same two or three people - who seem to have made a career of anti-Israel blogging and especially anti-Israel postings in GE (I have the names of these people on file, if anyone is interested).
So why are these folks so popular among the GE forum moderators? Most likely it's because they post a lot there. And they have authored a lot of maps and other contributions to the site. Considering Google's commitment to user participation when it comes to ranking Web site popularity, it makes sense that the site would value user participation in rating sites on the map.
It's a shame, then, that the users who have bothered to comment on Israeli political issues are from "the other side." There is one poster who has supplied a lot of information on Israel, but does not deal with political issues.
Perhaps the hasbara folks haven't been told yet, but Web services like Google Earth are where the action is today in fighting the good fight - and if we're not in it, we're not going to win it.
How to repair the current situation? The first step is to register at the GE forum site (http://bbs.keyhole.com/) and begin responding - perhaps, to posts by like the ones by the person at http://tinyurl.com/2rt9we.
The next step would be to learn how to put together KML files to upload into the GE user community. The documentation on how to do it is at http://code.google.com/apis/kml/documentation/, and it's not all that complicated (although there is a learning curve). That, of course, takes time - a limited commodity for most of us, who are too busy making a living to get involved in full-time politics like some GE user forum participants.
But, as I said before, we may now have a window of opportunity to fix things, at least a little, on GE. If the company is concerned about how Israel will react to the hi-resolution photos of formerly off-limit sites, perhaps it would be willing to take into account our opinions on GE content.
For that to work, though, there needs to be alternative, factual - not opinionated - content. And the only way that will happen will be if pro-Israel GE users start getting involved in the community forum.
Anyone up to the challenge?