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Friday, April 11, 2008


Palestinian refugees? Where?

Google is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread (although, frankly, what's so great about sliced bread anyway? Doesn't everyone have a knife?). The omniscience of Google search unfortunately doesn't carry over to aspects of the company which aren't as automated. Specifically, Google, in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has recently been touting (and the media has been reporting) a new Google Earth feature which allows people to get "up close and personal" with "the world’s major displacement crises." They claim to offer the viewer a chance to "sit in front of your computer and, with a few clicks, see, hear and develop an emotional understanding of what it is like to be a refugee."

Well, I can't argue with the concept, but alas the execution has a rather major flaw. Because while you can get a close-up view of refugee camps in Darfur (the one that the media have focused on), Chad, Iraq, and Colombia, there's a rather glaring omission. Six million glaring omissions in fact - Palestinian refugees.

This site, which called my attention to the issue, claims that "Palestinian refugee camps within the Occupied Palestinian Territories" are slighted by the project, but actually, as far as I can tell, all Palestinian refugee camps are non-existent as far as this project goes. Indeed, there are various icons in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, but when you click on those, you learn about Iraqi refugees, not Palestinian refugees. Not to slight Iraqi refugees, of course, the latest Western-power-caused refugee crisis, but the omission of any mention of Palestinian refugees is rather striking. And reprehensible.

I can only speculate that Google wanted to focus on "non-controversial refugees," the kind that good liberals in the West can support without wrestling with their consciences. But the fact is that, whatever your view of the Palestinian liberation struggle, and of terrorism, only the tiniest fraction of the six million Palestinian refugees are actively involved in that struggle. The rest are just people living difficult lives, just like refugees from all sorts of other countries, and just as deserving of the world's sympathy and energies. The difference, of course, is that the "civilized" world ("civilized" in the Gandhian sense) doesn't want the Palestinian refugees returning to their homes, and would just as soon like to forget they exist.

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