JERUSALEM – An Israeli town is suing Internet giant Google for slander over a posting by a user of its worldwide mapping service that claims the town was built on the ruins of an Arab village, an official said Monday.
The dispute brings together two controversies, one old and one new. Officials from Kiryat Yam deny Arabs were displaced when the town was formed during the war that followed Israel's creation in 1948. And Google is defending the practice of allowing its users to post information in Google Earth, its satellite imagery-based mapping software.
Hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or were expelled during the 1948-49 war that began with Israel's declaration of independence. Pushing back invading Arab armies, the forces from the new Jewish state also overran Arab villages.
Google Earth user Thameen Darby inserted a note on the map saying Kiryat Yam, a town of 40,000 on the Mediterranean coast just north of Haifa, was built on the location of the Arab village Ghawarina. Darby has inserted at least 10 such notes over Google's map of Israel.
"This obviously cannot be true, because Kiryat Yam was founded in 1945" before the war, said town official Naty Keyzilberman, who filed a slander complaint against Google with Israel's police.
A Google spokesman who declined to give his name in keeping with company policy, said Google Earth depends on user-generated content that reflects what people contribute, not what Google believes is accurate. He insisted the altered map is not illegal and said Google's policy is not to remove such postings.
Darby, 30, a Palestinian doctor raised in the northern West Bank town of Jenin, said his contributions to Google Earth are part of the "Nakhba — Palestinian Catastrophe" information hub, which is aimed at helping displaced Palestinians understand their heritage or find the villages of their parents or grandparents.
He said his mother was a refugee from the village of Balad al-Sheikh near Kiryat Yam. "As far as I can know, the Arab Ghawarina locality was in the place depicted," Darby told The Associated Press.
Darby said he may not have marked the exact location and if proven wrong "by reliable sources, I will be quick to reallocate it."
Above Kiryat Yam, Darby wrote, "this is one of the Palestinian localities evacuated and destroyed after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war."
But Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi of Haifa University told the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot, that Darby's claim is untrue.
"Kiryat Yam was built on sand dunes, and there wasn't any Palestinian village in the area," he said. "The lands were bought in 1939 by the Gav Yam construction company."