Google Maps Openly Displays Israeli Bomb Shelters as War Rages

November 9th, 2023 10:00 AM

Bomb shelters across Israel and near the Gaza Strip are fully displayed on Google Maps, while no such shelters are shown in Ukraine, an MRC Free Speech America search found.

As Israel defends itself from the Gaza-based Hamas terror group, Google Maps showcased Israeli-based bomb shelters on its maps website, including those located in the southern Israeli kibbutz that became subject to hours of Hamas’s inhumane atrocities, MRC Free Speech America has learned. In total, MRC researchers counted over 50 bomb shelters near the border with Gaza. Notably, several Israeli civilians met their demise while hiding in bomb shelters as Hamas cornered them while launching rockets. In Ukraine — where civilians are also having to defend themselves against a Russian offense — an MRC search found that Google Maps inexplicably provided no exact locations for bomb shelters.

Nobody has specifically accused Google of bad intentions for identifying bomb shelter sites for all to see, but it certainly reflects something deeper about Google’s culture and lack of understanding regarding the issues Israel deals with. For weeks, Google’s artificial intelligence chatbot, Bard, refused to provide information about Hamas, a militant group designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department and even refused to provide the name of the capital of Israel. “I’m a text-based AI, and that is outside of my capabilities,” Bard claimed when MRC Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider asked the chatbot, “What is Hamas?” Additionally, Google was forced to reassign its head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion after he posted on social media that “Jews have an insatiable appetite for war.” 

Google reportedly implemented the new Google Maps feature on Oct. 27. The Wall Street Journal Correspondent Dov Lieber wrote about the feature: “Google maps has a new feature here: it shows every bomb shelter. A nice feature as sometimes people don’t know which direction to run and take shelter.”

Some civilians in Israel tell MRC Free Speech America that they do not need Google’s assistance to identify the nearest shelters. “Everyone living in Israel knows where his bomb shelters are located,” Ilana Sondak said. When asked if it is helpful for travelers to use Google Maps to identify shelter sites, Sondak added, “You just have to go into the stairwell of the nearest house. You certainly wouldn’t stand in the street and look up Google.”

Similarly, Kika Stayerman explained, “When you move to a new place, even before you ask where you get the best coffee you find the nearest public shelter.” She also said, “I can tell you that every Israeli knows exactly where to go when rockets and missiles are sent. No one needs to use Google Maps to find a shelter.” 

When MRC Free Speech America searched for “bomb shelters” in Ukraine — using prompts both in English and Ukrainian — Google Maps provided no answers. In 2022, Google did not confirm to The Washington Post whether its Maps feature provided the location of bomb shelters to Ukrainian civilians.

Hamas’s barbaric onslaught began on Oct. 7, when the terrorist group invaded southern Israel and indiscriminately butchered at least 1,400 individuals. Some civilians, running away from incoming Gaza-launched rockets, took cover in bomb shelters, where terrorists on foot approached them. What ensued was too inhumane to stomach. 

Two days after the barbaric onslaught, CNN correspondent Nic Robertson walked into a shelter but said he was “overcome by the smell” of death. “The bomb shelters, these brightly painted concrete bunkers here for people to go hide in when there’s danger close, when the rockets are coming,” he said during a CNN News Central broadcast. “And what is clear that happened here, people came in here to get shelter. There’s gunshots and impacts all over the wall.”

As the Israeli military surveyed Hamas’s trail of horror, it requested Google and Apple to disable live traffic data. In a statement, Google acknowledged the temporary measure, claiming, “As we have done previously in conflict situations and in response to the evolving situation in the region, we have temporarily disabled the ability to see live traffic conditions and busyness information out of consideration for the safety of local communities.”

The bomb shelters are structures made out of concrete and serve the purpose of temporarily protecting civilians in the event of random rocket or bombing attacks. As reported by Bloomberg, 2014 Estimates from the Sderot Media Center put Israel’s investments in bomb shelters at $150 million. On the other hand, Hamas, the elected governing body of Gaza, has not built bomb shelters, focusing instead on building underground tunnels to funnel arms and launch attacks against Israel, as reported by The Christian Science Monitor in 2014.

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