Just a few years ago, Google and the State of Israel seemed to have a somewhat tenuous relationship. Although Google opened up a couple of offices in the country (in Tel Aviv and Haifa), there was apprehension about the company revealing map-based information that could place Israel at risk.
In order to operate in Israel, Google Street View had to agree to a number of concessions such as respecting the jurisdiction of Israeli law even though Google is U.S.-based. As well, Israelis were assured an effective online mechanism to request the blurring of homes in addition to the standard blurring of faces and license plates.
With that, Yoram Hacohen, Israel’s privacy regulator, welcomed the service to his country. (The full letter of agreement is available in English on the Ministry of Justice website.)
There have been some missteps and controversy along the way. After being criticized for filming on Rosh Hashanah, Google has pledged to refrain from doing so on Jewish holidays.
Google vehicles had originally avoided crossing the Green Line but later have done so. When asked about filming in disputed regions, Google responded that “We aspire to bring the Street View service on Google maps to as many countries and areas as possible, including in Israel and the Middle East. As a technology company, we focus on providing the best service to our users.”
So what can you see when you start to use Street View to tour Israel? Most major towns and cities from Ma’alot in the north to Eilat in the south have already been photographed. Just plug in an address and Google does the rest.
For something more picturesque, sites like iGoogledIsrael.com have posted their Top Ten Lists of things to see in Google Street View, including:
- The Baha’i Gardens of Haifa
- The Sea of Galilee
- The Dead Sea
- The Beaches of Tel Aviv
- The Western Wall Promenade
Google used a specially equipped tricycle in order to negotiate the nooks and crannies of the Old City.
Now that Google Street View has covered much of the exteriors of the country, it has begun to venture inside some choice addresses including:
- The Chagall State Hall in the Knesset
- A tour through the Western Wall Tunnels
- Ben-Gurion’s “Hut” at Kibbutz Sde Boker
- The Atlit Detention Camp
- The white chalk grottos of Rosh HaNikra
Recently, Google has released several projects and tools that have made headlines in Israel – and will be of interest to tourists, both real and virtual.
If you are planning a trip to Israel and need to find the best way to get from Beersheba to Tsfat, Google Maps can provide the answer. Transit information for Israel is now available thanks to its collaboration with the country’s Ministry of Transportation and Israel Railways. Bus, rail and light rail routes can be found at maps.google.co.il.
Providing travel information is very competitive and Google certainly does not have the monopoly in Israel, a country that has become a world leader for these types of mobile apps. Moovit is a free mobile GPS app that supplies public transit information. Created in Israel, it provides info for more than 100 cities worldwide including Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
Waze is another popular community-based mapping and traffic app. Made in Israel, it created headlines when it caught the attention of heavyweights like Facebook, but it was ultimately purchased by Google last year.
As Google’s Street View vehicles fanned out across the country, they captured shots of Israel for better or worse. As Haaretz described it, there are shots of protests, crowded markets, buses sitting in traffic, and overflowing trash receptacles in East Jerusalem.
But not everything Street View takes in is negative. For example, near the Old City, the cameras captured a car festooned with ribbons and an entirely different form of graffiti – the words ‘soon a groom’ are splashed across it.”