Distorting history with maps
Land claims, in their sensitivity and complexity, have been a recurring sticking point in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Addressing them on their merits, and with due regard to historic realities, is difficult enough, but having to then deal with their frequently revisionist interpretations – by Palestinian interlocutors and their apologists – makes an already complicated negotiation that much more frustrating.
Yet regardless of the implicitly propagandist machinations of what has come to be known as the “Palestinian land loss narrative,” the case promoting it has become entrenched within a broader mosaic of fabrication that all too often defines the Arab perspective in any discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.
A sequence of maps is the current instrument of choice to describe and embellish the notion of “land loss.” The drawings, of which there are usually four, purport to show the usurping of “Palestinian territory” between 1946 and 2009. The 1946 map shows tiny pockets of Jewish settlements in British Mandate Palestine, with all of the rest, in bright green for added emphasis, labelled as Arab lands. That the Arabs at that time had no sovereignty over the area, and owned less than half of it, is a mere detail that escapes mention.
The next two maps draw attention to the changing demography in diminishing areas of “green,” after Israel fended off its Arab attackers in 1948 and 1967, respectively. These then segue to the fourth illustration, which identifies only tiny enclaves of residual Palestinian land, speckled through what is presumably the West Bank and no doubt meant to portray the “bantustans” that the Israelis have been accused of creating.
What is so flagrantly perverse about these depictions is that they entirely omit any context or commentary that might even remotely create a foundation for rational discussion. For example, all of the agreements from the Balfour Declaration onward are overlooked, the legitimacy of the partition plan that established the State of Israel is denied and Israel’s ceding of the Sinai and Gaza is ignored.
In summing up the deceit of the maps, Ami Isseroff, chief editor at the Zionism-Israel Center (http://zionism-israel.com) lamented that “like the ‘apartheid’ slogan, the maps and the ideas they represent are coming to be accepted as mainstream and legitimate.” He cautions that it needs to be understood that what the distributors of the maps hope to promote with them is “an irredentist claim over the land for the Arabs of Palestine… not only the area of the West Bank and Gaza, but the entire land, ‘from the river to the sea’ – all of the land that was covered ‘green’ in the 1946 map – the ‘lost’ land.”