Thursday, October 6, 2005
No Two Easy Pieces
I am in love with maps and grew up surrounded by them. I was lucky in that my father had a second job as the janitor for a Rand McNally factory, and bringing home samples of the misprinted or outdated maps was a special present he was able to give us, and we were certainly gluttons for them. Knowing that maps are only a symbolic and abstract representation of that which is impossible to render, the condition of the territory of the Earth, an entity that is in continual evolution, we are expected to bring our own sensibilities to the interpretation of their meaning.
Maps hide as much as they reveal, because they are the work of a staff of people who are armed with a task, to make them as true to the reality of the object, while at the same time naming that which is represented and presenting it in a graphic way so as to provide information. Much of this information is ideological. Who among the Americans has forgotten the standard academic maps of our childhood, with North America smack dab in the middle of the flat earth and Asia oddly cut in half for no other reason than to give the new continent centre stage? And very much information is left off of a map so as to render it readable. Do we really need to see the alleys and back streets that exist just for access to garages and trash collectors? We usually won’t find them on a city map, but they certainly occupy approximately one third of all paved roads in a city like Chicago and a lot of life takes place there.
There are many kinds of maps as well. The two most common kinds are the “Geopolitical” ones, showing the natural and artificial elements that define the status of the area being represented, with great emphasis on political and administrative boundaries, and the “Topographic” or “Relief” ones which aim for a more three dimensional picture of the physical characteristics of the land itself. At times, topographic maps reveal the arbitrariness of certain boundaries that a Geopolitical map hides quite well. In both cases, there is great selectivity in what is represented and what is left off.
Differently from a “Road Map”, which basically exists to show the possible routes that connect one place to another, maps that focus only on transportation – getting there, not being there, or much less, what “there” actually is - these maps aim to be at some level concise and objective enough, and have the purpose of aiding in the comprehension of the area under examination.
It has been said that maps don’t lie. As far as that goes, they don’t necessarily tell the truth either…Or rather, as Tierno Bokar, important Sufi spiritual leader from Mali says, “There are three truths: my truth, your truth, and the truth”.
So, it is natural that we should be concerned with the image of Israel and Palestine that is represented, since this is the reality contended by Israelis and Palestinians. Recently, Salman Abu Sitta has compiled the monumental Atlas of Palestine. In an interview with Al Ahram Weekly it is clear that he realises the ideological matters present in cartography:
“The Atlas cleverly weaves the past (a detailed 1948 map of Palestine), the present (today's existing roads) and the future (Abu Sitta's vision of how five million Palestinian refugees scattered all over the world can return home).
Abu Sitta, more than anyone else, perhaps, recognises the political, legal, historic, social and emotional importance of the Atlas to dispossessed Palestinians.
‘The map has a very important function – it is the ID, the birth certificate of the place’, he says.”
Yet, aside from this map, which is basically a faithful reconstruction of the area of Palestine throughout its history taken from all the available historic sources, we find that almost everyone has an idea of what Palestine and Israel are. They are on the news all the time, for goodness sake! We could draw the map, couldn’t we! Couldn’t we?? In fact, the two States are supposed to rise up out of the ashes of what we have before our very eyes.
Yet, and here is where it gets tricky, try to visualise the State of Israel as it is. Try to envision the future State of Palestine. Not an easy task. I doubt that even two professional cartographers could come up with the same map. Basically, it is just easier and more common to visualise Historical Palestine. That could be because this is the iconographic image imprinted in our consciousnesses.
Linguistics Professor at Berkeley, George Lakoff, in his book “Don’t Think of an Elephant” mentions the power of an original mental image of something, of a concept, especially. Whatever image we have developed in our earlier childhood is the image that will remain, and other competing images must forcefully supersede that. It is most common that many Palestinians see the image of entire Palestine (pre-1948 Palestine) as Palestinian land, since it has historically been so. (If Jews stake a claim dating back 2000 years, why should several decades be problematic if we are talking about the rights a person has to his homeland? Such would go a logical argument). Many Jews, and not only in Israel, see the entirety of Israel, together with the West Bank, as the single Jewish State. They state that their claim is divinely inspired and dates back over 2000 years. In both instances, what is perceived as Palestine or as Israel is not an image of Two States, but rather the same land being Palestine or Israel. The great difference would be that Israel is an exclusivist State, inclusive as far as rights go, only to Jews. Present-day Israel has adopted this pattern, and the vision of Eretz Yisrael is a powerful one to secular and religious Jews alike. Palestine has never claimed to be a State of an exclusive ethnic or religious group, and in its administrative history, was able to permit the coexistence of a multiplicity of ethnic groups, yet, it too envisions Palestine in land that has been inhabited by the Palestinian people for generations, and that means the entirety of Historical Palestine.
Is it possible to conceive of a Two State solution? If we look at the current maps, we can see some very interesting evidence that demonstrates the likelihood that at the end of the conflict, if there is to be one, one single State is the only possible solution. Basically because it would not have to overcome the mental leap that Lakoff claims is necessary in formulating thought on issues. Most everyone has the image of a complete land. A land that has the form of Historical Palestine. All that would be necessary would be to acknowledge that that land can not be divided. It is not a mental frame that any of us are able to accept.
So, let’s have a look, shall we, at what an average research on a search engine brings up. This task should prove itself to be quite the challenge if one is armed with a computer. While on most maps of Palestinian sites, you will find the recognition of Israel, looking for the word Palestine on an Israeli one is almost an impossible task.
Why not start with the horse’s mouth? The map of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a very simple map, not quite updated following the Gaza withdrawal, though. The important thing is that you get a very enigmatic title, “Within boundaries and cease-fire lines”, and most of all, you will not see the words West Bank or Palestinian (Occupied) Territories, but rather get Samaria and Judea. Be’er Sheva seems almost as important as Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights are given the same colouring as the Palestinian territories.
A beautiful map to look at is The Science.Co map of Israel. It is a combination of a Geopolitical and Topographic map, yet there are absolutely no demarcation lines of any territory that might make up another State. It is all Israel, even the Golan Heights, although they show the leopard skin Palestinian Adminstration controlled zones. Jerusalem is only indicated as densely populated, but then again, Nablus is called Shechem and names such as Galilee, Samaria and Judea are used.
More Zionist than the Zionists, the map of the Christian group Temple Builders, divides the land up like as if they have taken a measuring stick on a flat piece of paper. To compensate for this strange and impossible to comprehend map, they do however provide a roadmap that would do Netanyahu proud. Jenin or Beth Haggan, to the Christian Temple Builders, it’s all the same.
Gems in Israel, an official tourism page, provides a very helpful talking map giving Hebrew pronunciation of major towns. It doesn’t bother to use the word Palestine in any of the areas it has in its Map of Israel, but then again, it doesn’t show the cities either. Maybe they couldn’t decide whether or not to mispronounce Ramallah.
Info Please shows the Palestinian lands distinctly separated by colour. Too bad ISRAEL is sitting on top of even these areas in screaming capital letters.
The CIA map is about as true to an image of a Separate Israel as we can hope to find. It refers to the West Bank and Gaza as Israeli occupied territories. The only problem is that they name the entire page Israel.
The BBC uses basically the same map as the CIA, but gives a reason for what the entire conflict is about: “At the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a dispute over land and borders.” It is also entitled, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
If you love technology, Eye on Israel produces the map for you. It is enormously detailed, but you would never know that any such entity as Palestine, or the Territories. They are integral parts of Israel.
World Atlas shows Golan as Occupied, but not Palestine. It does point out Palestinian Arab cities in the West Bank, but the “Important cities” and “Significant cities” are all Jewish. For some reason we get to know that the Negev is “wilderness”.
An almost useless map is from Infotour, the Official Israeli Tourism Site. It renders Israel enormous, does not label the West Bank, Gaza is nothing more than a city, and Golan is a complete part of Israel. This is the ultimate ambitious map.
The Relative size maps of the Jewish Virtual Library compare Israel to many parts of the world, even New Jersey, for those who just need to know. Israel, by the way is Eretz Yisrael.
The Israel from Space map is beautiful to see. In fact, Science.co has many maps of the area, none of them even mentioning the word Palestine. Although one finds written "NOTE: Israel is a tiny speck in the vast area of the Middle-East." Makes one wonder how small the speck of land the Palestinians are supposed to have must be.
With this map, Google says, Map of Palestine and her Neighbors, then you get there, the title changes to Map of Israel and her neighbors, and you don’t see Israel at all, just the populations that inhabited the middle east.
The map from Lonely Planet is interesting. It’s all Israel, even a big chunk of Syria. This map is prominently highlighted in Araboo, a sort of research engine for all things Arab.
Geographic has a map that is pretty idealistic. It’s just a border map, without much detail at all. It gives Israel a border, doesn’t really mention the Occupied Territories, yet, on the other hand, the site does not have a Pal map, just one of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
How does the area get depicted by those who are partisan for Palestinian causes? Actually, it is interesting to note that more often than not, they seem to be less idealistic and more realistic, showing the land divided. PASSIA, which provides many maps, basically shows a map of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with only the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem named outside that area. The Logo of the site is another exercise in the art of the possible. It takes into account Palestine as both Historic Palestine and the Bantustan proposition.
Global Security has a curious map of Palestine. Jerusalem is not even shown, Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel and the State of Israel is depicted, although no other State has been. Whatever this map represents is a mystery to me, yet merits further meditation.
Miftah has a list of maps, 85 of them, but not a single one labelled simply, “Palestine”. This seems to be a trend in almost all of the serious Palestinian researchers.
The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem depicts Palestine in two bits. An interesting group of maps, at least judging by the table of contents. By a group that is focussed on environmental, land management and resource issues.
Palestine Center provides a Geopolitical map… the one that seems the most accurate image of what the proposed Palestine will look like. Non-contiguous land.
The Palestine Land Society gives what is probably the most important map of all. It shows the vital information of the results of the Nakba.
Palestine History shows Israel, but explains that it is on occupied Palestinian land, and illustrates the proposed two States.
An absolutely amazing map, autographed and therefore used by Moshe Dayan can be found here. It is the map of Palestine before the Nakba.
But if all of this is starting to look very, very confusing…. There is still one map that is possibly the most true of the true: awaiting patient assembly for framing.