The Cartographic Crux of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Maps are incredibly powerful instruments. In addition to conveying geographical information, maps, ab aeterno, manifest political, philosophical, actual and imagined snapshots of time. And nowhere on Earth is the meaning of maps more powerful and more controversial than in the Middle East, particularly when it comes to Israel and its Arab neighbors.
A very public controversy with regard to a map of Israel erupted last month in London. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism placed an advertisement throughout the London Underground showing a map of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights in the same yellow color, giving the impression that Israel’s vast geography did not include occupied Palestinian territory. Obviously misrepresentative, because a British tourist cannot sunbath on the pristine beaches of Gaza or shop the markets of Ramallah, all the while travelling from Eilat to Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to Haifa. After mass protests, the Israeli Ministry removed the posters, calling them a “professional mistake.” However, Ministry officials most likely see the incident as a market miscalculation rather than an issue related to the borders of their country.
A similar incident occurred when I was travelling through Israel a few months ago. I noticed that my travel map, published by Hertz, all but erased the existence of the occupied Palestinian territory. After my short blog-piece on Huffington Post, Hertz management went through an internal process to adjust its map. Hertz, a U.S. based company, made the decision that its travel maps should represent as accurately as possible the geography of the state(s) in which it does business, and ignoring international legal realities of occupation was clearly not acceptable. Having been privy to the subsequent drafts, it was fascinating to see how Hertz’s Israeli cartographer struggled to identify Palestinian areas, settlements roads, the Green Line that divides Israel proper from the occupied West Bank, the armistice line with Syria, and other important foundations for the yet to be agreed upon borders of the State of Israel. In the end, Hertz is now publishing a map that identifies all of the above.