Monday, January 01, 2007

What's in a Map?

In my “day job” I have done a lot of work with maps. Maps both record “reality” and shape our understanding of it.

For the past month Israel has been embroiled in a not so low-level map controversy. Education Minister Yuli Tamir, one of the most dovish members of the Labour Party, has proposed putting the “Green Line” (the 1949 armistice lines that demarcate the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, as opposed to de jure boundaries of the state) back into maps used in Israeli school textbooks. Opposition is fierce both from the hard right, who don’t believe there is should any difference between Tel Aviv and Hebron, and from the soft right (which perhaps includes a majority of Israelis) who prefer to keep the exact demarcation between Israel and the Occupied Territories fuzzy.

My question is: “How could they ever have take the Green Line out?” It is no wonder that so many Israelis think we should keep the major settlement blocks and the communities that are “just over” the Green Line. They really have no idea what is inside Israel, and what is inside the Occupied Territories. They have no idea how much land Israelis have gobbled up within those territories.

Many supporters of Israel rightfully point to the worrisome maps distributed by Arab and Palestinian groups that show all the land between the sea and the Jordan River as one country with no border and labelled Palestine. It turns out that the Israeli education system has been doing the same thing, just using a different label – Israel. Turns out both sides are “corrupting the minds of the young”.

More than that, it turns out that these borderless maps are not just to be found in school-books, but everywhere. The image at the top if this posting, comes from a map engine sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of tourism (click here to see the image in a larger clearer format, or click here to use the interactive online map engine, then on the interactive map click on Jerusalem.) Can you find the Green Line? If you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell from this map that Nebi Samu’el (between Jerusalem and the Jerusalem airport) is in fact in the Occupied Territories. As is Givat Ze’ev, a bit south and west of the airport, as is almost all of Highway 443, as is Modi’in Illit, Talmon, Beter Ilit (in the south west of this map), Ma’aleh Adumim (in the east), and in fact about 80% of the area shown.

Other examples of Israeli maps which obfuscate or completely eliminate the Green Line and even Israel’s “official borders”, include:$0&64
(this one requires Internet Explorer with Hebrew)

Some articles about this controversy in the Israeli press can be found at:,7340,L-3336338,00.html

'Education Minister Yuli Tamir's initiative to return the Green Line to maps of Israel in students' textbooks is causing a storm.

The Yesha Council called on all schools in the "Zionist education system" not to put these new books into their plan. "The education minister is trying to use educational propaganda to cut out about a fifth of the State of Israel from the map, which is where the tie between Israel and its land was based as a cradle in Jewish history," the council said.

National Religious Party Chairman MK Zevulun Orlev … demanded that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "put and end to the "Peace Now" policy in the Education Ministry that is clearly dictated by the education minister."

World Likud Chairman Danny Danon who 'praised' Tamir's decision to mark the Green Line on textbook maps. "Thanks to Tamir's decision the students will know how dangerous returning the Green Line borders would be to the existence of the State of Israel, and how it would turn us all into hostages in the hands of Palestinian terrorists." said Danon.

MK Zeev Elkin (Kadima), a member of the Education Committee's response was that "the education minister is better off taking care of a reform in the education system instead of wasting her time implanting her personal ideology on the student's textbooks." ‘

"The Green Line-textbook affair has taught Education Minister Yuli Tamir an important lesson about politics. Her colleagues in the government and the Labor Knesset faction, including her friend from Peace Now, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, abandoned her to the right's offensive. ...

In an article published two years ago in the periodical Alpayim, the researchers say that in response to the question: "Where is the Green Line?" they were sometimes asked: "What is the Green Line?" More than two-thirds of those questioned did not know which countries controlled the territories before the Six-Day War. ..." ',7340,L-3336540,00.html

" ...The head rabbi in Kiryat Motzkin Rabbi Daid Drukman, among those who found the Halachic passage to boycott the books, said the books are considered heretical.
"Whosoever rips parts of the Israel, his fate is of one who rips the Torah of Israel. The books must not be studied or kept at home," he said."

“The Knesset Education Committee on Monday called on Education Minister Yuli Tamir to revoke her decision to include the historical Green Line in school textbooks. The minister said after the meeting that she stands by her decision.

Tamir justified her bid by arguing that acquaintance with Israel's borders is essential for teaching history, as well as for allowing students to understand current political disputes.”


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