Israeli maps, or the hertz rental car forcast of future Israeli borders
On many occasions over the past couple of years, while giving a talk about the Occupation of the West Bank, I have been confronted by someone from the audience asking why, if Palestinians want peace, their textbooks do not show Israel on the national map? They would often times press their point by saying that, by not giving geographic representation to Israel, the Palestinians, in fact, denied its existence and would continue with their "terrorist" attacks.
Over the past few days, I have been traveling through Israel by car and my experience of maps, representation, and driving have given me a useful counterpoint to the above allegation. I have come to realize that everyday road maps – such as those that are produced by gasoline companies, rental car companies, and travel bureaus – guilty of the same thing that critics of Palestinian maps point to. Not only is the green line not represented, but the entire Israeli road system is represented as it extends from the Mediterranean sea to the Jordan river, swallowing up the entire West Bank without the slightest indication that it is an occupied territory or – as Israel refers to it – an "administered" territory. The Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa are connected to the same road systems as Nablus and Hebron in a continuous territorial expansion. The Israeli highway system travels throughout the territories and one would get the impression that it is all Israel and that the Palestinian towns and cities are merely parts of that whole. Some wall maps indicate all the Israeli settlements in the West Bank but conveniently leaves out major urban Palestinian centers (those which do not have significance as religious or historical sites to Israel?s). Many of the cities, like Nablus, are renamed as the ancient Israel name, in this case, Shekkhem. Cities such as Qalqilya are missing from these maps. The city of some 40,000 people is missing while small Israeli settlements that stand next to it and have only tiny populations are included. Of course, if one drove down the highway past Qalqilya, one would likely not even realize it existed anyway since the separating wall surrounds the city on all four sides by 25 foot concrete walls and fences.
While these maps are clearly misrepresentative and ideological, they have also been instructive to me as to how Israelis perceive the West Bank in both an every day, as well as territorial-representative sense. They represent, in many ways, the ways in which material representations of reality become reality and vice-versa. Simply put, they seem to view the West Bank as part of Israel. Incorporated into the state, the language then becomes one of "danger" "violence" or, reminiscent of the ways people in the US talk about cities (and the racial topographies within them), a ghettoization of certain areas as places "to be avoided". In Israel, these are clearly areas of high Palestinian presence, both in the West Bank as well as in Israel proper. Within these ghettoized areas, the Israeli military is seen not as "occupiers" but as keepers of the peace in places in which lawlessness reins. Indeed, when I have asked many Israelis for directions, they have told me that the drive from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem is on route 90 – a road that travels north of the sea along the border with Jordan then continuing west on Route 1 to Jerusalem. There was no question that driving these routes would be bringing me through the occupied Territories or a land whose legal status was up in the air. Instead, what was used was the language of common criminality and robber barons: driving these routes can be dangerous, best to travel during daylight hours, and so on and so forth. Has Palestine become nothing more than unruly neighborhoods (ghettos) that require special policing?
Looking at these maps, one would never assume that an autonomous Palestinian occupied territory exists. Instead, one would perceive all of Israel and the occupied territories as a continuous whole dotted, like all modern nation – states, with pockets of poverty, ethnic minorities, and economic and political marginalization. Indeed, the Hertz rental car map, which is titled “touring map of Israel”, makes no mention of “autonomous areas” (areas officially controlled by the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo agreements). Nor does it mention that, while traveling these territories, one is less likely to encounter indiscriminate violence and more likely to run across any number of military check points and road closures, surely annoying to any tourist.
The revelation that Israelis don’t view the West Bank as a separate entity that another people lay claim to has been incredibly distressing for me. I feel that, for the first time, that for most Israeli’s, their understanding of the borders of the country do not include the West bank. They have come to understand the borders of their country as something very different from what even the international community recognizes. For them, it appears that giving up the West Bank would be like giving up part of Israel – not just in a religious sense but in the modern cartographic sense of how boundaries around states and territories are drawn. Could it be that Israel, founded as a frontier society without fixed borders, will never be able to recognize other modern borders? Israel is unlike most other nations in the world in that they do not seek strict borders and, at the same time, do not recognize their current war as one with external enemies defined by their own territorial markers but, rather, an internal presence.