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The Mendacious Maps of Disappearing Palestine

by Shany Mor Tuesday, Jan. 06, 2015 at 8:03 PM

Anti-Israel activists often use doctored maps to show Israel’s supposed malfeasance over the past century. Such claims are made by people who, in the best case, have no knowledge of the facts, and in the worst case, have no moral compass.

Whether made up of four or five maps, the message of the series is clear: The Jews of Palestine have been assiduously gobbling up more and more “Palestinian land,” spreading like some sort of fungal infection that eventually devours its host.

There are some outright lies in these maps, to be sure. But the most egregious falsehoods transcend mere lies. They emerge from a more general and quite deliberate refusal to differentiate between private property and sovereign land, as well as a total erasure of any political context.

This final point is especially crucial. It goes to the question of whether the Palestinians actually “lost” this land and the context of that alleged “loss.” We could quite easily, for example, make a panel of maps showing German “land loss” in the first half of the 20th century. It would be geographically accurate but, without the political context, it would tell a completely misleading story amounting to a flat-out lie. And that is precisely what these maps are: A lie.

Taking each map in turn, it is easy to demonstrate that the first one is by far the most dishonest of the lot. As far as I have been able to determine, it is based on a map of Jewish National Fund (JNF) land purchases dating roughly from the 1920s. The JNF was founded to purchase land for Jewish residents and immigrants in then-Palestine, and was partly funded through charity boxes that were once found in almost every Jewish school and organization in the West. Ironically, this map often adorned those ubiquitous boxes.

These maps have become so ubiquitous that it is worth taking the time to examine them, and what their dishonesty can teach us about the Palestinians and their supporters.

The dishonesty of using an out-of-date map for pre-1948 Jewish land purchases is actually relatively minor. So is not omitting the political context: After 1939, Jews were forbidden from making any further land purchases by British authorities, a measure taken as a sop to Arab terrorism. Even the deceptive use of JNF land and only JNF land as a proxy for the entire Palestinian Jewish presence is but a trifle compared to the epic lie represented by this map: It deliberately conflates private property with political control.

They are not at all the same thing. The simple fact is that none of pre-1948 Palestine was under the political authority of Arabs or Jews. It was ruled by the British Mandatory government, established by the League of Nations for the express purpose of creating a “Jewish National Home.” It was also—contrary to the claims of innumerable pro-Palestinian activists—the first time a discrete political entity called “Palestine” existed in modern history. And this entity was established in order to fulfill a goal that was essentially Zionist in nature.

But this lie is compounded by another that is even more epic in scope: Labeling every single patch of land not owned by the JNF as Arab or Palestinian. This was quite simply not the case. We have incomplete data on land ownership in modern Palestine, and even less on Arab property than Jewish property, partly due to the very complicated nature of property law in Ottoman times. But anyone’s map of private property in Mandatory Palestine from this period would be mostly empty—half the country is, after all, desert. It would show small patches of private Jewish land—as this map does—alongside small patches of private Arab land, as this map shamelessly does not.

The next map is labeled 1947. This is inaccurate, as any other date would be, because the map does not represent the situation on the ground in 1947 or at any other time. Instead, it represents the partition plan adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1947 as UN Resolution 181. It called for two independent states to be formed after the end of the British Mandate, one Jewish and one Arab.

Needless to say, the resolution was never implemented. It was rejected by a Palestinian Arab leadership that just two years before had still been allied with Nazi Germany. The day after its passage, Arab rioting began against Jewish businesses, followed by deadly Arab attacks against Jewish civilians. Events quickly escalated into all-out war, with Arabs laying siege to major Jewish population centers—cutting off all supplies, including food and water. In some places, the siege worked, but for the most part, it was resisted successfully.

The maps emerge from a more general and quite deliberate refusal to differentiate between private property and sovereign land, as well as a total erasure of any political context.

At this point, with partition rejected by the Arabs and no help from the international community in sight, the Jews declared independence and formed what would become the Israel Defense Forces. The Arab states promptly launched a full-scale invasion, whose aims—depending on which Arab leader you choose to quote—ranged from expulsion to outright genocide. And the Arabs lost. At war’s end in 1949, the situation looked roughly like the third map in the series—the first of the lot that even comes close to describing the political reality on the ground.

I say “close” because it too is remarkably dishonest. It is only because one’s standards of dishonesty have been stretched so far by its predecessors that it almost seems true. But, alas, it is not. The map is dated 1967. What it shows are the so-called “armistice lines,” i.e., the borders where the Israeli and Arab armies stopped fighting in 1949. These lines held more or less until 1967. As far as Israel’s borders are concerned, then, the map accurately presents the situation over those 19 years.

But what lies on the other side of the line, in the territories that are today called the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, is again presented in radically dishonest fashion. These lands were not—not before, during, or after 1967—“Palestinian” in the sense of being controlled by a Palestinian Arab political entity. Both territories were occupied by invading Arab armies when the armistice was declared in 1949, the Gaza Strip by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan. The latter was soon annexed, while the former remained under Egyptian military administration. This status quo lasted until 1967, when both were captured by Israel.

In the 1967 Six Day War, which was marked by Arab rhetoric that was sometimes even more genocidal than 1948, Israel also took the Golan Heights from Syria and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, more than trebling the amount of land under its control. Israel has since withdrawn from more than 90 percent of the land it occupied—mostly in the Sinai withdrawal that led to peace with Egypt. Unsurprisingly, there are no heartfelt “Israeli Land Loss” maps representing this.

The first three maps, then, confuse ethnic and national categories (Jewish and Israeli, Arab and Palestinian), property and sovereignty, and the Palestinian national movement with Arab states that ruled over occupied territory for a generation. They are a masterpiece of shameless deception.

Shameless deception is the only thing that remains consistent in this series.

As we move to the fourth map, shameless deception is the only thing that remains consistent. This map, usually labeled either 2005 or “present,” purports to show the distribution of political control following the Oslo process and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The patches of Palestinian land in the West Bank are areas handed over to the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s, mostly under the 1995 Oslo II agreement. Expanding upon the autonomy put in place after previous agreements in the Oslo process since 1993, this agreement created a complex patchwork of administrative and security zones, splitting the West Bank into areas of exclusive Palestinian control, joint control, and Israeli control. It was meant as a five-year interim arrangement, after which a final status agreement would be negotiated.

Final status talks did indeed take place. But no agreement was reached. As in 1947, the principal reason was Palestinian rejectionism. This time, the Palestinian leadership rejected a state on over 90 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip. They then broke their pledge not to return to the “armed struggle” and embarked on a campaign of suicide bombings and other terrorist atrocities that were not only morally indefensible but lost them the trappings of sovereignty they had gained over the previous decade.

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