[This post was originally entitled “Mental maps” but historian and map aficionado Martin Kramer informs me that geographers prefer the expression “cognitive maps.” I have thus changed the title and edited the post accordingly.]
The left-wing Israeli webzine +972 reported last week on a recent poll that
indicates a sweeping majority of Israelis – 63.5%, to be exact – think the Jordan valley is part of Israel; in other words, not part of the West Bank; or, in plain words, don’t understand why or how Israeli presence there is being called into question.
This sentiment is such that even left-leaning Israelis are establishing settlements in the Jordan valley, as Haaretz reports in an article +972 links to. The +972 writer is distressed by this, seeing it as a further obstacle in the peace process and for an eventual two-state solution.
He’s right about that, of course, but this majority Israeli perception is hardly surprising. In fact, how could it be otherwise? After the 1967 war the Green Line disappeared from maps in Israel. When I first visited Israel in the mid-1980s the maps I got there—and all those I saw—showed no border between Israel proper and the West Bank-Gaza (or with the Golan heights). Moreover, Israeli maps from ’67 to the peace treaty with Egypt showed no border with Egypt either; Israel continued into the Sinai until the Suez canal (or to the buffer zone after the Sinai II agreement).
The Israeli state did differentiate between Green Line Israel and the occupied territories, of course—in the citizenship status of the territories’ inhabitants and the application of Israeli law—, but this was not reflected in maps. So the way ordinary Israelis viewed their country was as in the map above. (For the anecdote, I remember seeing a post card in the early ’70s which read ‘Greetings from Israel’ and with photos of the Suez Canal, Golan, and Samarian hills…)
After the peace treaty with Egypt the border was reestablished, as it were. But not with the West Bank-Gaza.
N.B. The purple lines are the watersheds (geographical markers). The red lines are the political borders, of course. After Oslo II and the division of the West Bank-Gaza into Areas A, B, and C, this is what maps in Israel have shown (this one is from 2002, before the Gaza withdrawal).
Maps in Israel shade Areas A and B of the West Bank but not C. The separation barrier is shown on many but not the Green Line (and when it is, it is barely discernible). So if ordinary Israelis think of the Jordan valley as being part of Israel, one can hardly blame them. As for Area A—shaded darkly and off limits to Israeli Jews (by Israeli decree, not PA)—it is figuratively off the map for Israelis (which is one reason why notions that the Israelis may one day reoccupy the entire West Bank and administer its inhabitants are crazy; it will never happen). I have long been convinced that a significant number of Israelis who live in West Bank settlements are not entirely aware that those settlements are in occupied territory, at least when they move there, and are viewed as illegal by the international community.
Here’s one Israeli map I find interesting, that doesn’t show borders but rather concentrations of Jewish and Arab settlement (before the evacuation of the Gaza settlements in 2005).
For Palestinians—and Arabs more generally—the cognitive maps are a different story. Maps of the Arab world in the Arab world of course never show Israel. Ever. It’s Palestine, period.
Note the Western Sahara, that other occupied/disputed territory: non-Moroccan Arab world maps usually try to have it both ways, coloring Morocco and the WS the same but designating the WS separately. As for maps specifically of Israel/Palestine, it’s Palestine period. The whole enchilada. I stayed in Ramallah for two weeks in 2009 and went around the West Bank, and didn’t see a single map that differentiated Israel and Palestine.
To repeat, Israel is never designated in Arabic on a map in the Arab world. The only Arabic language maps that show Israel within the ’67 borders and label it as such are from the West. The few Arab maps that do show Green Line Israel thus designate it as Falasṭīn al-maḥtala: occupied Palestine
Alternatively, Green Line Israel may be referred to as “1948 Palestine” (as in this map, which shows the distribution of the Palestinian population in the world)
So despite peace treaties and Oslo Accords, Israel still doesn’t exist in the Arabs’ cognitive maps. Just as for Israelis, the map of Palestine is dark splotches in Judea and Samaria that are no-go zones for them and best kept out of sight and out of mind (a recent Israeli map I have of the territories colors roads through Area A in red with the warning “No Entry – Danger Ahead” in the legend).
Hopefully the two-state solution will see the light of day before we’re all dead, but in order to get there—and then, most importantly, for the thing to work—these cognitive maps will need to undergo a transformation. Good luck.