Guest Opinion Piece: What does the map of Israel-Palestine look like?

To introduce myself, my name is Michal Huss and I am a PhD candidate for Geography and Conflict resolution. I have led various workshops of radical cartography and map-making in Schools and Community Centres in South-East London. Last but not least, I am one of the Solutions Not Sides Israeli speakers.

Maps help make sense of and guide us through space in everyday life. Yet maps also have an important role in the eruption, continuation, and even the solution of conflicts. This is evident in the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict, one which is seen by many as a dispute over land and its borders. The changing borders of Israel-Palestine can be seen as the scars of the political usage of maps to inscribe power and control in the area. As such, maps of Israel-Palestine have changed a lot over the years.

The plan to divide the Middle East began before the end of the First World War in May 1916 by two diplomats: the British Mark Sykes and the French Francois Picot. They created a map ensuring that their countries’ interests were met (Fig 1). The purpose of the borders was to divide the Ottoman Empire between France, Russia, Britain, and Italy. Eventually, the San Remo agreement from 1920 became the chosen map (Fig 2), dividing the Ottoman Empire into five entities. The implication of the new borders on the lives of the people inhabiting the area was not considered; only the political and economic interests of the colonial powers. The new borders, some of which have lasted to the present day, divided communities and Arbitrarily created distinct ethnic, religious and cultural groups by forming artificial states such as Syria, Iraq, and Iran and so on. 

The officially chosen partition plan (Fig 4) was never implemented. Israel accepted the plan but the surrounding Arab states did not. The Arab countries in the region decided to reject the plan for various reasons. These included the view that certain promises made to them previously by the British and French had been broken, that the percentage of land being offered was disproportionate as the Palestinian population was larger than the Jewish one at that time. Soon after the Israelis declared their state, the Arab countries declared war on the new state of Israel. After the 1948 war, Israel seized more land that was marked by a new border commonly called the ‘Green Line’ as it was initially drawn with a green pen (Fig 5). Jerusalem was divided between Jordan and Israel, the West Bank was controlled by Jordan, and the Gaza Strip by Egypt. After the war, Israeli citizenship was granted to Arabs who remained within the Green Line. Today, the Israeli-Arab population makes up around 20 per cent of Israel's citizens.

The 1949 borders did not last long, following the 1967 War between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. A new border was drawn: the so-called Purple Line. This included territories beyond the Green Line, now annexed by Israel: Gaza, the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Israeli control over this territory is supposedly temporary, yet the Green Line has been erased from some Israeli maps (Fig 6) and replaced by the Purple Line by government decree. Consequently, the line has been erased in some textbooks and school curricula. Similarly the Green Line does not appear in the majority of maps in Palestinian schoolbooks. Therefore we see how maps help omit the existence of the other side’s narratives of the conflict. As a result children on either side of the Green Line are growing up with an image of their homeland that does not include the other side. For instance, figure six is a T-shirt with a map of Palestine without the green line and the Palestinian flag covering the entirety of the land; and Figure seven is an illustration of the map of Israel for Israeli kids also without the green line.

Please note that the views in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of Solution Not Sides. Please see here for more information about Solutions Not Sides.

Further reading:

Arab-Israeli columnist notes that Pendants of Israel or Palestine map without the Green Line worn by both Palestinian and Jewish patriots prove that the one-state solution is already a reality: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.718110

BBC maps of Israel and Palestine: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/middle_east/03/v3_israel_palestinians/maps/html

A New York times article asking could different borders
have saved the Middle East? https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/05/13/opinion/sunday/15danforth-web.html?_r=0

A Guardian article about the link between maps and political power: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/feb/04/israel-palestine-power-maps-ptolemy