Monday, February 9, 2009

The Politics of Maps

Jerusalem is obviously a very old place and the roads have been here a very long time. These ancient and historic roads are named for where they have lead to, and from, for thousands of years. Jafa Road takes you west to the sea coast and the ancient port city of Jafa. Nablus Road took you north through Ramallah to Nablus. Hebron Road took you south through Bethlehem to Hebron. And Jericho Road took you east through Abu Dis (Bethany) and on to Jericho and the Jordon River. Today you cannot get to any of these places by following the road of the same name. These roads have had their names for centuries but there are new “facts on the ground” that may or may not show up on your map depending on who you got your map from. This became abundantly clear to me this last Friday. I was back in Abu Dis where the Jericho Road stops abruptly at the wall in the middle of Abu Dis.

hile we were there on the Jerusalem side from where I took the picture in my previous post, discussing the wall with a representative from the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions ( a tourist from Finland came up to us with his tourist map in his hands and asked us how to get to Jericho. We all laughed and pointed at the wall and said, “that way”. We looked at his map and noticed that the wall and all of the checkpoints were not on the map so he would have no idea that the Jericho road no longer goes to Jericho. Clearly the producer of his tourist map did not want to scare the tourists with little details like walls and checkpoints with kids carrying M16’s. We showed him our map produced by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which shows the wall and all of the checkpoints and he was stunned. Our driver knew the way through the back roads to get to the Zaytoun checkpoint through which he needed to travel to get to Jericho. He followed us because he would have never found his way. While there are wonderful signs in West Jerusalem and signs throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories to show you how to get to the many settlements, there are no signs telling you how to get to any of the hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages like Jericho, even on the Jericho road.

As I looked into this further I found that there are many different maps of this area. The UN produces detailed maps of the Occupied Palestinian Territories that shows the path of the wall relative to the recognized international border and locations of both the settlements and the Palestinian villages. It shows the checkpoints and who can use them as well as the roads that Palestinians have no access to. Another “Road Map of Israel” makes no distinction between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It indicates that everything from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea is Israel. It shows the Palestinian towns and villages but the names have been changed. For example Nablus is called Shechem. No checkpoints are shown nor is the wall. Interestingly, on this map the Palestinian village I am sitting here writing this from is called Khirbet Yanun which in Hebrew means that this is an ancient ruin where no one lives. Well I can assure you that I am staying in a very real house with real neighbors including the mayor who I visited earlier this afternoon. This is apparently the only ancient ruin with wireless internet!

The village is completely surrounded by armed settlers on the hills above us. I guess the map is wishful thinking on the part of the settlers who have been trying to scare the villagers away from the land their families have lived on for generations. There are bright spotlights shining in our windows from the settlement outposts above as I am sitting here writing this at 11 PM.

Yet another map produced by a settlers group does not even show the Palestinian towns and villages. It is like they do not exist. I honestly believe that in the minds of some Israelis the millions of Palestinians who have lived here for all of recorded time do not exist. They are doing everything they can to make them invisible. It is quite a trick to make millions of people disappear. The truth is that they are still there. They are just behind the 25 foot high wall.

60 Minutes - Is Peace Out of Reach?