Mapping Israel, Mapping Palestine

On four separate occasions during my recent trip to Israel, I traveled into the area known variously as the West Bank, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Samaria and Judea. I took a Palestinian bus to Bethlehem and I participated in three tours: one with Machsom Watch, the second with Peace Now and, the third, with B’tselem. On these tours, I saw ubiquitous settlements forming necklaces around large Palestinian cities, creating barriers between Palestinians and their adjacent agricultural land. I saw continuing construction of settlement housing. I saw the components of a dual road system, a variety of checkpoints, roadblocks and other physical restraints, such as the Separation Wall, on the movement of Palestinians. Trying to make sense of what I saw, I looked at a map published by Carta, a Jerusalem-based map publisher. It is remarkably different than the map of Israel that I purchased during my first visit to Israel, two months after the Six Day War. In the earlier map, the international boundary showed the country outlined by the 1949 Armistice Lines. The current map shows Israel extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Using the Internet, I attempted to find out the demography of what was defined as Israel in 1967 and that which is defined by the map today. From what I could determine, within the 1967 boundary, there were 2.6 million people of whom 2.3 million or, 89%, were Jews. Within the boundary of Israel as depicted in the current Carta map, there are about 9.4 million people, of whom 5.5 million or, 57%, are Jews. By extending the international boundary of Israel east to the Jordan River, the Carta map removes the Green Line. In the area east of what would be the Green Line, the map uses blotches of yellow to identify Area A, which is described in the map’s legend as under “Palestinian responsibility for civil affairs, and for internal security and public order.” These blotches are scattered among disconnected light grey stains that are identified as Area B, alleging, “Palestinian responsibility for civil affairs and maintaining public order. Israel has overriding security authority.” While I was in Israel, I heard of Israel’s continued armed presence in Nablus and Jenin (two cities in Area A), Israel’s forced closure of a 70-shop mall, a medical clinic and other facilities in Nablus and about ongoing arrests of the city’s residents. This news indicated to me that the map’s legend is simply a legend that does not represent the reality of Areas A and B, which are at best semi-autonomous “Palestans,” in which Government of Israel exercises ultimate authority. The Carta map portrays an estimable demographic portrait of Israel’s geography and the authority and control of the government. However, while the Jewish population of the State of Israel makes up 57% of its inhabitants, Israel’s government is essentially 100% Jewish. Presently, although that government controls 9.4 million diverse people, it no longer monopolizes the people’s narrative. Drawing from a recent demonstration of this point, when Israeli Jews celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of their state, the millions of non-Jews under the authority of Israel’s government presented a competitive yet complementary narrative, the Nakba. As a measure of the size of the non-Jewish population in Israel, this Arab word, encapsulating the events surrounding the birth of Israel and the displacement of the Palestinian population, is now so well known that it requires no translation. As awareness of the Nakba, the demographic and geographic facts on the ground, and the massive human rights violations caused by the continued oppressive administrative, legal and physical restrictions on the Palestinians become more and more widespread, Israel will increasingly be the focus of international concerns. If the future resembles the present, the population of the State of Israel will continue to be decreasingly Jewish and the government will continue to remain almost exclusively Jewish. But the Jewish residents of Israel will continue having to share the land with an increasing number of Muslims and Christians and, consequently, Israeli Jews will increasingly have to share their narrative with the land’s other claimants as well.