Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Wiped off the face of the Globe

WHEN Iranian president Ahmadinejad was reported as saying that Israel would be "wiped off the map" there was a worldwide row, linking what he told a lunchtime crowd with Iran's supposed plans to acquire nuclear weapons. It is said a lie can zoom around the world before the truth can get its boots on, and it seems it can keep on going after truth has sat down to rest and take them off again.

It may have suited Ahmadinejad to play the bogeyman supposedly terrorising Israel and the West, though in reality the president has less say in Iranian policy than is imagined. If the nuclear threat were real it would terrify the Palestinian people, who want to live free in their homeland, not perish with the occupier amid radio-active ruins. As it is the people really endangered are the Iranians, as their president's posturing sets them up for US imperialism's next war of intervention.

But in any case, it seems that what Ahmadinejad really said was that "the regime now occupying Jerusalem will be wiped from the history books". In case there's any doubt about interpretation, he had compared it with the way the Soviet Union eventually collapsed after its unsuccessful war in Afghanistan. Western politicians may claim the USSR's collapse as a victory, but it was not achieved by nuclear war, and I've not heard anyone claim it meant the same as destroying the Russian people.

(for an earlier comment on Ahamdinejad speech, see

Still, even if Ahmadinejad had said something about wiping Israel "off the map", there's some irony in the way people affect outrage over that, when for so long the nation which has been wiped from maps has been the Palestinians.

Every so often there's a fuss made over some Arab map or whatever not acknowledging the existence of the State of Israel, but as Eyal Weitzman has pointed out, Israeli cartography has had more than a symbolic significance when eliminating troublesome features: "Whatever the nature of Palestinian spatiality, it was subordinated to Israeli cartography. Whatever was un-named ceased to exist. Scores of scattered buildings and small villages disappeared from the map, and were never connected to basic services".

There was a time when people went on about Israel's need for "secure borders", but when I paid my second visit in 1986, the pre-1967 armistice line which separated the state of Israel from occupied territories had disappeared from the maps we were given by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. Indeed as Cecilie Surasky tells us, there was a row in Israel when a government minister suggested this "green line" should be shown on maps.

"Last December, Gershom Gorenberg, the author of the highly recommended The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, wrote that in 1980……maps showing the Green Line were impossible to find in Israel. (The diplomat said his maps came from the CIA.) The Israeli government’s cartography service had a monopoly on the map market. You could get topo maps showing the location of every picnic table and archeological site in the country, but not the boundary between Israel and occupied territory. Maps showed only the post-1967 lines dividing Israeli-controlled land from neighboring Arab countries. In official cartography, occupied Hebron and Nablus looked like part of Israel. The practice tended to obscure political developments. As a journalist, I often covered settlement in the West Bank — but when a new community was established, sometimes I wasn’t sure whether it was in Israel proper or in land conquered in the June 1967 Six-Day war.
Government maps still dominate the market, and still don’t show the Green Line. Neither do schoolbooks. But this week, Education Minister Yuli Tamir issued instructions to show the border line in new textbooks. Tamir, a founder of the Peace Now movement, represents the center-left Labor Party in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s crazy-quilt coalition. Right-wing pols immediately accused her of politicizing the classroom. Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition Likud said it would call for a parliamentary vote of no confidence. A group of rightist rabbis said Tamir had “declared war against God” by suggesting a division of the homeland divinely granted to the Jews. None of the rightists, naturally, find any trace of politicized education in the practice of hiding from children the borders of their own country. In a curious way, though, they have a case: In Israel — and not just in Israel — facts are political. Denial is the consensus position.

Gorenberg went on:
'For nearly 40 years, Israel has treated its own border the way Victorians treated sex: It shapes society, but explicitly portraying it violates respectable conventions. Those who do so are seen as daring, not quite part of polite society. Bright children know the border exists from adult conversations, know it will be terribly important when they come of age, and are not quite sure what it looks like. My daughter, child of an impolite father, asked her high school geography teacher why the Green Line was missing from a map he handed out, and left him wordless'.

We keep hearing from Israel's "Friends" and from Western politicians about the "Two State solution", but do Israeli leaders believe a word of it or is the concept solely for export? (I won't go into those left anti-Zionists who hail the supposed "impossibility of the two-state solution" now as though it meant we were any closer the prospect of a bi-national or democratic Palestinian state in the whole of Palestine. That's wishful thinking, but another discussion). While they demand that Hamas recognise Israel's right to exist, that is, legitimacy as a state, they refuse to recognise that Palestinians as a nation do exist, other than as a "problem". Since there is no such place as Palestine, how can it be "occupied"? "Occupation - What occupation?"

This arrogant refusalism extends to Israel's friends in the West. A Palestinian film-maker was told his work could not be billed as made in "Palestine" because there was no such country.

A German toy maker ran into this barrier when it produced a globe that was meant to be an educational toy.
The Jerusalem Post reported in November 2006
'Pro-Israel advocacy groups campaign around the globe against the use of the word Palestine, since no such country exists, but it turns out that globes being sold in Israel bear the term.
Billed as an educational toy that teaches young children geography, the widely sold “Ravensburger Puzzle Ball Classic Globe” includes both Israel and Palestine. Although the product has been on the market for more than two years, all of those contacted by The Jerusalem Post, from toy store owners to the Israeli distributor to the German manufacturer, reacted with surprise when informed of the imaginative geography.
“The first time I learned about this issue was when [the Post] told me,”said Hermann Bruns, an export manager for the manufacturer in Ravensburg, Germany. He said the design for the map was bought from a Chinese company, and that Ravensburger was only responsible for repackaging it.
Demands to change the design have been quick to follow discovery of the error, with those involved in distribution and sales of the globe in Israel saying they have appealed directly to Ravensburger.
“I was very, very angry when I found out about this,” said Meir Klughaft, CEO of Saheknu, which imports the puzzle globe. “I personally asked [Ravensburger] to change the product, and to remove the word Palestine and leave only Israel. They promised me in a letter that they would.”

Israeli politicians have objected to the word "Nakba" (catastrophe) to describe the 1947-8 exodus of Palestinians, in Arab school textbooks. It seems they have been more successful in expunging reality from German educational toys. Israeli peace campaigner and feminist Dorothy Naor reports:
'This evening’s Yoman (i.e., journal; a regular Friday feature on Israeli TV channel 1) had a segment on puzzles. In concluding it, the reporter proudly announced a change that the Ravensburger company had introduced. Apparently one of its products is a jigsaw puzzle of a globe of the world. In the past it had on it Palestine. But after an Israeli complained, Ravensburger dropped Palestine, and replaced it with Israel and Jerusalem.
While it is true that the Palestinians were dispossessed of a country in 1948-9, that does not mean that they do not exist, nor that they should not be recognized! At the very least, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza should be on the globe as Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Please write protest letters, or letters requesting righting the wrong to Ravensburger

Protests have received this pro forma letter from Ravensburger:
"The old version of the puzzle was an already existing, manufactured product from China that we took over in our programme.
We acquired the new cartographic material from the European market leader for maps and globes, on whose expertise and correctness we rely. Our endeavour is to develop games and books that give pleasure to children and families, but interpreting maps does not fall within our sphere of specialisation".

Thanks for this story to Cecilie Surasky of Muzzlewatch, a service run by Jewish Voice for Peace in the US, exposing intimidation and censorship.

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