Israeli tourism maps annex Palestinian lands

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Special US envoy George Mitchell has visited the area, armed with a special letter from President Barack Obama to the Palestinian president reiterating what seems to have been a US-Israel understanding that the proximity talks will take place soon.

The Palestinian side is keen this time not to waste time on talking for the sake of talking, or based on the idea of incremental negotiations. Palestinians are determined to tackle the issue of borders first and walk back from that to how to implement the establishment of the Palestinian state. In meantime the Israeli tourism ministry (in its most recent maps) has unilaterally annexed Palestine to Israel and has omitted the existence of many Palestinian communities. While the West Bank is not marked nor mentioned as the West Bank, it is listed as Yehuda and Samaria. The Gaza strip, however, is demarcated with the words "Azza (Gaza) strip."

Until now Israel, which has been preventing the realization of a Palestinian state, has given attention to symbolic issues. Why, Israeli propagandists asked, do Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel in the various images, maps and publications that they espouse? Why is their no demarcation showing the green line that separates the West Bank from Gaza? Why do maps of the areas west of the Jordan River never mention Israeli towns, such as Tel Aviv, while highlighting the nearby Yaffa? Why even when the West Bank is marked on the maps, the word Israel is not printed on the Israeli territory?

Palestinians have often responded by asking what the borders of Israel are. Do they include or exclude Jerusalem? Do the Israelis in fact accept Palestinian statehood at the same time that they are asking Palestinians for recognition of Israel? Yet despite the rhetoric, Palestinians quietly made the shift and followed the advice of their international friends to make changes on maps and especially in textbooks.

Since 1994, the Palestinian Authority had been replacing older textbooks and in 1999 and 2000, Nathan Brown, professor of political science at George Washington University, published a study on this subject.

Regarding the Palestinian Authority’s newer textbooks, he states: "The new books tell history from a Palestinian point of view, they do not seek to erase Israel, delegitimize it or replace it with the `state of Palestine’; each book contains a foreword describing the West Bank and Gaza as "the two parts of the homeland"; the maps show some awkwardness but do sometimes indicate the 1967 line and take some other measures to avoid indicating borders; in this respect they are actually more forthcoming than Israeli maps; the books avoid treating Israel at length but do indeed mention it by name."

Despite these changes, the issue has continued to haunt Palestinians internationally. Almost all attacks can be traced back to "the work of a single organization, the `Centre for Monitoring the Impact of Peace’," which Natan Browns insists, relies "on misleading and tendentious reports to support their claim of incitement".

In 2001, Armin Laschet, a member of the German delegation to the European Union Parliament, threatened to halt EU funding of Palestinian educational institutions "…until all the Palestinian textbook passages antagonistic to Israel are removed".

The response to this threat did not come from Palestinians, but was delivered by Peter Hansen, at the time UNRWA commissioner general.He told the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida: "We cannot expect a people under occupation to have textbooks which idealize, praise and express love for their occupiers."

This statement caused outrage and fury in many circles. The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise answered to his response: "Israeli texts do not `idealize, praise and express love’ for the Palestinians, but they do not malign or disseminate hatred against them either."

In 2002, the United States Congress requested the United States Department of State to commission a reputable non-governmental organization to conduct a review of the new Palestinian curriculum.

The Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information (IPCRI) was thereby commissioned by the US embassy in Tel Aviv and the US consul general in Jerusalem to review the Palestinian Authority’s textbooks. Its report was completed in March 2003 and delivered to the State Department for submission to Congress. Its executive summary stated: "The overall orientation of the curriculum is peaceful despite the harsh and violent realities on the ground. It does not openly incite against Israel and the Jews. It does not openly incite hatred and violence. Religious and political tolerance is emphasized in a good number of textbooks and in multiple contexts."

While the above should put an end to the continuous baseless accusations, few have asked the obvious: what the Israeli position towards Palestinians is and whether Israeli maps demarcate Palestinian territories.

A look at the most recent Israeli campaign to promote tourism to Israel is a strong answer to this. The 2009 Israeli ministry of tourism campaign eliminates any Palestinian presence. Stas Misezhnikov of the radical right wing Yisrael Beiteinu (Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman’s party) is the current minister of tourism. This ministry, made up of extreme elements, has completely wiped the West Bank and any Palestinian areas from its materials. Mandatory Palestine is declared as Israel without any borders or demarcations. All maps included in the campaign omit Palestinian areas and towns.

While many might say that this is a symbolic issue, there is no doubt that this particular symbolism runs counter to the two-state solution, which has been declared a strategic national interest of the United States and which the prime minister of Israel has publicly said he supported.

So while negotiations will soon begin, how about the international community making the simple request that Israel end ignoring Palestinians and Palestine, at least on the maps it officially produces?

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