Making maps matters to us all

By Emily Hilton, February 28, 2014
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When I was 18, I spent my gap year in Israel on a youth movement Shnat programme. While this mostly consisted of drinking Aroma iced coffees and crying over my failed kibbutz experience, one of the things I didn’t do was visit the West Bank. We weren’t allowed to go. Why? Because Masa Israel Journeys didn’t give us insurance to cover areas A and B.

I knew that I shouldn’t go there. I knew that it was different from going to Tel Aviv; I knew that there was a big wall that was keeping me secure. But no-one was ever prepared to discuss why it was different.

I have been an educator in the Jewish community in two main roles. The first was as a madricha with RSY-Netzer, the second as a cheder teacher.

It is through these experiences that I have come to realise why we desperately need to use the Green Line on maps of Israel.

There is an educational gap in our community. We need to talk about the pre-1967 borders, not because they will become the new borders, but because they are a present-date reality.

This gap is perpetuated by a fear of looking too biased. The Sign On The Green Line’s aim for Jewish organisations to use a map that demarcates the West Bank and Gaza has been accused of wanting the “final borders” cemented. But this is not the case.

What some members of the Jewish establishment don’t want to recognise is that not using a map with the Green Line is a political statement. This still sends an implicit message that this land is not complex, that there is no difference between living in Hebron and living in Haifa. And that is irresponsible education. Therefore I don’t believe this campaign is actually about politics; I believe it’s about honesty.

The education we provide for members of our community needs to be honest; we need a nuanced approach to talk about Israel. This can only occur when the images that we project to each other and society reflect this aim.
Using maps with the Green Line sends a message that we want people to be informed about the history of Israel, about the realities of Israel today.

Whether you think that this differentiation in territory is good, bad, important, or irrelevant, the point is that it exists. And its existence has consequences for Israelis, diaspora Jewry and Palestinians.

The Israeli government treats these territories differently; the Israeli army treats them differently, and the Israeli people, on the whole, also treat them differently. So why are we so worried about pointing out this difference?

Maps are currency. They are a fundamental aspect of our understanding of the conflict, not to mention how much these images shape our connection to the land itself. It is unsurprising that one of the key criticisms of Palestinian news organisations, media and activists, within the Jewish community is “they only ever use maps with the country Palestine on them. Why can’t they recognise Israel too?”

Aside from the hypocrisy that is clearly present in this remark, it does throw into the water the accusation that the Sign On The Green Line campaign is “irrelevant” and “narrow-minded”. In a conflict where land is fundamental to identity and to our history, maps do matter.

Emily Hilton is a history student at UCL and a team member of the Sign on the Green Line campaign.

Last updated: 3:45pm, February 28 2014