Wiping countries off maps

israel_mapAlthough I haven’t been there for a couple of decades, Israel is a fascinating place to visit, I feel a connection with it, and it’s on the small list of far-off places I’ll be taking in before I die. So at Bank yesterday, on the Central Line east-bound platform, this promotion from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, which you can click on for a bigger version, caught my eye:

After I’d half-written this I found out that I was not the only person to notice that the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Golan had been brazenly subsumed into Israel and in fact I was slow off the blocks and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism had admitted to a “mistake” this time last week. Transport for London received 600 complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority, 342, and these were upheld. But after a week, the posters are still there.

The strange thing is, if you look really closely at the blown-up version of this bad picture I took (there were staff close-by and you know, it’s not permitted to snap on the London Underground system so I was shooting from the hip) only then will you see faint, skinny white-on-yellow lines demarcating some borders (not the Golan). I think the graphic designer probably understood what white-on-yellow means in the mustardy light of a London Underground platform, and was showing what the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, ThinkIsrael and co-sponsors want shown.

This kind of wishful-thinking, under-carpet-sweeping, white-washing denial is very stupid and very wrong. It’s not the first time somebody played with a map for political reasons, and it won’t be the last.

Press TV, the English language station funded by the Iranian government also pretends the state of Israel doesn’t exist, in keeping with ominous calls to wipe it off the map.

Hamas likes to present a world without Israel, in keeping with its hatred of Jews.

So does (did) the RESPECT coalition, in keeping with Iran and Hamas.

Update: with shameless hypocrisy, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which took the lead in objecting to the Israeli Ministry of Tourism map, also expunges Israel from its map.

I’m not sure these are equivalent, by the way.

The Israeli Ministry of Tourism responded about the poster:

“The map in the London Underground advertisement reflects a map that gives a tourist perspective to the region. It is not to be confused with a political map, but rather the advertisement highlights those areas within Israel which are particularly attractive to the U.K. market”

“Tourism is one of the major engines for economic growth in Israel, benefiting all its residents. 2008 was a record year for tourism in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority and it is hoped that the recent pilgrimage of Pope Benedict XVI to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority will serve to encourage pilgrimages to the Holy Land and bring economic benefits to the entire region”

So Gaza’s going great guns with the tourism then? Pun intended. The only people I know of who are going in there are Hamas supporters, by boat. And how about when BMI flew passengers to the Mediterranean with maps omitting Israel – the Israeli Transport Minister was very assertive about his country’s right to recognition:

“Doing business with Israel has its advantages and disadvantages, but we will not agree to a situation where they hide the existence of Israel but want to do business with Israel”

Along the Central Line you can find other posters promoting Morocco and Dubai as tourist destinations so warm, golden and peaceful that you could hardly imagine that the grave human rights abuses in those countries could exist, or that, for example, Morocco could be involved in an occupation of its own (its promoters wisely steer clear of maps). After all, if you want prospective visitors to forget that they will be visiting an occupying country, you leave the map out.

Of course tourism ministries like to minimise their blemishes and big up their assets. Sadly it doesn’t go without saying that the Israeli Tourism Ministry and co-sponsors are far from the only or worst culprit. But they must face up to the fact that the three smaller regions on that poster, with their vanishingly faint but critically important demarcations, are occupied and settled by ugly force, and that diverting attention from this also involves a pretence that the ongoing oppression of the people who live there does not exist.

Update: Philip Meier reviews  Mark Monmonier‘s book How To Lie With Maps.


8 thoughts on “Wiping countries off maps

  1. Michael

    I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Anyone with enough spare time to lodge a complaint about the poster would presumably notice the white (albeit thin) line demarcating the West Bank and Gaza from Israel ‘proper’.

    I remember the bash-Israel brigade were up in arms a few years ago when Arsenal FC had Israeli tourism as a sponsor – and it wasn’t the country’s borders they were complaining about.

    1. Mira Vogel Post author

      Hiya Michael, yeah, this is my point – the bash-Israel brigade is avid for this kind of stuff, but there are people who are not the bash-Israel brigade who also took affront. The Ministry of Tourism etc must be living on another planet if they thought nobody would mind.

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  3. Mira Vogel

    I don’t mind you using the pic Michael (thanks for the namecheck) – but you did take it out of context. My argument was that a graphic designer would have realised that skinny white lines on a yellow background wouldn’t show up. I find the argument that they are there *if you look closely* unconvincing, and perhaps a little disingenuous.

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