Maps of Conflicting Views – An Analysis of:
‘The Politics of Maps: Constructing National Territories in Israel’
by Christine Leuenberger and Izhak Schnell
Report Written by: Elaine (Hunt) Wendt


 In the article, The Politics of Maps: Constructing National Territories in Israel, the authors build a perspective of the unique roles that cartographers and mapmaking played in the development of an Israeli identity and of the independent state of Israel throughout the last seventy years. Using examples of several different organizations and political, religious and social groups during this time period, the article offers a thought-provoking opportunity to understand an issue deeply rooted in sociopolitical and religious contexts. The authors attempt to view the development of the Israeli state through the lens of both cartographer and map-reader. They focus on how the questions that inherently plague map-makers and anyone who wishes to objectively read a map, an understanding must be assumed; there are illusions and fallacies in maps of every kind.

Image source: Leuenberger, 2010

It is specifically the manner through which these untruths are portrayed and the choices to include, omit, highlight or downplay certain elements becomes a matter of intention; and in the case of Israel, the line drawn between information and propaganda has been blurred on many occasions. The authors chose eleven maps to exemplify these deliberate cartographic choices made by Israeli mapmakers since the independence of the Israeli state in 1948. The main sections are broken down into two distinct parts; Israeli maps before 1967 and those made after 1967. The importance of 1967? This was the year of the Six-Day War, involving Israel, Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The authors show maps made by various groups that demonstrate the variety of depictions of Israel. Some maps show Israel as a very weak and helpless country, justifying their need for more land to protect their Jewish people from the ‘threatening’ Arab neighbors. Other maps downplay the significance and scale of the Palestinian regions. While some maps testify to the complexity that still exists between Israel and Palestinian road networks and infrastructure.

The text speaks to the significance of cartography as a, “fundamental part of state-making in post-1948 Israel,” (Leuenberger & Schnell, 2010) and offers a unique look into some of the ways that cartography influenced the people within and surrounding Israel. In addition to this, the authors demonstrate how issues that have arisen since the creation of the Israeli state have been influenced by the way maps depict the region and features within it.

Image source: Leuenberger, 2010

Critical Reflection

This text is extremely well written and intriguing on many levels, for me. I chose this particular article because of a personal interest I have in this region. I’ve read a few books on the issues that have disrupted the peace of this region and still only have a small understanding of how these events have truly played out. That being said, this article does a really fantastic job at demonstrating some of the actions that influenced cartographic decisions throughout the last century. The examples that were chosen to demonstrate some of these decisions, in my opinion, do a sufficient job at displaying the variety of depictions that have been used to represent Israel and the conflicts of the development of the Israeli state, and the issues that still surround the region.

I do have to say that I probably would not have been able to take everything written in this article at face value, had it not been for the extensive knowledge I had, previous to reading this text. The Israel/Palestine issue is one that extends back for centuries and is not well represented in this article, in my mind. Again, the complexity of this issue is not easily described and I do respect the amount of objectivity that is present in this paper, so in that regard it does appear that this was a deliberate decision to omit the background story of this country’s history, for the sake of time, and with the intent to focus on the contemporary portayal of the region through catrographic means.

Map of Israel and Palestine
Image source: Israel and Palestine

Leuenberger & Schnell, 2010. The Politics of Maps: Constructing National Territories in Israel. (JSTOR link)

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