The official map the Tourism Ministry distributes to those visiting Jerusalem’s Old City highlights one Muslim site and five Christian sites – as well as dozens of synagogues, yeshivas and Jewish-owned buildings, many of which local tour guides have never heard of.
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The legend of the English-language map lists a total of 57 sites in the Old City. Along with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, it also notes places like Wittenberg House, Eliyahu House, IDF House, Danon House, Reut House, Habad House and others. All these are buildings purchased by Jews in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, usually through the Ateret Cohanim nonprofit organization, and it isn’t clear why they might be relevant to tourists.
The only Muslim site listed is the Dome of the Rock. It’s clear that the map’s editors took pains to omit the Arabic names of sites in the Old City. For example, it uses the terms “Har Habait,” “Temple Mt.” and “Mt. Moriah” for the Temple Mount area, but omits what most Old City residents call it – Haram al-Sharif, or Al-Aqsa. In fact, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is illustrated but not named; the area east of it is marked as Solomon’s Stables.
Where the map key gets truly absurd, however, is in its list of all the buildings occupied by Jews in the Muslim Quarter. Of the 57 sites marked by number on the map, no less than 25 are such buildings, along with synagogues and yeshivas that even experienced tour guides have never heard of.
By contrast, there was no room on the map to mark the Church of St. Anne, near the Lion’s Gate, nor is the Church of the Redeemer, which has the highest spire in the Old City, listed on the legend, although it appears on the map. While the Via Dolorosa is listed as a site, none of its stations along the road are marked, even though millions of pilgrims march between them every year. Other important Christian buildings, like the San Salvador Franciscan Monastery, don’t appear at all.
While the Old City doesn’t have that many Muslim sites open to tourists other than the Temple Mount, there are several sites that are notable in terms of the city’s history and tourists’ interest. “There are 37 madrasot [schools], sebils [decorated public water fountains], and Lady Tunshuq’s Palace, perhaps the largest building in the Old City,” said researcher and tour guide instructor Dr. Shimon Gat.
The bias toward the settler narrative continues outside the Old City walls. On the Mount of Olives the Maaleh Zeitim neighborhood of some 100 Jewish families is illustrated and marked, while no mention is made of the thousands of Palestinian families living in the area. The Beit Orot yeshiva and the City of David visitors’ center get listings, while the large Palestinian neighborhoods of A-Tur and Ras al-Amud are absent from the map, replaced by empty green hills.
There are numerous errors and tendentious renderings on the map. In the middle of the Christian Quarter there’s a Jewish building marked as “Neot David,” alongside a street by that name, which does not exist. The font marking the Jewish Quarter is large, while the Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters are marked in a smaller font that’s harder to distinguish; the arrow pointing tourists toward the Garden Tomb, considered by Protestants to be Jesus’ burial place, is pointing in the wrong direction, among other errors.
The map bears the logo of Israel’s Tourism Ministry, which does not deny its connection. It would not say who commissioned the map and who edited it. The map was produced by a company called Atir Maps and Publications Company. A company executive refused to address the details on the map, but said it was not ordered by a government agency. Nevertheless, as noted, this is the map given to any tourist who stops at the main tourism office at Jaffa Gate and asks for a map in English.
Tour guides who looked at the map were sharply critical of it. “Not only did the Tourism Ministry test me on my knowledge of those Muslim sites that are missing from this map, it also expects me to conduct ‘public diplomacy’ for Israel,” said Shalom Bogoslavsky, a tour guide in Jerusalem. “How am I supposed to do that? ‘Oh yes, Mr. Tourist, we still haven’t decided if we’re a country or a shtetl, and that’s why some clerk made 1,300 years of Jerusalem history disappear from the map and instead marked his friends’ homes.”
The Tourism Ministry said, “The Tourism Ministry of the State of Israel stands behind what’s presented on the map. The map, which was produced in cooperation with tour guides and took into account their recommendations and the vast knowledge they’ve accumulated, is useful and convenient, listing the main tourist sites.”