Israeli Schools' Map to Right-wing Ignorance

The map of the country that seventh-graders use omits the Green Line and all Israeli Arab communities except Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm.

Dror Etkes
Dror Etkes
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 Israeli schools' map to right-wing ignorance
Israeli schools' map to right-wing ignorance Credit: Dror Etkes
Dror Etkes
Dror Etkes

It’s a standard map, used to teach seventh-graders the geography of “Israel,” according to its name. The name does not specify whether it’s a map of the “State of Israel” or of “Eretz Yisrael,” the Land of Israel, but even a brief glance is enough to establish that it is not a political map: It includes whole areas that are beyond the boundaries of the sovereign State of Israel. Nor is it a map of the Land of Israel, which according to the biblical promise extends from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.

The so-called Green Line marking Israel’s pre-1967 borders was erased from the maps back in the early 1970s, saving a generation of schoolchildren the need to acknowledge their state’s official eastern borders. It’s no wonder, then, that the majority of Israelis today cannot make the distinction between the State of Israel, a modern political concept, and the Land of Israel, a religious, historical and romantic concept that never had defined boundaries.

The denial of the Green Line is one thing, but with the exception of Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm, Arab communities within the State of Israel were also erased from the map – saving seventh-graders from having to contend with the fact that they live in a state in which some 1.7 million human beings – over 20 percent of the population – are Palestinian.

Amazingly, also on the eastern side of the Green Line the Palestinians appear to constitute a negligible minority, even though this minority comprises around 82 percent of the population there. They live in hundreds of Palestinian cities and villages, only a small number of which appear on the map – among them a few of the main cities. On the map, settlements such as Karnei Shomron (population 6,500) and Kiryat Arba (pop. 7,000) appear to be the same size as the Palestinian cities. In addition, there is not even a mention of areas A and B, the bantustans created in the wake of the Oslo Accords – which were signed around a decade before today’s seventh-graders were born.

To judge by the map’s southwestern edge, one might think that one of Israel’s biggest problems has been solved, or that it never existed. The label “Southern Coastal Plain,” inside of which the “Gaza Region” is located, does nothing to help children who occasionally hear news from “the south” to understand that this is the location of the Gaza Strip, where 1.8 million Palestinians are crammed into an area of 360 square kilometers.

Anyone who uses this map to teach Israeli children the local geography without explaining its distortions and omissions compromises these children’s right to a basic historical and geographical education about their homeland. It impairs their ability to comprehend the political and demographic situation into which they were born and saps their future potential to formulate intelligent, well-founded political opinions – right-wing or left-wing – in order to be engaged in shaping the character of the state and its people.

This map holds one of the secrets to the rise of the Israeli right in its current iteration: Its power increases the more its successive governments exploit their monopoly over the state education system to wage all-out war against the citizens’ right (not to say duty) to understand something about the reality they live in. Maps and geography lessons of this kind played, and continue to play, a vital role in the crystallization of this right wing. Most of it is a byproduct of the abandonment by Israeli society of the provinces of knowledge, in favor of the pseudo-rational. This right wing came to power because successive Israeli governments disregard the right of Israelis to obtain an education.

The understandable argument about the refusal of ultra-Orthodox Jews to teach core subjects in their schools has been made, and rightfully so, for decades. Anyone who is not completely divorced from reality recognizes that a modern state cannot allow, much less fund, an education system that colludes in denying its students the ability to support themselves. Now we find that the state school system chooses, in the name of reinforcing “national identity,” to fight to keep the rest of the population from being capable of independent thought.

The Arabs who live here also know this secret, despite the efforts by the map’s editors to conceal this fact. They sum up this farce with the following saying: “Al-aqal ghalab el-dawla.” That is, the intellect (or knowledge) threatens the powers that be.

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