A note on maps

by zunguzungu

Some modest thoughts on maps. There are basically two ways to represent the West Bank. First — on the left — it can be shown to be an organic part of a particular vision of the Israeli state. In that map, the “West Bank” is really “Judea and Samaria,” a single part of a coherent, bounded entity which would be rendered incomplete if it were to be removed, like a puzzle with a big piece missing. Since there is nothing in this map but Israel — bordering land and sea alike are simply white space — it is a map with an argument: to draw the map this way is to argue the legitimacy both of these particular borders and of the logic by which they were drawn. In short, the West Bank which is included in Israel — whose shape defines what you see when you look at that cartographic figure — is quite clearly meant to compose only one part of that larger figure, by the simple and implicit fact of its inclusion in the figure.

On the right, by contrast, we see the same kind of logic being used to make the opposite point. Now it is the West Bank is being fragmented, making up the organic figure whose wholeness and natural integrity is being cut apart by a network of “Areas inaccessibly to Palestinians or subject to restrictions” whose illegitimacy the figure implies.  And while the rest of Israel fades into vague yellow, the color red is leaps into crisp contrast to emphasize the (external) power being imposed to interdict the (natural) movement of the Palestinian people, whose presence is what brings the focal shape of the figure into the sharp foreground (and which that focus asserts).

In short, while the figure on the left makes the West Bank the thing being clawed out of Israel, the right one makes it the thing that Israel is clawing out of Palestine.

These aren’t the only ways to represent the space, of course, but they represent in figural form a common narrative, the single nationalist argument for territorial integrity made through reference to the invasion of an externalized other (and an organic interiority thinkable only through it). No matter which one you prefer, or why, that’s what they both are and do. And it’s not even that these are particularly ideological maps, as opposed to other maps: all maps are broadly ideological in the sense that they pretend to show you what’s empirically there by framing, editing, and re-perspectivizing those empirical “facts” in ways that will both lead to a particular way of seeing the land (that, in this case, implies the political realization of the particular vision at stake).