Mapping the occupation: Ravensburger puzzle map responds to pressure, disappears Palestinian Occupied Territories

Battles over maps that demarcate different boundaries and place-names for the same piece of land aren’t a proxy battle for flesh and blood conflict. They constitute a real war over who gets to fix “reality”, who gets the final claim to determine not just borders but the existence of towns, villages, roads, and the lives they represent. Erasure of an entire history, ethnic or religious identity, or a political claim, can happen with the stroke of the cartographer’s pen.

There is a great deal of discussion about maps circulated in the Palestinian Territories and throughout the Arab world that identify Israel as “Palestine” or the whole area as “Occupied Palestine.” Less is known in the US about the debates over maps made in Israel.

As Eyal Wiezman wrote in the Politics of verticality:

From 1967 to the present day, Israeli technocrats, ideologues and generals have been drawing maps of the West Bank. Map-making became a national obsession. Whatever the nature of Palestinian spatiality, it was subordinated to Israeli cartography. Whatever was un-named ceased to exist. Scores of scattered buildings and small villages disappeared from the map, and were never connected to basic services.

The issue hit the front pages of Israeli newspapers late last year when leftist Israeli Education Minister Yuli Tamir proposed putting the green line, the 1967 armistice line that has become the defacto border, onto maps.

Last December, Gershom Gorenberg, the author of the highly recommended The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, wrote that in 1980…

…maps showing the Green Line were impossible to find in Israel. (The diplomat said his maps came from the CIA.) The Israeli government’s cartography service had a monopoly on the map market. You could get topo maps showing the location of every picnic table and archeological site in the country, but not the boundary between Israel and occupied territory. Maps showed only the post-1967 lines dividing Israeli-controlled land from neighboring Arab countries. In official cartography, occupied Hebron and Nablus looked like part of Israel. The practice tended to obscure political developments. As a journalist, I often covered settlement in the West Bank — but when a new community was established, sometimes I wasn’t sure whether it was in Israel proper or in land conquered in the June 1967 Six-Day war.

Government maps still dominate the market, and still don’t show the Green Line. Neither do schoolbooks. But this week, Education Minister Yuli Tamir issued instructions to show the border line in new textbooks. Tamir, a founder of the Peace Now movement, represents the center-left Labor Party in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s crazy-quilt coalition. Right-wing pols immediately accused her of politicizing the classroom. Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition Likud said it would call for a parliamentary vote of no confidence. A group of rightist rabbis said Tamir had “declared war against God” by suggesting a division of the homeland divinely granted to the Jews. None of the rightists, naturally, find any trace of politicized education in the practice of hiding from children the borders of their own country. In a curious way, though, they have a case: In Israel — and not just in Israel — facts are political. Denial is the consensus position.

(The outrage against Tamir’s pronounceent was immediate and harsh.The Knesset’s Education Committee rejected her proposal, though their decision was non-binding.)

Gorenberg went on:

For nearly 40 years, Israel has treated its own border the way Victorians treated sex: It shapes society, but explicitly portraying it violates respectable conventions. Those who do so are seen as daring, not quite part of polite society. Bright children know the border exists from adult conversations, know it will be terribly important when they come of age, and are not quite sure what it looks like. My daughter, child of an impolite father, asked her high school geography teacher why the Green Line was missing from a map he handed out, and left him wordless.

The politics of denial go beyond that. Golda Meir famously declared that there was no such thing as a Palestinian nation that was distinct in any way from other Arabs. In 1970s Israel, it was daring to disagree with her. When I began working as a journalist in the 1980s, some left-leaning reporters at my paper used the word “Palestinians” — and some right-leaning editors replaced it with “Arabs.” The original Oslo Accord of 1993 made no mention of a Palestinian state as the necessary outcome of a peace process; the idea was too radical for then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to present to the public.

Ravensburger, a German toy maker (and an excellent one at that) inadvertently stepped right into all of this last year when they produced a globe that was to simply be a fun, educational toy.

The Jerusalem Post reported in November 2006

Pro-Israel advocacy groups campaign around the globe against the use of the word Palestine, since no such country exists, but it turns out that globes being sold in Israel bear the term.

Billed as an educational toy that teaches young children geography, the widely sold “Ravensburger Puzzle Ball Classic Globe” includes both Israel and Palestine. Although the product has been on the market formore than two years, all of those contacted by The Jerusalem Post, from toy store owners to the Israeli distributor to the German manufacturer, reacted with surprise when informed of the imaginative geography.

“The first time I learned about this issue was when [the Post] told me,”said Hermann Bruns, an export manager for the manufacturer in Ravensburg, Germany. He said the design for the map was bought from a Chinese company, and that Ravensburger was only responsible for repackaging it.

Demands to change the design have been quick to follow discovery of the error, with those involved in distribution and sales of the globe in Israel saying they have appealed directly to Ravensburger.

“I was very, very angry when I found out about this,” said Meir Klughaft, CEO of Saheknu, which imports the puzzle globe. “I personally asked [Ravensburger] to change the product, and to remove the word Palestine and leave only Israel. They promised me in a letter that they would.”

And so, now they have, reports Dorothy Noar of the Israeli feminist human rights group New Profile, in July.

This evening’s Yoman (i.e., journal; a regular Friday feature on Israeli TV channel 1) had a segment on puzzles. In concluding it, the reporter proudly announced a change that the Ravensburger company had introduced. Apparently one of its products is a jigsaw puzzle of a globe of the world. In the past it had on it Palestine. But after an Israeli complained, Ravensburger dropped Palestine, and replaced it with Israel and Jerusalem.

While it is true that the Palestinians were dispossessed of a country in 1948-9, that does not mean that they do not exist, nor that they should not be recognized! At the very least, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza should be on the globe as Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Please write protest letters, or letters requesting righting the wrong to Ravensburger


Muzzlewatch has written to the company several times to confirm that the Occupied Territories was eliminated altogether from the globe, but a form letter offers little clarity:

The old version of the puzzle was an already existing, manufactured product from China that we took over in our programme.

We acquired the new cartographic material from the European market leader for maps and globes, on whose expertise and correctness we rely. Our endeavour is to develop games and books that give pleasure to children and families, but interpreting maps does not fall within our sphere of specialisation.

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