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Palestinian Land Loss

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Palestinian Land Loss Narrative

Establishing an Irredentist Case


A series of maps circulating on the Web propagates a lie. It purports to show "Palestinian" land loss from 1946 to the present day.

It looks pretty convincing, doesn't it? All that green area that was "Palestinian" in 1948 has shrunk to a few tiny enclaves.

Of course it is a facile lie. The 1946 map does not show sovereignty or land ownership of Palestinian Arabs. It just shows settlements of Jewish Palestinians in the British Palestine Mandate. All the rest is colored green, as though coloring a map establishes the title of the Arabs to the land. A discussion of the difficulty of establishing land ownership in Palestine of 1946 and the origins of this "settlement map" is given in The Land Question in Palestine. The Arabs had no sovereignty over the land at any time, and they owned less than half of it. Despite Arab efforts to prevent Jewish land purchases, Jews owned about 8% (more by some estimates) of the land in the area that became Israel. Nearly 50% of the land was government land. Since the mandate was supposed to create a "national home" for the Jews, it is hard to understand why this land is colored green. Furthermore, despite big stretches of white area shown in the later maps, Arabs still own private property in those white areas - in Israel, as does the Muslim Waqf, as does the Greek Orthodox Church.

It is not clear what the last map shows. It seems to coincide with Areas A and B of the Oslo Interim Agreement. From the date, 2000, it would appear that the map series was created in order to help torpedo the Camp David peace talks, as part of the Palestinian anti-peace effort.† But Areas A and B do not represent land remaining after other land was taken away. They are in fact, the only land on which Palestinian Arabs ever had any autonomous recognized government at any time in history. Before the Oslo Agreements, the Palestinian Arabs had nothing. The green areas, if they are intended to show Areas A and B, show Palestinian land gained, not land lost.† What the map shows is not related to the final settlement offers made by Israel in 2000, which constituted well over 90% of the land of the West Bank (see here).†

Most of the lies behind the maps were exposed ably by Adam Holland in Solomonia. Jeffrey† Goldberg debunked the map series again, and Dvar Dea did it most recently.

But lies about the Israeli-Arab conflict are a dime a dozen these days. Two other aspects of the map series may be more interesting. The first is to examine how this bit of intellectual flotsam has drifted upwards from the obscurity of fringe publications to the respectability of national coverage. Like the "Apartheid" slogan and "Zionist Occupied Government," the maps and the ideas they represent are coming to be accepted as "mainstream" and "legitimate." The second aspect is to understand precisely what the makers and distributors of the maps hope to accomplish with them: To establish and legitimize an irredentist claim over the land for the Arabs of Palestine. What part of the land? Not only the area of the West Bank and Gaza, but the entire land, "from the river to the sea" - all the land that was is colored green in the 1946 map - the "lost" land.

The maps were evidently made ten years ago, but they only surfaced in the mainstream now, when alpha blogger Andrew Sullivan used them to illustrate an article he wrote. Sullivan got the series from Juan Cole, Juan Cole got it from another source and so on. The maps, like all lies, propagate like V.D. You get it from friends and friendly strangers. The map series appears, among many other places at Lawrence of Cyberia, where it is credited to Occupation Magazine, but we can suspect that the actual source was a Palestinian agency like Passia or an NGO like BADIL.

The maps are used to establish an irredentist narrative. Narratives, as we know, are the matrix of political positions, which determine how all subsequent events will be viewed and judged (see Handbook of Israel Advocacy). They are part of the effort to build a narrative that erases Jewish presence in the land and establishes a mythical past when the land "belonged" in some sense to the then non-existent "Palestinian nation." The basic assumptions of the narrative are already established. People talk about "returning" East Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty. This cannot be correct, as there was never any Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem or anywhere else, but it is accepted somehow.

Presumably, the editors of Occupation Magazine, along with Sullivan and Cole and Lawrence of Cyberia believe that all the area shown in green in the 1946 map is "occupied." "Justice" thus demands that all the "occupied land" that the Arabs "lost" be "returned." "Peace with Justice" therefore must bring about the destruction of Israel according to this logic.

Irredentist claims are the stuff of dangerous national conflicts. They may be based on real or imaginary history. Germany really had a legitimate claim on Alsace, which had been taken by France in the Thirty Years war. Italy really had some legitimate claims on former lands of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Too much legitimacy and "justice" ensure that peace is impossible.

Once the legitimacy of irredentist claims is admitted, there is no end to irredentism and irredentist maps in the Middle East. Syrian maps show Lebanon and Israel as part of Syria. Turkey can claim that all of Central Asia, much of the Middle East and parts of Europe were torn from them by the machinations of Western colonialist imperialism over the last 200 years. The British ideology that supported the liberation of Greece and the Balkan countries was identical to the ideology that called, at the same time, for the restoration of the Jews, and it was advanced by some of the same people. The Arabs† have maps of their receding empire, recalling past days of glory when they ruled† Sicily and Al Andalus, now known as Spain. Christians can claim sovereignty over Jerusalem. That was, in fact, one of the factors that decided the fate of Jerusalem in the post-World War I negotiations over the future of the Middle East.

We Zionists can claim all of the land promised as a Jewish national home in the San Remo Treaty that was the basis of the League of Nations Mandate. That land is, in justice, part of the "land of Israel." It is land that the Jewish people "lost." Unlike the green areas drawn in the Palestinian maps according to the whims of the artist, this is not a myth. The borders were political reality, supposedly guaranteed in international law. That land included not only the entire West Bank and the Golan Heights, but also all of Jordan, which was torn from the mandate and given to the Hashemite dynasty by the British. This claim used to be made by the Israeli right. It is considered to be "extremist" and not "politically correct" of course. Andrew Sullivan and Juan Cole would never support that claim, but they are quite content to propagate Palestinian Irredentism.

Irredentism is suffused into national culture by those who wish to make peace impossible. The first stanza of the Deutschland lied ("Deutschland Uber Alles") stated the German claim to borders from the Adige to the Belt, from the Meuse to the Memel. All these locations are outside the borders of modern Germany. The Adige river, for example, is in Italy. The "Belt" is in Denmark. The Germans had their view of "justice," while the Danes, Italians and others have a different view. Whatever the claims of "justice," the anthem is now forbidden. The need for peace is given precedence over "justice." The anthem is still sung, however, by certain Germans who insist on "justice."

The map series is basically a "translation" of the slogans "Kulu al ard Arabi" (all of the land is Arab) and "Palestine is free, from the river to the sea - a translation that succeeds in turning racist and irredentist slogans into pleas for "justice." Ironically, Andrew Sullivan used the maps to illustrate a polemic he wrote about the supposed "intransigence" of Benjamin Netanyahu who is obstructing "peace" efforts according to Sullivan.

Ami Isseroff

March 31, 2010


Posted at https://zionism-israel.com/ezine/Palestinian_Land_Loss.htm† This work is copyright © 2010 by the author. You may post links to it and cite parts of it at non-profit Web sites. Please do forward it to friends with this notice.

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