Mapping Over Palestine
Written by Léopold Lambert
The last decade has seen political outrage growing on social media. Cynics might point out that these outrages take as little time to deflate than they require to grow, but we have to insist that many online campaigns allow the crucial formation of a collective vision that informs the way political struggles on the ground are being led.
For this reason, it is tremendously important to formulate our outrage in a way that is fundamentally in sync with the political vision we want to convey. Too often, our collective outrage is misused in ways that ultimately serve the very thing that sparked our outrage in the first place.
The summer 2014 Israeli war on Gaza provided many instances of such misuses, in particular when the outrage against the atrocities of the bombings established an implicit hierarchization of victimhood, focusing on the children of Gaza — sometimes women too — implying that Palestinian adults/men were not quite as innocent as their children were.
More recently, another campaign on social media, which accused Google of removing the label “Palestine” on its maps, received significant traction through the outrage it triggered.
The self-proclaimed voices of reasonability — the New York Times being traditionally their main medium — were fast in proclaiming that Google had never added the term “Palestine” on its maps to begin with, thus defining the (useless) terms of the debate.
Regardless of what the labels of Google Maps actually were — I personally have a screenshot from a 2014 map on which neither “Palestine,” nor “West Bank/Gaza” was indicated — it is fundamental to question and critique the vision of the future we want to convey through the way we approach this debate.
The voices that have been heard through this online outrage are the voices of those we may call “the liberals,” separated in two opposing groups we might call “left-wing liberals,” and “right-wing liberals.” Although they do not realize it, these two groups essentially agree on their vision for Palestine: the history of what they like to call “the conflict” started in 1967 with the Israeli military invasion of the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem/Al Quds, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai.
They may disagree on a few conditions of the scenario they call “the solution,” in particular when it has to do with Jerusalem/Al Quds and the 700,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, but, overall, they agree on the idea that Palestinians should be “granted” the pieces of land that a “legitimate defeat” left them with in 1949.
Their degree of applause may vary when it comes to the recognition of the State of Palestine by some European governments and parliaments in the recent years, and they cringe when their moderate Palestinian Authority envisions alliances with the Hamas.
They might disagree about whether Google should write Palestine on its maps, but it is clear to all of them that if such a name would appear on maps, it would be in lieu of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Their own maps always scrupulously make sure to include what they call “the 1949 Armistice Green Line,” fundamentally separating a territory between Israel and what some dare calling “the Occupied Palestinian territories.”
It may come as a paradox, if not as a very risky bet, but in the recent years I came to favor the vision created by the Zionist maps of a Greater Israel that never included these borders.
Although these maps are direct products of the ideology that dispossessed and made refugees over 800,000 Palestinians in 1948, and despite the fact that they tell us nothing about the current situation of duress that Palestinians experience on a daily basis, they imagine the land of Palestine (although called Israel in their case) as free of any internal borders.
Such an imaginary has the power to inform our vision of a post-Apartheid Palestine in which the right to return that has been implemented for the Jewish diaspora since 1948 — although this right does not apply the same way between Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews — is extended to the families of Palestinian refugees that were the victims of the ethnic cleansing of the same year.
I recently had the opportunity to bring my own little piece to this collective imaginary through a bilingual Arabic-Hebrew map of a future Palestine as part of the ongoing exhibition Chapter 31 (08/04/16-09/03/16) curated by Mai Kanaaneh and Nadia Jaglom at the P21 Gallery in London.
This map (as well as the few other objects that accompany it) is not a project towards what the liberals call “solution,” but it constructively envisions a Palestine freed from the current Apartheid territorial and legal apparatuses, a new society in which Israelis embrace becoming merely “Palestinian Jews.”
This cartographic imaginary is not one of the “end of history,” simply one of a fundamental change resulting from decades of political struggle.
Léopold Lambert is a trained architect and the editor-in-chief of The Funambulist, a magazine dedicated to the politics of space and bodies. He is the author of three short books about Palestine: Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence (dpr-barcelona, 2012), The Funambulist Pamphlets, vol. 6: Palestine (punctum books, 2013), and La politique du bulldozer: La ruine palestinienne comme projet israélien (B2, 2016).