Identity, Israel

At Least Leave Me My History

I came across a disheartening post on mondoweiss.net this evening. Now, I don’t usually read Mondoweiss much — the thinly-veiled paranoia and Jew-hatred of their commenters being just a tad too much for my delicate stomach — but once in a while one of their postings finds its way into my lap.
So it was with this one: “Birthright map gives the West Bank to the settlers and Gaza to Egypt“. In it, Adam Horowitz expounds upon a smuggled map from some kid’s Birthright Israel trip introductory booklet, ‘revealing’ how the choices of color and terminology reveal sinister right-wing Zionist designs, specifically…

  • including the names “Judea” and “Samaria” along with “the West Bank”, and
  • coloring Gaza green, as opposed to the light blue of the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

So, tickle me to death with a rubber chicken if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you need to be a cartographer to figure out that a good reason to color Gaza differently than the WB/GH is because there is currently no permanent Israeli presence inside the Gaza Strip. There is no Israeli culture to see there, there are no Israelis who live there, and while the region has considerable Jewish and Israeli history attached to it, Birthright Israel buses would no more go there than they would go to see sites of historical value in Jordan. On the other hand, Birthright trips often stop at places like Latrun and the Old City section of Jerusalem, both just over the green line in the West Bank. They visit tons of places in the Golan Heights, and have even been known to use the Jordan Valley highway to get there.
As for the names of the West Bank, I don’t see any reason why including the Hebrew names for the area is such a shanda. Judea was Judea and Samaria was Samaria long before there were Israeli settlers there. They’ll be Judea and Samaria long after a Palestinian state is built there. I can call these lands by the names my ancestors called them and at the same time acknowledge that it’s right for another people, perhaps calling them different names, to rule there now.
The only thing accomplished by stigmatizing the use of Hebrew names is the suppression of Hebrew history — which while trendy these days (cf: “The Invention of the Jewish People” by Shlomo Sand) — does not serve peace or justice any more than denying Palestinian history does (cf: the charming historical information signs I saw in Old Jaffa today, in every language but Arabic).
It’s clear from the comments over at Mondoweiss that some folks are outraged that a Jewish heritage trip for Jewish young people would acknowledge the existence of Jewish geography. And while I can empathize with the ignorant and the rabid inasmuch as we all want the Palestinian story to come to its flowering in freedom and security, I would never consider somebody an ally in this cause who tried to tear out the pages of the Jewish story from the same book.

16 thoughts on “At Least Leave Me My History

  1. I can’t believe what I am reading. This is like a German claiming that Gdansk should still be identified as a German city, or finding no reason why it shouldn’t be identified as such on a map.
    I certainly hope that not all posts on Jewschool are like this one.
    The author has probably been on one Birthright tour too many.

  2. Not even the Samaritans call it Samaria anymore.
    I know that cartography can be a Sensitive Issue. I can’t remember how many times I rolled my eyes (never got angry) over the way Taiwan was colored.

  3. maps, as we know them today, are political tools–this is there purpose and has been since their inception. By labeling the West Bank (the political name of the territory) Judaea and Samaria (which are Greek names, NOT Hebrew) that is a very political statement. Because it is to say that even though people call it X, it is really Y. Now, I actually credit Birthright for putting both West Bank and Judaea and Samaria in that I think it’s nice that they include West Bank. But to say that Gaza is 100% clear of the occupation, that’s simply false. It is not an independent entity like Egypt, Jordan or Syria and therefore is a valid criticism. There was even military activity there quite recently if I’m not mistaken.
    I’m confused though who exactly is stealing your history? mondoweiss? critics of birthright? critics of the map? I also still would like to know why genetic lineage and tertiary linguistic connection gives one contemporary political right to land, much less to take someone else’s, unless someone can point out to me how modern Jews are culturally (beyond Scripture)or religiously connected to Biblical Israelites and Judahites.

  4. I disagree, David. It’s like a German map saying “Gdansk (Danzig).” [Gdansk was known as Danzig for a large portion of its history. Political, but true]. It doesn’t ignore reality, but provides some context.

  5. After leading groups all over Israel as a licensed tour guide, I learned to be exact as possible in describing locations.
    Although many people call Latrun “over the Green Line”, it is more exact to state the following:
    Between 1948-1967, The Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum at Latrun was located in “No Man’s Land” between the Israel and Jordanian sides of the Armistice Agreement Line.

  6. If Israel has no presence in Gaza how is it building a wall along the Egypt border?! How is it blocking direly needed aid from entering the region?! How does it continue to fly fighter jets over the area?! How is it restricting mobility between the West Bank and Gaza?!!
    Us Jews should know that language has power. Whether it is by changing our names at Ellis Island or changing Jaffa to Jaffo, language is used by dominant power holders to erase history and enact cultural genocide. If Birthright’s map choices are not conscious, they are at least indicative of the “land without a people” Zionist narrative adopted from European colonialism. And yes, chillul Who?, I am a Jew calling you out for your liberal Zionism. I didn’t find the “No Zio” post funny. While challenging anti-Semitism in the Isr/Pal conflict is a priority for me, I believe that one should always be held to account for their ethics and politics. Liberal Zionism is and should never be an exception.

  7. Avi – “Yaffa” and “Yafo” are two phonetic variants of the same name; Arabic has no /o/ sound. And while I agree that using the Hebrew place names (indeed – the original ones, except in the case of Jaffa, which is probably an Indo-European word, and Caesarea and Nablus (=Neapolis) and Banias (=Paneas) etc.) is essentially not a problematic activity, “Judea and Samaria” has become a laundered code word for “Occupied Territories”, which is their real name, even in Israeli legal parlance. When the west bank (another laundered name) is no longer occupied, then we can go back calling Judaea Judaea and Samaria Samaria.

  8. Amit: They’re all laundered terms. I think it all depends on the context. For me, as someone loyal to the Jewish people and our history (much more so than to the state–as I’ve made clear before, I’d be more than willing to live in a Tekoa under Palestinian sovereignty), the terms Yehuda and Shomron have a particular meaning. In calling them that, I am defining my relationship with that land in terms of my ancestors’ geographic history. When I was in the army, I called them the shetachim, defining them in terms of my (often regretted) role there. To call it the “West Bank” just seems silly to me, unless one supports the idea of Greater Israel, in which case I suppose the Jordan river would not be a border, but rather, a dividing line down the middle of the country, defining the west bank and the east bank.
    It seems that the names Judea and Samaria offend you because you happen to define that land in terms of the political and military occupation. That’s your right. It does not, however, negate someone else’s right to use a term defined by the context of their relationship to the land.
    If one follows your logic that “Occupied Territories” is the “real name,” and no other may be used until the end of the occupation, then “Judea and Samaria” and “Palestine” are equally inappropriate terms. You want to go shout that from the rooftops of Jenin?

  9. Folks make good comments, but miss some historical analysis. When Begin was Prime Minister, the state television news programs were ordered to call the West Bank ‘Judea and Samaria’ and the Ministry of Education erased the Green Line from all maps used in schools. Meanwhile, tourist maps stopped including the Green Line as well.
    Against this background, I can see how Horowitz (drawing from a somewhat paranoid Palestinian sensibility) would make the map crap into a federal case. That said, it feels like one of the side effects of having to post repeatedly on a blog is a thirst for ‘gotcha’ stories, no matter how thin.
    Like – just why is it important to prove that Birthright is Zionist effort more than slightly tolerant of Israel’s policies? Has anyone tried to argue otherwise?

  10. On the other hand, Birthright trips often stop at places like Latrun and the Old City section of Jerusalem, both just over the green line in the West Bank. They visit tons of places in the Golan Heights, and have even been known to use the Jordan Valley highway to get there.
    Joel Katz has already addressed Latrun. The Old City is “over the Green Line” in the sense that it was under Jordanian control from 1948 to 1967, but (unlike the “occupied territories”) it has been annexed by the State of Israel, and likewise for the Golan. (The Jordan Valley highway is another story.)

  11. Judea was Judea and Samaria was Samaria long before there were Israeli settlers there. They’ll be Judea and Samaria long after a Palestinian state is built there. I can call these lands by the names my ancestors called them and at the same time acknowledge that it’s right for another people, perhaps calling them different names, to rule there now.
    If we’re using “Judea and Samaria” as a millennia-old historical name, rather than as a political statement about the territories, then there’s no reason that the boundary of “Judea and Samaria” should be coincidentally identical to the 1948 armistice line. For example, “Judea” as a historical term should certainly include the areas west of Jerusalem that are inside the Green Line. But that’s not how it’s used – “Judea and Samaria” is always used as a synonym for the occupied territory known as the West Bank.

  12. Yaakov writes:
    To call it the “West Bank” just seems silly to me, unless one supports the idea of Greater Israel, in which case I suppose the Jordan river would not be a border, but rather, a dividing line down the middle of the country, defining the west bank and the east bank.
    My understanding is that the term “West Bank” originated when this territory was part of Jordan, so this term distinguished it from the rest of Jordan (the East Bank).

  13. So I left unwritten what I thought the most obvious good reason for BRI to include the terms “Judea” and “Samaria” on this map of the Israeli neighborhood — education.
    People are always talking about the West Bank, and they’re always talking about Judea and Samaria. It seems kinda obvious to me that it’s a pretty good idea to include a label on the map so the kids on the trip know where these places are.
    As for the “right wing provenance” of these two words, give me a break. They’re the historically accepted English forms of Yehudah (as in Midbar Yehudah, Harei Yehudah, Arei Yehudah…) and Shomron (as in the city of Shomron, Harei Shomron, Midbar Shomron, the kingdom of Shomron…), and Yehudah and Shomron have been part of Jewish vocabulary ever since our Canaanite ancestors woke up one day and decided to eliminate pork from their diets.
    I’m not gonna give up Hebrew toponyms just because the right wing uses them as a rhetorical device, and definitely not because someone ignorant of Jewish history tells me to.

  14. If we’re using “Judea and Samaria” as a millennia-old historical name, rather than as a political statement about the territories, then there’s no reason that the boundary of “Judea and Samaria” should be coincidentally identical to the 1948 armistice line
    BZ, I’d disagree. The two lobes of the West Bank are centered pretty closely on the Judean region in the south, and the Samarian region in the north.
    If Birthright’s map choices are not conscious, they are at least indicative of the “land without a people” Zionist narrative adopted from European colonialism. And yes, chillul Who?, I am a Jew calling you out for your liberal Zionism. I didn’t find the “No Zio” post funny. While challenging anti-Semitism in the Isr/Pal conflict is a priority for me, I believe that one should always be held to account for their ethics and politics. Liberal Zionism is and should never be an exception.
    Avi, What does ‘calling [me] out’ mean? Are you going to put me on some kind of naughty-kids list? I’m not ashamed to believe that everyone — even Jews — deserves self-sovereignty. And I find it hard to understand how the Birthright map is indicative of a mindset that erases the existence of Palestinians considering that the main label they gave the relevant territory was “The West Bank”, with J & S added in their appropriate locations almost like an afterthought. If it bothers you that they didn’t publish the map in Arabic, maybe that’s because BRI trips are meant for Jewish kids to connect with the Jewish homeland, and not for Jewish kids to connect with the Palestinian homeland.

  15. I’m confused though who exactly is stealing your history? mondoweiss? critics of birthright? critics of the map?
    Forgive me a little drama in my choice of titles. What I mean is, according to the Mondoweiss writer, not just specific kinds of political affiliations are suspect, but simply using Jewish language is suspect. If Birthright can’t include Hebrew names on their map, for areas important to Jewish history and to modern-day conflict, without being excoriated and labelled right-wing extremists, then who can? I assume not me.

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