Monday, June 13, 2016

Wiping who off the map?

We all remember when Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad allegedly said Israel should “be wiped off the map." We now have an official Israeli map that is wiping off historic Christian and Muslim sites from a tourist map.

The City of David archaeological park located in the heart of a Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, managed by Elad, a private political organisation that facilitates the purchase and takeover of Palestinian homes in the Old City and occupied East Jerusalem in an effort to increase Jewish settlement, features prominently, in large, bold red letters, on the Israeli tourism ministry's official Old City map, which is distributed free of charge at official tourist information centres in Jerusalem. The City of David is easily spotted, but the neighbourhood of Silwan that surrounds it is not labelled. Palestinian communities, including At-Tur, Wadi al-Joz and Issawiya do not appear, but the settlement of Maale Har Hazeitim is labelled with the Star of David.

But the nearby al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, a 14-hectare compound that comprises Islam's third holiest site, al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as the Dome of the Rock, is only referred to by its Jewish name: the Temple Mount. There is no room on the list of the numbered sites for the Church of St Anne or the Church of the Redeemer, although the latter is on the map with a tiny, hard to find name. Palestinian neighbourhoods outside the Old City walls are absent on the map, apart from Ras al-Amud, while Jewish-only settlements built in those neighbourhoods are represented.

Betty Herschman, director of international relations and advocacy at Ir Amim, an Israeli human rights NGO that gives tours of East Jerusalem to diplomats and other parties, explained This map, in addition to erasing important Muslim and Christian holy sites in the Old City, completely erases entire neighbourhoods around the historic basin, supplanting them not only with Hebrew names but with the names of settlements." These settlements, added Herschman, are built by radical settlers within the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods; namely, Bet Orot, a community of 150 settlers living in the Palestinian neighbourhood of At-Tur, that does not even appear on the map. "The map is legitimising private settlement around the historic basin. This is a form of consolidating Israeli control of arguably the epicentre of the most critical point of Jerusalem - which is itself the epicentre of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. So there are extremely important political consequences involved."

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