January 6, 2015

Israel-omitting Middle East atlas to be pulped


Map of Israel via Shutterstock.

Map of Israel via Shutterstock.

A subsidiary of HarperCollins omitted Israel from its atlas last week, causing an international outcry. This is strong evidence that mapmaking is a political act, one perhaps better left to the United Nations than an educational publisher like Collins Bartholomew.

The map, published by Collins at the end of the year, was intended for use in English-speaking schools in the Muslim-majority Gulf. That’s a modest audience, but when Tablet broke the story on December 31, it hit international news in the early days of the new year. Dropping Israel all together seemed too radical an act to be an accident.

So for aspiring mapmakers out there, and their publishers, let’s ask: what’s the proper way to draw Israel? According to Alex Brummer, a journalist and HarperCollins author, it’s conventional to use the “Green Line” as the formal border. This line was drawn by the UN after the War of Independence in 1948. The disputed territories on the West Bank are usually marked with a dotted line. Israel has occupied these territories since the Six-Day War in 1967.

Collins Bartholomew, the division of HarperCollins that specializes in maps, told Tablet that the company made a conscious choice to extend Syria and Jordan to the Mediterranean, mark the West Bank, but omit Israel from the Middle East. The company says it was accounting for “local preferences.”

After Tablet’s story broke, and online reviewers labeled it a “travesty and international shame,” HarperCollins pulped all copies and issued an apology. “This product has now been removed from sale in all territories and all remaining stock will be pulped. HarperCollins sincerely apologizes for this omission and for any offense caused,” the publisher’s Facebook statement read.

Brummer writes:

It is encouraging to learn that following protests from both the Jewish and Christian communities HarperCollins has now agreed to remove the offending atlas from the shelves and to pulp the remaining stock.

But that it made it all the way to the bookshelves, with no one at HarperCollins putting on the brakes, shows how distorted the teaching of Middle East history has become in Arab countries.

The offending map shows the West Bank marked immediately adjacent to the Gaza strip as if Israel did not exist. In effect, HarperCollins achieved what the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened at the stroke of a pen: wiped Israel off the map.

…One would also like to see the diplomatic and foreign policy community fully engaged in combatting antisemitic [sic] tropes and denials of the horrors of the Holocaust that still form part of the curriculum and textbooks in many parts of the Arab world.



Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.