Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pondering Penslar

Derek J. Penslar is Samuel Zacks Professor of Jewish History and director of the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Toronto and is co-editing a documentary history of the Yishuv and writing a book on Jews in the military in modern history. Penslar is co-editor of Jewish Social Studies and The Journal of Israeli History. In short, an important Diaspora figure.

He published a diatribe in Sh'ma, entitled "Contested Space: Maps in Teaching About Israel" in which he wrote:-

I have a colleague at the University of Toronto who teaches a course called “How to Lie With Maps.” Supporters of Israel might well suggest as required reading for this course Palestinian maps that show a unitary Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan with no sign of Israel’s existence.


...Israeli maps, and those produced by and for Diaspora Jews, rarely mark the Green Line that constitutes the country’s internationally recognized borders.

His practical complaint?

Jewish youth in North America are not well educated about the barrier between pre- and post-1967 Israel.


In Israeli schools, textbooks often excise the Green Line and include the West Bank in maps of Israel. In December of 2006, Education Minister Yuli Tamir declared that future textbooks must depict the Green Line...This knowledge is a necessary precondition for intelligent debate over the feasibility of border adjustments as a component of a sustainable Israeli–Palestinian peace accord. Tamir’s proposal set off a firestorm of protest from the Israeli right, which will not countenance any challenge to the legitimacy of the conquests of 1967. But underneath Tamir’s proposal is a sound pedagogical issue: the need to educate young people that borders are artifacts, not works of nature or God.

His solution:-

...maps that faithfully depict the constant presence of Jews and Arabs in the same landscape...Overlaying maps would display rupture and absence as well as continuity and coexistence. A map of Israel in 1953, superimposed on one of Palestine in 1947, would show new Jewish towns, suburbs, and agricultural settlements where hundreds of Palestinian villages had been. The same could be done for the post-1967 West Bank, where Jewish settlements have profoundly affected Palestinian landholding and population distribution.

Maps can also trace changing borders, both in pre-1948 Palestine and post-1948 Israel. The Green Line is but one of these borders, but it is of vast importance. It cannot be wished away. The truth, be it about intermixing of Jews and Arabs or division between Israel and its neighbors, must never be erased.

Too bad that Penslar fails to note the Carta maps in their multi-volume history of Israel including the pre-state period. These maps include all phases of Jewish settlement efforts as well as Arab villages. Of course, what cannot be seen by maps is the demographic changes of Arabs moving from either outside of the Mandate borders or from those areas which eventually were in the Hashemite Kingdom, a movement whihc also has ramifications for understanding the conflict.

But there's more. For all his academic credentials, Penslar fails the reader by writing about "the Green Line that constitutes the country’s internationally recognized borders".


Not border, Professor, but rather armistice lines, a basis for future negotiations. And lines that were constantly the subject of infiltration and aggression. They counted and count for nothing. Which is what your ideology counts for as well, for there is an ideology behind your academic thinking.

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