Is Palestine on the map?

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Image: Google Earth

Is it surprising that in Theory of Knowledge we are drawn to an analogy between the MAPS different people have made of the world and the KNOWLEDGE they have constructed of it – with all the selection, interpretation, and representation both demand?  Is it surprising that critical reading of maps needs the same recognition of perspectives that we apply to language as a way of knowing?

 A recent article in the Science section of The Guardian gives us a striking contemporary example of maps being used to express and support a political perspective.  “The issue caught fire,” writes Petter Hellstrom, “after the Forum of Palestinian Journalists accused Google of removing Palestine from their maps.” Hellstrom treats the absence of Palestine from Israeli maps in the context of political choices that have always influenced cartography:

drawing a map always involves choices, whether they are reflected or not. In the conflict-ridden Middle East, those choices are often blatantly political. The official map of Israel, available on the web page of the Israeli government, integrates the occupied territories into Israel and is devoid of any Palestinian place-names. Conversely, Palestinian maps often label the whole country as Palestine – effectively a refusal to acknowledge the development since 1948.

The Palestinian example is particularly striking in that it is more than a dispute over the position of borders: on the Israeli map, the country doesn’t exist at all!  Hellstrom similarly cites American colonial maps which don’t merely give a version of land claims on Indian territory: they give no indication that indigenous people existed at all.

For border disputes involving, more conventionally, just where the line is drawn, he links to the project “Disputed Territories”, which gives the viewer versions of map boundaries (e.g. Crimea, Jammu and Kahmir, and islands in the South China Sea claimed by five countries) as seen on their internet by people from different countries.

In the TOK Course Book, I’ve included maps in the chapter on language as a way of knowing, along with statistics, and photographs, and I’ve offered activities for students to recognize and practise some analysis of key factors: selection, emphasis, colouring, and framing. This article by Petter Hellstrom supplements very well the activities and examples raised there.

For a more upbeat angle on world maps, though, you might share my huge delight in a new one which just won a Japanese design contest: “A More Accurate World Map Wins Prestigious Japanese Design Award”.  Not only is it a refreshingly different attempt at accuracy, but it also comes with a twist.  No, not just a twist.  A fold.  Lots of folds.  Check it out — from the country that brought us origami!


Petter Hellstrom, “Not on the map: cartographical omission from New England to Palestine”, The Guardian. August 22, 2016.

Shaunacy Ferro, “A More Accurate World Map Wins Prestigious Japanese Design Award”, Mental Floss. October 31, 2016.

“Disputed Territories,” Opennews.

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