Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Maps matter

The map. (Atlanta Jewish Times)
The map. (Atlanta Jewish Times)

This past week Autrey Middle School in Alpharetta hosted its annual Multicultural Night. A map of Israel with Palestine written in large letters in its place was included. An upset parent shared a photo of it on Facebook, and coverage spread. As reported in the Atlanta Jewish Times, the principal ultimately sent an email home in which he condemned “this attempt to use our Multicultural Night for one’s own political or religious agenda.” He also noted, “I will be working closely with district leaders and others as we comprehensively investigate this incident and any necessary actions will be taken including accountability for those responsible.”

Two of the comments I read on different posts indicated that this wasn’t the first year a family displayed this map. I have to ask what does accountability mean? The student whose parents own the map is not responsible for their decision. Moreover, what kind of action could possibly be taken against them? I’m guessing none. The principal also wrote, “Please know that this type of display is not acceptable nor supported by the faculty and staff of Autrey Mill Middle School. This school is here for kids, not politics.” If so, shouldn’t the teachers and administration bear some responsibility? Nothing was done about the map during the event, and this might not have been the first time that it’s been included. If they do not recognize that it was not a map of the world, then a geography lesson is in order for all.

A map of Israel without Israel is not just political rhetoric; it is inflammatory. It denies Israel’s right to exist and tells the world that Israel literally ought to be wiped off the map.

This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Let’s take a look at textbooks used in schools under the Palestinian Authority. UNRWA “rapid reviewed” PA books used in UNRWA and PA schools over three semesters. They found negative bias and lack of neutrality in the books as well as material that ignored the Israeli narrative, included militaristic and adversarial imagery, and preached the values of resistance. Per the actual declassified report, more than half of all instances were lies related to maps. Jerusalem was posited only as the Palestinian capital, maps made absolutely no mention of Israel and cities that were and will be Israeli were called Palestinian.

For each problematic page in each book for three semesters, UNRWA developed complementary materials that teachers could use in classes and developed training for teachers – but did not distribute them! Not at all the first two semesters and in the third, in a very limited way, and even then, teachers refused to use them or to be trained. Even less acceptable is that after the first semester, the State Department reported back to Congress that they did distribute the materials and train teachers.

Until schools use unbiased materials, children will continue growing up into adults who are biased. Just as this needs to be addressed in the West Bank and Gaza, so does it anywhere Israel is being represented as non-existent. There is no way Palestinians or their supporters can move towards peace if they are preoccupied with denying Israel’s existence.

Tragically, schools here and in Israel are not the only culprit. Palestinian Media Watch reports on official PA television shows during which maps are used to teach children that Israel will come to an end, along with the words, “All of Palestine will return to us.”

The truth is that Israel is not going anywhere. All the wishful thinking in the world will not wipe the only home where Jews can be safe in this increasingly anti-Semitic world off the map. This state of denial, this kind of representation of untruths has absolutely no place in any discussion and serves no purpose other than to generate hate. And that is true whether the maps are on display in Aqbat Jabr or in Alpharetta.

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Lawn Guyland, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta since returning to the U.S. in 2003. Recently remarried, this Ashkenazi mom of three Mizrahi sons, 26, 23 and 19, splits her time between managing knowledge in corporate America, pursuing a dual masters in public administration and integrated global communications, blogging, relentlessly Facebooking, once-in-a-while veejaying, enjoying the arts and digging out of the post-move carton chaos of her and her husband's melded household.
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