The Beginner’s Guide to Middle East Map Scandals

Posted: May 16, 2013 by Rex Brynen in 1948, being argumentative

Knowing when to be outraged by a map of the Middle East can always be confusing, as Ann Dismorr (Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Lebanon) recently discovered when she attended the official launch of two German-funded projects focused on water supply network improvement and shelter rehabilitation in Rashidieh Camp in southern Lebanon. During her visit, she was presented with an embroidered map by camp residents. Shortly thereafter, Palestinian Media Watch angrily condemned her:

At the official launch of two German-funded UNRWA projects in southern Lebanon, Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, Ann Dismorr, posed with a map that erases the State of Israel and presents all of it as “Palestine.”

The map includes both the Palestinian Authority areas as well as all of Israel. Above the map is the Palestinian flag and the inscription “Arab Palestine.” The text at the bottom of the map also says “Palestine.” The neighboring countries Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are all named on the map as is the Mediterranean Sea. Israel is not mentioned or designated anywhere. Several places and cities, both in Israel and from the Palestinian Authority, are included on the map of “Palestine”: The Negev desert, Be’er Sheva, Rafah (Gaza), Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, Tiberias and the Dead Sea.

The Times of Israel soon jumped on the bandwagon, a headline declaring “UNRWA erases Israel from the map.” Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, even sent a letter of complaint to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.


It wasn’t, of course, UNRWA that embroidered the map (although UNRWA senior officials do have many remarkable household skills). Moreover, as an UNRWA press release subsequently pointed out, the map showed pre-1948 Palestine—that is before the establishment of the modern state of Israel:

Statement attributable to UNRWA Spokesperson, Chris Gunness

14 May 2013
East Jerusalem

UNRWA categorically rejects accusations in the media that the Agency is “erasing Israel from the map” because its officials and stakeholders stood next to a map which does not show Israel. The map in question is an embroidery depicting a pre-1948 map and therefore ante-dates the creation of the state of Israel. The allegations are therefore completely false.

The organization that originated the accusation has made similar allegations in the past about UNRWA’s neutrality and was forced to retract after the agency showed them to be false.

I again request that any media organization making similar accusations check with us first before they go public with reports that have consistently been shown to be false.

This isn’t the first time that a UN agency has run into map problems—as previously reported on the PRRN blog, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was criticized last year by some Palestinians for correctly labelling Israel as Israel on a map of the region. In 2011, UNRWA was accused of using Israel-denying globes in its refugee schools in Egypt (the fact that UNRWA has no schools in Egypt being, apparently, beside the point.)

MapOfIsrael1Meanwhile, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism website continues to include tourist maps that erase most of UN observer state Palestine from the map altogether. As you can see from the map at right, there’s no hint of a Green Line around the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).


UPDATE (28/5/2013):

Wait, there’s more! Prosor’s letter to the UN Secretary-General leaks to the Jerusalem Post, and UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness responds.


h/t Scott Brynen for the West Wing video

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