You can’t walk very far on an American or European university campus these days without encountering some version of the “Palestinian Land Loss” maps. This series of four—occasionally five—maps purports to show how rapacious Zionists have steadily encroached upon Palestinian land. Postcards of it can be purchased for distribution, and it has featured in paid advertisements on the sides of buses in Vancouver as well as train stations in New York. Anti-Israel bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Juan Cole have both posted versions of it, and it occasionally creeps into supposedly reputable media sources, like Al Jazeera English.
Indeed, it recently appeared as a “Chart of the Day” in the UK’s respected magazine New Statesman. Beneath it was a tiny line of text listing its sources as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and a CIA atlas from 1973. Given that the maps included information far more recent than 1973, the source struck me as slightly dubious. I contacted the staff writer who created the feature and asked him about it. He was very reluctant to admit that he had lifted it from anti-Israel propaganda sources, so he directed me to the 1973 CIA atlas. Unfortunately, nothing like the series appears in the CIA World Factbook and nothing like it could have appeared in an atlas published decades before several of the events it claims to portray. The writer then apologized for not being able to track down his sources any further and explained that he no longer works at New Statesman. He has moved on to The Guardian, and given that particular publication’s attitude toward Israel, he should have no trouble fitting in.
There is a reason why those who make use of these maps avoid examining their provenance or proving their accuracy: The maps are egregiously, almost childishly dishonest. But they have become so ubiquitous that it is worth taking the time to examine them, and what their dishonesty can teach us about the Palestinian cause and its supporters.