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'Disappearing Palestine' ads uncontroversial in exposing Israel's nature despite desperate efforts of Israel lobby

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In October, 2013, 10 ads went up in Vancouver transit stations showing loss of “Jewish land” in the Middle East since 1000 BCE. It turns out that in the past three thousand years, “Jewish land” has shrunk by a factor of five or so. The images are truly pathetic: from covering the whole area, blue-washed “Jewish land” is now reduced to the State of Israel -- and not even all of that.

These ads seem to be an answer to ads put up in transit stations and on sides of buses, in September, 2013, by the Palestine Awareness Coalition, called “Disappearing Palestine.”  PAC -- of which Independent Jewish Voices-Vancouver is a proud member -- had the more modest aim of showing Palestinian loss of land only since 1946. In three stages, the bright green territory of Palestine has been carved away until by 2012 it’s only a small patch called Gaza and freckles of discontinuous territory in the West Bank.

You just can’t disagree more than that.

The response ads were put up by a group called StandWithUs, which says it is “supporting Israel around the world.” SWU has countered pro-Palestinian advertising in several U.S. cities, including Denver, Houston and Helena and Missoula, Montana. Talking about “Disappearing Palestine,” SWU’s CEO Roz Rothstein said, “A combination of anti-Israel groups pretend to be pro-Palestinian [but] the bottom line is they don’t want an Israel. They want Israel to be gone.”

The original Vancouver ads were designed and paid for by IJV and six actual pro-Palestinian groups: Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign, Building Bridges, Canada Palestine Association, Canada Palestine Support Network, Seriously Free Speech and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, later joined by Canadian Friends of Sabeel / Near East Cultural & Educational Foundation.

We are members of IJV-Vancouver, and we and our friends believe our maps are as accurate as they can be, given the streamlining of advertising graphics. A professor of political science at the University of British Columbia said our ads simply showed “statements of fact,” but his Arabic name, Hani Faris, disqualified him as an unprejudiced expert by a writer in the Jewish Independent. (Could we make the same criticism of Alan Dershowitz -- or Roz Rothstein? ). Our design is simply a graphic illustration of statements like this:

In over 60 years, around 700 Jewish communities have been established in Israel's pre-1967 borders -- but just seven for Arab citizens (and those were built in the Negev for “concentrating” the Bedouin population). The average Palestinian community inside Israel has lost up to 75% of its land since 1948, while a quarter of all Palestinian citizens are internally displaced, their property confiscated for use by the state and Jewish towns” (Ben White, The New Statesman, February, 2005).

Much of the lands in question were actually not taken over in the name of the state, since this could be construed as illegal confiscation, but they were handed over in trust to the Jewish National Fund, for state and individual Jewish use.  We thought the fact of Disappearing Palestine might be a new and alarming piece of information for many in our intended Canadian audience, and we never thought our maps were controversial. Similar graphics exist by the hundreds on the internet and have been the basis of billboard and transit advertising at many US sites, and this same graphic is used by Wikipedia to illustrate its article on Palestine.

But we were wrong. As with other aspects of Israeli policy, our presentation of sober fact touched a nerve, and the “Loss of Jewish Land” response ads were quite unhinged. The first panel shows a sprawling mass of territory identified as an “Ancient Jewish Kingdom” of 1000 BCE, while the second shows a territory easily three times as large as the present state, identified as the “Jewish Homeland” of 1920, i.e., all of British-controlled Mandate Palestine (regardless of the actual minuscule Jewish population). The third panel shows the present State of Israel with Gaza and the West Bank identified as “disputed territories” -- a breathtaking act of geopolitical chutzpah.

We in IJV naively thought we were educating the Canadian public: the land had disappeared, and we didn’t even blame any entity for its disappearance. But the SWU response told us we had done something terrible. The backlash was vicious -- as it so often is -- and quite out of proportion. It came not from a Jewish community, but from a vengeful, bullying fringe that can be relied on to respond fiercely to any criticism of Israeli policy.

In a curious way, the ferocity of the pro-Israel response guaranteed the success of our campaign better than anything we could have done ourselves. Without it, our campaign would have attracted little notice: The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) even warned, “Countering these ads in the public domain (on buses, for example) would only raise the profile and lend credibility to these marginal groups.”

They called our coalition “marginal.” We couldn’t be called self-hating Jews, since only one of the groups was Jewish, but we were nonetheless called anti-Semites who want to destroy the state of Israel. Besides, we were accused of timing our ads so they would appear over the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (In fact we had no control over the timing. But the interval between the two holy days is traditionally a time for reflection and repentance.)

Mitchell Gropper, chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, called the ads a provocative attack on Jewish people that would incite hatred. “This is of grave concern to our community at large, because the ads make the use of the buses unwelcome and unsafe,” Gropper continued, linking it with terrorist attacks in Israel that often target buses. The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center in Toronto agreed that TransLink was running ads “that are provocative and incite hatred and contempt.” Stephen Schachter, the co-chair for CIJA, told us that there were "members of the Jewish community who say they are not going to use transit and are very concerned about safety issues as a result of this kind of advertising."

We found some amusement in our antagonists’ metaphorical frothing at the mouth:

They accused us of wanting to wipe out the state of Israel when we were claiming that that was almost precisely what Israel had already done to Palestinian territory -- a trenchant instance of the old Hebrew adage, “The accuser accuses himself..”

B’nai Brith Canada hinted at indecent exposure in the title of their article:  “Exposé: Whose Behind Anti-Israel Ads in Vancouver.”

Liana Shlien of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies told us that Palestinian land could not be disappearing because, “In truth, an official state of Palestine had never existed, while Jewish contiguous presence on the land is a record of fact.”

Others lathered on the same stock distortions and misstatements that are regularly used to silence criticism of Israel. To all of these we responded that Palestine is universally understood as the name of a geographical region in southwest Asia, on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, inhabited for centuries and without interruption by a people known as Palestinians, who are of different faiths: Muslim, Christian and Jewish; and who assumed a predominantly Palestinian Arab culture in the seventh century. All of these elements, Palestinian land ownership, the indigenous people of the land and the indigenous culture, are disappearing, as our four maps show. To say or imply that these things cannot be disappearing because the boundaries of a Palestinian state have not yet been set by an occupying power and a subject population is the sheerest casuistry.

IJV and our coalition partners raised more money, allowing us to keep the wall mural up for an extra month. Our opponents changed tactics and became vandals, tearing down the ads three times after we had them put up again. At least we assume it was our opponents (or some small subset of them); we couldn’t imagine ordinary thugs taking such offense at our images.

While the SWU ads are up, we’re thinking about what to do next. Unlike the borders of Palestine or Israel, one thing is sure: our efforts will continue.


Marty and Martha Roth



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