I have often written about the manipulation of technology to fabricate an ahistorical and counter-factual narrative; for example the replacement geography in Google Earth, and the relocation of East Jerusalem to Palestine in Yahoo Weather. History is a critical part of the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel. Getting it right is important. The current discourse over “67 borders” in the media, blogosphere and social media, presents a narrative so removed from fact that its propagandistic nature can be exposed even by someone with only Google Maps and Wikipedia to guide them. The propaganda has been triggered by discussion over the Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood. More and more people are speaking about Israel’s borders, and in particular the idea of “returning to the 67 borders.” Those with a knowledge of history would know there is no such thing. For a start, they mean pre-1967, not 1967, and to be fully accurate, they mean boundaries or lines not borders. The loss of the “pre” prefix is the most blatant attempt to wipe clear the historical narrative, see for example the recent Washington Post op-ed by Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s Former Ambassador.
Even in Israel there has been a move away from the “green line” to “67 borders,” articles in both Haaretz and Jerusalem Post have used this terminology. This is unsurprising given the use of this terminology by Israeli leaders, the British Prime Minister, and many other. The White House, whatever one thinks of their policy, at least have the terminology right, despite media headlines and reporting to the contrary, at AIPAC, President Obama’s actual words referred to “pre-1967 lines,” a formulation that the White House press office has also used consistently.
The 1949 Armistice Agreement Line shown on Google MapsOn Google Maps the line is clearly and correctly labelled the “1949 Armistice Agreement Line.” In Wikipedia, the article on the Green Line, refers to the boundary as “the demarcation lines set out in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and its neighbours (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.” The narrative of ’67 borders is a Palestinian one. It obfuscates the fact that a return to these borders would be a return to the unstable position after the war of independence.
The Wikipedia article itself notes this was never an “international or permanent border,” it also notes the position in international law, expressed by the deputy legal advisor to the US Department of State in the American Journal of International Law (1970). He said “…modifications of the 1949 armistice lines among those States within former Palestinian territory are lawful… whether those modifications are…’insubstantial alterations required for mutual security’ or more substantial alterations – such as recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem.” The Palestinian narrative seeks to lock in the minimalist idea of insubstantial changes and make even that look like a serious sacrifice that is almost too much to ask of them.
History is important. Last week was the anniversary of the Six Day war, and the relevance to today was well outlined by David Harris last week. Language and rhetoric are also important. Let’s stop the downwards slide into a Palestinian narrative. Let us begin to speak of the 1949 ceasefire lines, the psychological trauma of insecurity they imposed, the real danger they created in the face of a conventional warfare threat, and why Abba Eban referred to these indefensible borders as Auschwitz borders, meaning they put Jews, at the time many of them Holocaust survivors, again at the mercy of being slaughtered on mass by those who wished them harm. Israel’s recent experience with Hamas in Gaza justifies a continual concern about such dangerous borders. Not only are there the rockets on Sderot, let’s also remember Gilad Shalit kidnapped by terrorists who made the short journey from Gaza almost 5 years ago.
A two state solution is possible, and large parts of the future border may indeed be along the green line, but the negotiation and public discussion must have a basis in history and fact. It cannot be built on the ahistorical changing sands of Palestinian propaganda. In the mean time, all of us, from international leaders and the media to Facebook users, should watch our language and ensure we don’t strengthen a narrative that will lead not to peace but potentially to renewed bloodshed. If, despite all their flaws, Google Maps and Wikipedia can get this right, so can the rest of us.
A few weeks ago, many iPhone users, including HonestReporting’s Managing Editor, noticed that something had changed on their pre-installed weather application. The data for Jerusalem, as supplied by Yahoo, simply stopped updating. But this was no bug in the system. A new search for Jerusalem now gives users a choice between West Jerusalem in Israel and East Jerusalem located in the West Bank.
Yahoo has clearly decided to artificially divide Jerusalem. It’s contorting its systems in all sorts of strange ways to do it. The question we must ask is what right does Yahoo have to use the data from an Israeli weather station in order to divide Jerusalem? This is deliberate dishonesty. According to its own data, the West Bank does not contain a place called Jerusalem. The weather station is in Israel. This is nothing more than a manipulation of data to advance political propaganda.
This is a deliberate attempt by a large multinational internet corporation to play politics in the Middle East. Yahoo should not be surprised if its political activism comes at a cost. Not just from supporters of Israel but from consumers generally. We as consumers never gave internet companies the right to formulate foreign policy or (as Facebook recently found) privacy policies. We elect governments to do these things. Yahoo, a corporate entity, should learn its place and stick to it.