Israelis are fond of pointing out that in the Arab world, maps regularly deny the existence of the State of Israel, referring only to an entity called Palestine, which stretches from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. But Arabs are not the only ones who deny the existence of the other - so does Israel. After 60 years of Arab-Israeli conflict, and 40 years of occupation, with hopes for a two-state solution diminishing by the second, it seems that Hertz Rental Car has either not yet learned the lesson, or is ahead of all of us in predicting the demise of the two-state solution.
Hertz provides maps for its customers in all of its 1,900 locations throughout the world. In Israel, the map provided is a shameful construct that completely denies the existence of an occupied Palestinian territory or, in fact, of anything Palestinian. There is no demarcation of the internationally recognized Green Line that separates Israel from the occupied West Bank. Israel simply stretches from the Mediterranean in the West all the way to the Jordan River in the East. The Israeli highway system travels throughout the entire area, and one gets the impression that it is all Israel and that Palestinian towns and villages are merely parts of one coherent whole: The Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa are connected to the same highway system as Nablus, Hebron, and Jenin. Nablus, in fact, does not even appear as Nablus, but under its ancient Israeli and modern Hebrew name, Shekhem. The occupied Golan, which Israel annexed in 1981 after occupying it from Syria in 1976, is not demarcated; the border with Syria is simply moved eastwards. Gaza, which Israel 'disengaged' from in 2005 but retains control over, (and for all intents and purposes, its occupation) is represented as "Gaza Area" and it is completely white: an anonymous, blank area - no people, no cities, no roads. Yet what looks like an empty beach betrays the reality that we have all seen on television in recent weeks and months: pictures of people, of squalor, of destruction, and of violence, perpetrated by both Hamas and other Palestinian militants, along with Israel's armed forces.
While maps such as the one produced by Hertz clearly misrepresent and seem ideologically driven, they are also instructive as to how Israelis, and in this case, a US-based corporation perceive the West Bank - incorporated into the Israeli state, with settlements only a notion brought up by unyielding foreign governments, with no noticeable difference between Israel proper and occupied Palestinian territory, with highways simply continuing into the area, where "Judea and Samaria" are simply provinces of Israel. The Hertz map, entitled "touring map of Israel," simply warns, "Dear User! When you travel or drive in Samaria, Judea, Jerusalem, or other areas - please make contact with Israel police or army representatives for security instructions." Its legend marks Christian and Jewish Holy Sites throughout the area, including in Hebron and (East) Jerusalem. But Muslim sites do not exist on these maps, it is as if the sacred nature of the Holy Land was reserved for Jesus and Moses, but not for Muhammad and his followers. Palestine, the Palestinians, and Muslims - they simply do not exist.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been tasked with forming a coalition, the former and next Prime Minister of Israel may be inclined to bring a similar map to the table when discussing the prospects for peace with American (or, if there is a realistic prospect, Palestinian) negotiators. Netanyahu and his coalition partners see the West Bank and Gaza much the same as the Hertz Map represents these areas: with major Palestinian population centers merely places that one should "consult security on" before entering - like a bad neighborhood in a big city.
Is it possible that the Hertz Corporation, the second largest car rental company in the world, would endorse this map? With Hertz operating in every major Middle Eastern Country - its largest branches are in the UAE and Saudi Arabia - one would think Hertz would recognize how utterly offensive its map is and immediately repeal its use. Major multi-nationals assess multitudes of risk within their global operating environments. When operating in conflict zones where borders are politically sensitive, as in Cyprus, Armenia, Spain, Sri Lanka and Congo - Hertz and other multi-nationals operating in Israel must be attuned to the fact that the crux of the conflict is cartographic. Borders are not just lines but survival mechanisms, not just for the people living near them, but also for corporations trying to create and maintain successful business on either side, or across them. One can only wish that Hertz recognizes the risk its map poses to its own reputation and ultimately to its business success.
Michael Shtender-Auerbach is CEO of Social Risks LLC
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