Palestine. Land of Dispute.
1947 British broadside featuring three maps of Palestine on the eve of partition.
The Bureau of Current Affairs (BCA) issued this striking yellow, white, and black broadside of Palestine to educate and inform the British population of plans to partition Palestine in the aftermath of World War 2 and, in particular, the Holocaust. It strove to delineate the political and ethnic tension that characterized this region and the political negotiations regarding partition.
Having been issued in September of 1947 – just eight months before the establishment of Israel as an independent Jewish nation – this chart encapsulates all of the hopes and difficulties surrounding this pivotal period in Greater Palestine’s history. Since the beginning of the 20th century, both Jewish and local Palestinian Arabs had laid claims to this contested strip of land as the locus for their national homeland. The British had played both sides for various political reasons, making promises to Zionists and Palestinian Nationalists alike. Nevertheless, these promises turned out challenging to keep and added unnecessarily to the embitterment and strife.
The sheet consists of three maps of Palestine, each of which depicts a specific dynamic or trait that had entered into the considerations of the British Mandate government and the United Nations. The map on the right (Map Review No. 37), dubbed ‘The Final Plan,’ is the largest of the three and shows the agriculturally attractive central and northern tract of Greater Palestine – the fertile lands over which most of the conflict turned at this stage. The map shows the 17th version of a partition plan presented to the Special Committee of 11, which was now to be ratified by the UN Assembly. The associated text explains how the choice essentially stood between a partitioned Palestine, with each part functioning as the respective national homeland for Palestinians and Jews respectively, and Jerusalem as a city divided between the two groups. The alternative was a federal Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, but this had received only limited support among the committee members.
The Committee of 11, tasked with devising a viable solution for Palestine, had made eleven general recommendations on Palestine, including safeguarding the economic integrity of the region. Another major issue in 1947, of course, was the right of the Jews of Europe to “return” to Palestine following the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. The division proposed in the larger map is particularly interesting in light of how the land is divided today. In this map, the fertile coastal plains, infertile Negev Desert, and western shores of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) have all been allocated to a Jewish national sphere, whereas the Arab population is given control of the Judean Highlands, the Jordan River Valley, the northern coastal plains around Nahariyya and Acre, and of course, the Gaza Strip.
To the left of the larger map, we find two smaller thematic maps meant to contextualize the larger map. The smaller maps reflect a model that both the Committee of 11 and the Bureau of Current Affairs deemed most feasible to realize and the most likely to pass in the UN Assembly. Of the two smaller maps, the upper one constitutes a basic overview of ethnic demographics based on land ownership in the Central and Northern tracts of Palestine (but not the desert south, despite it also having a significant population). The lower map includes Greater Palestine and subdivides the region based on the land’s agricultural quality. In both maps, the message is essentially that any division of Palestine is made very difficult due to its mixed population and the two contesting national claims for the land.
The map’s educational component – and indeed of the Bureau of Current Affairs in general – is evident in its text. For example, in the upper left map, which denotes demography through landownership, a point is made about the inevitability of a degree of unfairness in any partition scenario. Even in the current proposal, which claims to seek as reasonable a division as possible, many Palestinian Arabs would fall under the new Jewish state. Another well-known narrative is found in the lower-left map, where the inset stresses how much of the best agricultural land will fall under Jewish control but that its richness and fertility in part is the result of Jewish farmers’ intensive cultivation. It goes on to underline how the arid Negev Desert will also be part of the Jewish state, but that among its Jewish inhabitants is a stern belief in the land’s capacity to become agriculturally yielding given adequate irrigation – a vision that has since been largely realized. These contextualizing commentaries embody both the post-World War hope of a peaceful redefinition of the Middle East along national lines, but also include many of the reservations and concerns that remain at the heart of a conflict that has raged ever since.
This broadside is ultimately a piece of history – a cartographic crystallization of a moment in time when peace still seemed possible. It reflects the difficult position in which Britain repeatedly found itself (mainly by its own volition) as the Empire slowly collapsed. It bespeaks a world only just returning to some semblance of normality after five years of the most horrific war and the systematic annihilation of an entire people and reveals the explosive ingredients that went into creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. When it was published, this conflict’s extent, depth, and longevity could not have been imagined. But looking back to the moment crystallized on this map, perhaps it should have been.
Wear and loss along fold lines; minor tears and tearing along fold lines.