Geography Lesson

The Tour Hagel Should've Taken To Better Understand The Mideast Conflict

Yousef Munayyer despairs at Chuck Hagel's Israeli-guided tour of Israel and the occupied territories, suggesting some alternate (virtual) itineraries.

If Chuck Hagel didn’t know his Middle East geography before, he does now—thanks to a birds-eye tutorial from the Israeli military.

This is how an article in yesterday’s Washington Post, entitled “Chuck Hagel visits Israel, gets geography lesson,” began.Hagel, the newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense, was taken on a helicopter tour by his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. The helicopter of course, like so much Israeli military equipment, was U.S. made. But what kind of tour would Hagel really get from the Israeli military? I doubt they would take the time to point out the locations of all the Palestinian villages they depopulated—that would be a real geography lesson.

Of course, it’s very hard to locate those villages, in large part because most have been razed to the ground; many have had forests built over them. If only there was a way to go back in time and take a helicopter tour to get a real geography lesson.Well, now you can, sort of. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta, who has painstakingly collected historic aerial imagery of Palestinian geography prior to 1948, you can now take a virtual helicopter ride over Palestine and see Palestinian towns and villages before they were destroyed.

Above is an example of one of several such virtual tours. Go ahead, fly from Dimra to Jura, from Jura to Iraq al Manshiyya, from Beit Affa to Bureir, from Yibna to my home town Lydda, from Jimzu to Jerusalem, from Bani Suheila to Qdeirat, from Rafah to Beer Sheba, from Al Faluja to Bethlehem, from Iraq Suwaydan to El Khadr, from Akka to al Mattula, from Jaffa to Haifa and from Haifa to Shawka at-Tahta.

This is an aerial tour of a country that was wiped off the map and a geography lesson anyone interested in this issue must learn. It’s a lesson the Israeli military certainly isn’t going to offer.