Mental Maps

There comes a time – hopefully this time comes sooner than later – that we realize that communications surrounding us might have a hidden agenda embedded within them.

That is – that there is a layer of communication that is not apparent and needs to be uncovered.

People talking to us might be hiding more than what they are telling. A book might have a hidden ideology, a movie is trying to sell us a soft drink without us knowing and the food we eat is injected with such chemicals to make us believe there is a healthy juicy fruit inside. An adult human being should never take things for granted, and should critically look at the messages he receives.

When we read a book or an article we are already trained to suspect a hidden agenda, and we look for it. However, this is less so when it comes to pictures and maps. We somehow think of these mediums as more neutral and difficult to falsify. We believe more eagerly that they are “honest” in conveying reality as it is. Pictures are assumed to be an exact portrayal of a moment in time. Maps we consider exact portrayals of the geography of countries and districts.

This is not true. A picture can be orchestrated to stress and blur on demand – serving an agenda.

Maps as well are not neutral. They are an image of reality that the geographer holds, or his employers hold (perhaps certain political groups or parties).

Take for example the map of the world.

We know the world map since we were very young. It shows us where the Americas are (on the left) where Europe is (center) where Asia is (on the right), the North Pole (up) South Pole (down). That is the way the world is, not just an ”image” – it is reality. Right?

Well not exactly.

This kind of map assumes that Europe is the “center” of the world. And that North should be “up” while south should be “down”. North America is therefore “above” south America, Europe “above” Africa, and Asia “above” that continent far down below – almost out of the reach – named Australia. This is the way white folks from the North like to see the world. It is a white European image of the world.

This image is not shared by all. I assume there is resentment of this image in many places around the globe that prefer to see themselves as “center”. Some in Australia for instance offer “Corrected Maps”. Click on the image below to enlarge it (and you can then enlarge the image even more by clicking on the upper right).



Which or should I say whose Mental map is the “corrected” map? What is the correct image of the world? Notice how Australia has suddenly crept closer to the center of the map. And it is now at the upper side of the map.

Maps therefore are not copies of reality but constructs of Human Beings, an image.

Maps are construed by groups of people and we should look for their hidden ideologies. We should also watch out for our own ideology.

It is quite interesting to investigate what different maps people hold in their minds when they imagine a particular area of the world that matters to them. Different groups can imagine the same terrain differently. These internalized maps can be coined as “mental maps”, and their mental maps differ greatly. Research show that these mental maps differ on the lines of age, gender, ethnicity, race, political affiliation, socio-economic strata, etc, and are deviant from the official “scientific ” state maps in interesting ways.

A very interesting example can illustrate this. Lets look at the map of Israel and at the mental maps verious groups in Israel have of their own country. I am following the ideas and findings in an article written by Fleishman and Salomon (2008) Israel’s Eastern border: Ask not ‘Where is the Green Line?’ Ask ‘What is the Green Line?’ Geoforum, Volume 39, Issue 2, March, Pages 1021-1043.

You must have repeatedly heard about Israel on the News, and many times in the context of the issue of borders and particularly the issue of the border named “The Green Line”. This has been the border of Israel between 1949 to 1967, separating Israel from territoires held by Jordan (east), Syria (north east) and Egypt (south).

Before the UN decleration of the State of Israel in the year of 1948  there were many possible borders envisioned for the future Jewish State, and after 1967 the green line became less of a border on the ground for Israeli Citizens (not for palestinians – they felt and feel the border day after day in harsh terms). The green line is therefore trouble. It is a serious devider in Israeli politics. Right and Left are split over this border and it’s future.

The Green Line, which constituted the armistice line between Israel and Jordan during the period 1949–1967, has been the center of political and public controversies concerning the future/permanent borders between Israel and her Eastern neighbors for years. However, both in political and public discourse on this issue, and in the research regarding Israel’s affinity to the territories which were ‘released/occupied’ in 1967, the territorial perspective in its ‘simplistic’ sense, is rather blurred. Thus, the answers to trivial questions such as: ‘Where does the Green Line pass?’ or ‘How large are the areas it encompasses?’ – should not be taken for granted (Fleishman and Salomon, 2008. P. 1021)


Assuming you heard the term ”green line” before – you probably have a mental map of where that green line actually runs.


Lets check that out.

Below is a blank map of Israel. Pease print yourself a hard copy and then draw the green line as you understand it to be.


Blank Map of Israel


Take your time! I want you to think carfully as you outline the State of Israel’s 1949-1967 borders.





(No cheating! Go back and download the blank map! it is important you find out what is your own mental map before you go on reading! Don’t worry – nobody else will see your sketch!)





Fleishman and Salomon (2008) gave such a blank map to Israeli students at two Israeli Univeristies: Bar Ilan Univeristy (BIU) and Hebrew University (HUJI). These were adult students which means that they are voting age. They should know where the green line is and what is the green line if they are to be informed while they vote.

However – they were born after the six day war of 1967.

Here are some of their sketches:



These sketches tell us that some of these students do not know where the green line is or that it is a border!.



So where is the green line?


Here is the official Map, so you can compare (you may click in the image below to enlarge it):



Although not all Israeli students got it wrong enough showed much ignorance . It seems many of Israel’s own citizens are encumbered with very strange and blurred green line mental maps. They will find it difficult to participate intelligently in Israeli public discourse, mainly the one borders.

Those who know not of the green line are out of the Issraeli public debate.

Do *you* know where the green line is? How did *you*  do with your own sketch on the blank map?

 We need to work on our mental green line map and “correct it”. But is the offical map of the green line enough for us understand that it is also just an image?

The official map of the green line is not science but an ideology as well. It potrays the cease fire lines of 1949 -1967 as central in importance and the only possible border. But should the green line be the borders of the Jewish state? This is heavly under dispute!

Multipule opinions exist. First are the believers in Great Israel. The baseline for examining Israel’s borders should be by this view god’s biblical promise to Abraham. God has promised a large territory to Abraham, one that stretches from the Mediterranean ocean until Turkey in the north and Iraq in the east.

Genesis 15:18–21 describes what are known as “Borders of the Land” (Gevulot Ha-aretz),which in Jewish tradition defines the extent of the land promised to the descendants of Abraham, through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. The passage describes the land in terms of the extent of territories of various ancient peoples.

More precise geographical borders are given Exodus 23:31 which describes borders as marked by the Red Sea (see debate below), the “Sea of the Philistines” i.e., the Mediterranean, and the “River,” the Euphrates), the traditional furthest extent of the Kingdom of David.

A slightly more detailed definition is given in Exodus 23:31, which describes the borders as “from the sea of reeds (Red Sea) to the Sea of the Philistines (Mediterranean sea) and from the desert to the Euphrates River,” though many versions of the Bible only indicate “river” and do not specify the “Euphrates.” (wikipedia)


When the British received a mandate in the middle east after world war one there was for a short while an understanding that the Jewish State will have a large territory like such.

This is the map of the British Mandate after world war 1. It stretches from the Mediterranean ocean on the west till Iraq in the East


Britain ruled Palestine or parts of it from November 1917, under military rule. The mandate government did not take effect until 1922. By that time, the British Foreign Office was under some pressure from Arabs and their supporters and was having second thoughts about the national home for the Jews. Britain’s first act was to split off 78% of the land from the mandate without consulting the League of Nations and to create Transjordan, as shown at right. Another bit of the mandate was removed in 1923, in an agreement with France that gave the entire Golan heights to mandatory Syria. (

 The reduction of the borders in 1923.


Various Jewish organizations – at the pre-state period - continued to hope for these larger borders.

Such were the “Etzel” (“National Military Organization”):

And Lehi ( ”Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”)


Many of those who understood that such a large territory will not be given to the Jewish homeland still hoped territory will be given by the British mandate for that purpose on two sides of the Jordan river, just as were the borders at the biblical period of Jashua.


Numbers 34:1–15 describes the land allocated to the Israelite tribes after the Exodus. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh received land east of the Jordan as explained in Numbers 34:14–15. Numbers 34:1–13 provides a detailed description of the borders of the land to be conquered west of the Jordan for the remaining tribes. The region is called “the Land of Canaan” (Eretz Kna’an) in Numbers 34:2 and the borders are known in Jewish tradition as the “borders for those coming out of Egypt”. These borders are again mentioned in Deuteronomy 1:6–8, 11:24 and Joshua 1:4. (wikipedia)


Yehushua borders

And finally  – at least – on one side of the jordan river – the wast bank” as was mentioned in many passages as the actual historical borders of the israelites  and that was also the border  at the end of the biblical period when the exiles returned from Babel to Israel:


The common Biblical phrase used to refer to the territories actually settled by the Israelites (as opposed to military expansions) is “from Dan to Beersheba” (or its variant “from Beersheba to Dan”), which occurs many times in the Bible. It is found in the Biblical verses Judges 20:1, 1 Samuel 3:20, 2 Samuel 3:10, 2 Samuel 17:11, 2 Samuel 24:2, 2 Samuel 24:15, 1 Kings 4:25, 1 Chronicles 21:2, and 2 Chronicles 30:5. (wikipedia)

The source:



Instead  – in 1947 Jewish leaders were offered by the UN a thin strech of land in the west and north, and a bulk of desert land in the south:


In this perspective the following map of Israel seems to entail a “small” image of Israel:

In 1948 war Israel pushed out of these “thin” borders into  – what was finally to become just slightly larger borders: The green line:

The purple is the 1947 UN offer of borders for the Jewish state. Jews have accepted the offer. Arabs declined. A war broke out. The Yellow is area that Israel has taken at the 1948-1949 war. And that is how the green line was created.

In 1967 another war broke out and the green line was crossed by Israel and the current borders are those outlined on the map below.


This is the map of Israel written in Hebrew that includes within the borders of the state the area that is usually marked by the green line.

But notice! There is no green line on this map. Where did the green line go?

The state has omitted the green line from all official maps after 1967 war. Young Israelis today do not know where it is! They never have seen it on a map! All maps in schools outline the borders after 1967 war, not before.

Is this good or bad?

Take a second look at Israel without the green line “territories” and with them. These are entirely two different “Israel”. Which is better and which is just?

That is one of the most important and difficult political debates in Israel today. The debate on the issue of borders.

So we come back to the initial problem of mental maps that people hold in their heads. If those mental maps are distorted these citizens cannot participate in the public debate. They cannot vote with an informed opinion.  As educators – we should become more aware what are the mental maps our young ones hold of the green line.

Fleishman and Salomon (2008) point at interesting findings regarding who holds distorted mental maps of the green line in Israel. They claim that :

1. Religious students are more ignorant of the exact location of the green line than secular students (probably because they think of Israel in biblical terms).


2. Those who hold right wing ideology are more ignorant of the of the exact location of the green line than Left wing studnts (probably because they don’t consider the green line a real border. Left wing voters tend to “feel” the line as a border).


3. As to the perceived land ratio between the Israeli territory and the West Bank, the findings are in line with the claim of previous studies that ‘geographical distortions’ are rather systematic: the size of the home area tends to be exaggerated on sketch maps regardless of scale… Namely, the results of the study have shown that all those questioned have a propensity to reduce the area of the West Bank in relation to its actual size. … Israelis tended to estimate the land they identify with, as larger than its actual size and the ‘other’ territory as smaller, or even to ignore it


4. That military service in the territories has a significant impact on spatial perception. Students, who served beyond the Green Line during their military service, were able to recreate the Green Line more accurately. The reason is obvious: military service beyond the Green Line and the occurrences which take place there, demand reasonable familiarity of the field and knowledge of the borders and their location.


5. The findings show that male students draw more accurate mental maps, which suggests a better knowledge of the route of the Green Line and the location of settlements in the West Bank

Fleishman and Salomon (2008) findings – if true – should help us understand some of the causes for ignorance of the green line. Israel should not avoid providing children with knowledge of the green line. It Is too important  - and our mental maps deceive us too much.


What do you suggest Israel should do? Should maps in Israeli schools outline the green line?






  1. YosefaleFebruary 9, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    The answer to this question is YES. schools should introduce the green line to Israeli pupils. Regardless their ideological affiliation, for the simple fact that in order to have a meaningful and relevant debate one must have all information available to him. It just like in court of law, you can have a mistrial for not presenting all evidence on time and to all parties. It’s very important to try and have the same definition of the thing you’re arguing about or the argument is futile and leading no where.

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