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From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse MeadowHow Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame$

Mark Monmonier

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780226534657

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226534640.001.0001

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(p.105) Chapter Seven Erasures
From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow
University of Chicago Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the ramifications of political renaming in two persistent trouble spots: Cyprus and Israel. Most of Cyprus's residents speak Greek, write with Greek letters, and observe Greek orthodox traditions, whereas a prominent minority speaks Turkish, uses a 29-letter Roman alphabet with diacritical marks, and worships in mosques. In both Cyprus and Israel, toponymy acquires a special significance when ethnic groups with different languages covet the same territory. Plastered across a country's maps, place names assert ownership, legitimize conquest, and flaunt control. To the victor goes the toponymy along with other spoils of war. But as Palestinian websites demonstrate, the losing side can make its own maps, designed to refresh memory, sustain dreams, and reinforce resentment. Essential for identifying places, geographic names possess a symbolic power that can inflame and claim.

Keywords:   political renaming, Greek, Cyprus, Israel, diacritical marks, toponymy

Disputes more serious than renaming Upper Volta or the Sea of Japan arise when countries covet the same territory, as in Kashmir, torn by overlapping Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese claims. When a sufficiently large map provides a concise description of real and desired boundaries, as on a recent CIA depiction (fig. 7.1), rivals seem not to mind: the map at least registers their claims, and as an apologetic caveat at the bottom observes, “boundary representation is not necessarily authoritative.”1 Hackles rise when a more compact portrait endorses one country's claim or imposes an unacceptable generalized compromise. Microsoft discovered the rhetorical power of maps in the mid-1990s, when India refused to let the software giant import an updated version of its Windows 95 operating system.2 Microsoft's marketing mavens, it turned out, had overlooked the geopolitical implications of a very small-scale world map displayed during the install to help users identify their time zone. Based on a UN map rejected by the Indian government, the time-zone map distorted the country's outline by omitting the disputed provinces of Jammu and Kashmir—an inflammatory gesture mapmakers at Rand McNally and National Geographic would have known. It was an expensive oversight. In addition to an apology, Microsoft had to replace the offending upgrades with a (p.106)


Figure 7.1. Excerpt from U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, “The Disputed Area of Kashmir.”

cartographically acceptable version. To prevent future losses, the company established a Geopolitical Product Strategy Team to advise on a wide range of cartographic, political, and cultural pitfalls. Who says geography doesn't matter!

Feuding neighbors, especially close neighbors with a history of intense animosity aggravated by differences in language and religion, fight over toponyms as well as borders. And when one group forcibly displaces the other, changing the names of places and geographic features seems a logical strategy for consolidating its grip on new territory. It's an old process, nicely illustrated by Amman, Jordan, which was Rabbath Amman (or Ammon) until the third century B.C., when the Egyptian king Ptolemy II Philadelphus captured and renamed it Philadelphia, a label that held until the seventh century, when an expanding Islamic empire restored the name Amman.3 Expel the alien, erase his toponymic imprint, and both map and land are yours. But not without consequences: while renaming might blur the claims of displaced peoples and boost the confidence of conquerors, it can heighten the resentment of refugees and remind the rest of the world (p.107) of the victor's predations, especially when mapmakers insert parenthetical reminders of old place names. This chapter looks closely at the ramifications of political renaming in two persistent trouble spots: Cyprus and Israel.

My first case study looks at the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, who share the third largest island in the Mediterranean. Most of Cyprus's 900, 000 residents speak Greek, write with Greek letters, and observe Greek orthodox traditions, while a prominent minority numbering perhaps 200, 000 speaks Turkish, uses a twenty-nine-letter roman alphabet with diacritical marks, and worships in mosques.4 The most common second language on the island is English, a holdover from British administration, which ended in 1960, and a convenience for British tourists, who contribute significantly to the national economy. A warm and sunny place admitted to the European Union in 2004, Cyprus is a popular destination for tourists from other northern European countries.5 The prospect of increased prosperity through trade and tourism suggests increased cooperation between ethnic rivals occupying opposite sides of a variable-width buffer zone known as the Green Line and patrolled by the United Nations.6 Running roughly east to west across an island with a pronounced longitudinal trend (fig. 7.2), the Green Line separates the Republic of Cyprus from the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey.


Figure 7.2. CIA map shows the UN buffer zone separating Greek and Turkish Cypriots. From U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, “Cyprus.”

(p.108) Concentration of Turkish Cypriots in the north reflects the island's location forty miles (64 km) south of the Turkish coastline. Britain acquired the island from the faltering Ottoman Empire in 1878, ostensibly to protect the Ottoman Turks from Russia, and in exchange for turning over the government to a bi-ethnic democracy in 1960, retained two large military bases, on the southwest and the southeast coasts.7 Many Greek residents resented a constitutional provision that gave Turkish Cypriots, who made up a fifth of the island's population, a disproportionate share of legislative seats and ministerial positions. Although Greek and Turkish Cypriots were unified in their desire for independence from Britain, lack of a distinctive Cypriot nationalism made the new republic vulnerable to separatist agitators, whose violent clashes led to the establishment of a UN peacekeeping force in 1964. Greek Cypriots desired union with Greece—the island was ethnically Greek for three thousand years, even under Ottoman rule—while Turkish Cypriots favored partition into Greek and Turkish provinces.

The Turkish minority got its wish, sort of, in mid-July 1974, when the military junta that had taken over in Athens encouraged a coup d'état by Greek Cypriots in the National Guard, and Turkey sent 40, 000 troops to protect Turkish Cypriots.8 Although the presence of UN peacekeepers and British troops at the two military bases averted a full-scale war between Greece and Turkey, the mid-August ceasefire left Turkish forces in control of 37 percent of the island. De facto partition followed when 180, 000 Greek Cypriots quickly relocated south of the Green Line, and 60, 000 Turkish Cypriots moved north.9 By 1990 only six hundred Greeks were living in the north, and a mere hundred Turks remained in the south.10

While both sides consolidated their holdings, Turkish Cypriots commenced a campaign described by London's Financial Times as “an uncompromising policy of Turkification,”11 censured by the UN as “a form of colonialism and [an] attempt to change illegally the demographic structure of Cyprus,”12 and denounced by politicians in the south as “cultural genocide.”13 Although prone to overstatement, the Republic of Cyprus's Press and Information Office railed against a three-pronged strategy that included stationing 35, 000 Turkish troops on the island, importing 115, 000 Turkish settlers, and trying to “eradicate every trace of a 9, 000 year old cultural and historical heritage.”14 Renaming leads the list of cultural assaults.

(p.109) All Greek place-names have been replaced by Turkish ones. Churches, monuments, cemeteries and archaeological sites have been destroyed, desecrated or looted. Priceless religious and archaeological treasures, part of the world's cultural heritage, are being stolen and smuggled abroad, and illegal excavations and dealings in antiquities are taking place.15

Journalists confirmed the charges, at least anecdotally. A September 1976 article in the Economist reported, “Towns and villages such as Kyrenia and Lapithos which stood empty and ghostly until April are now filled with settlers, some Turkish-Cypriot, some mainland Turks.”16 A 1997 story in the Jerusalem Post described the extent of Turkish “ethnic ‘purification’ of the north”:

Masses of antiquities, including priceless whole collections, have been looted, broken up and sold from the north, church icons included. Irreplaceable painted churches from early Christianity have been hacked to rubble or ruin. The Cypriot government has raced around the world trying to intercept and buy back the most precious items and halt sales of stolen collections.17

In a 2003 article in the Guardian, reporter Paul Hamilos described a visit to Gypsos, his father's birthplace, now called Akova.

… The cemetery was desecrated during the invasion, though some attempt to restore the gravestones has been made. … The Church of St. George, where my parents were married in 1973, has been converted into a mosque, its bells replaced with speakers for the call to prayer.18

Greek Cypriots were not the only victims. A 1999 London Independent report on the “indignities” suffered by Maronite Christians, a tiny Catholic minority affiliated with Rome, described the atrophy of Kormalciti, a village founded seven centuries ago but renamed Korucam as “part of … Turkification.”19

Maps attest to the toponymie purge.20 Compare the Cyprus excerpt from a 1994 Turkish government tourist map (fig. 7.3) with the more recent map in the CIA's World Factbook (fig. 7.2). That the American government does not endorse Turkish renaming is apparent in the disparities for Güzelyurt, Girne, Gazimagusa, and Dipkarpaz, the Turkified replacement names for Morphou, Kyrenia, Famagusta, and Rizokarpaso. Oddly, both the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots adopted new (p.110)


Figure 7.3. Cyprus excerpt from Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Tourism, “Turkey Tourist Map.”

names for the capital, Nicosia, which straddles the Green Line. Equally puzzling, the new names are surprisingly similar, the Greek Cypriots having made Nicosia an exonym by restoring the city's tenth-century Byzantine name, Lefkosia, which their Turkish neighbors render Lefkosa. Intriguingly, the Turkish tourist map includes parenthetical Turkish toponyms for the historically Greek names of three cities along the island's southern coast, but except for Paphos (Baf to the Turks), the Greek and Turkish versions have similar spellings. The map further reveals its persuasive role by highlighting tourist connections with the Turkish mainland and elevating the northern zone to the status of a “Republic” while merely acknowledging the “Greek Cypriot Administration” in the south.

Geographers Sarah Ladbury and Russell King, who mapped name changes across northern Cyprus, uncovered a concerted effort to make Turkish Cypriots from the south feel at home by removing visible signs of Greekness.21 For every Turkish Cypriot who moved north, three Greek Cypriots fled south, leaving whole villages vacant or largely so, and thus ripe for resettling refugees from the south as well as Turks from the mainland. Before 1974 almost all villages in the north had a Greek name, partly because British mapmakers preferred (p.111) Greek toponyms (with an English spelling, of course, for easier pronunciation). In addition to giving Greek villages new names and abandoning the Greek toponym of any village with names in both languages, the government in the north restored the traditional Turkish spelling for Turkish villages like Geunyeli, now spelled Gönyeli. In other cases, a Greek name was merely translated into Turkish. For example, Morphou and its Turkish replacement Güzelyurt both mean “beautiful home.”

Transplanted communities, relocated as a unit to preserve kinship ties and social networks, occasionally requested a name commemorating their old village in the south. After refugees from Erenlcöy were resettled in Maltepe, the new name conferred on the formerly Greek village of Yialousa, the Turkish Cypriot Resettlement Authority agreed to rename it Yeni Erenlcöy, meaning “New Erenlcöy.” Not all requests were honored: although the new occupants of Alcova (known as Gypsos when Paul Hamilos's parents were married there in 1973) all came from a village with the Turkish name Vuda, the government refused to change Akova to Yeni Vuda. To advertise their resentment, defiant residents painted their preferred toponym on walls throughout the village.

Ladbury and King drew an important distinction between the policy of erasing Greek place names, which was “intensely political,” and the new names, which were “not political statements in themselves.”22 They found only one exception, in the village of Karaoglanoglu (formerly Ayios Gheorghios), relabeled to commemorate a Turkish officer killed during the 1974 invasion. By contrast, the government in the south never acknowledged the new Turkish names on its maps or road signs, which still point to Kyrenia and Famagusta. This aversion to renaming includes the many new settlements built to house the south's surplus refugees. Wary that an alphabetic name, even the name of a village abandoned in the north, might imply a permanence that Greek Cypriot leaders were unwilling to concede, officials identified refugee settlements only by area and number, as in “Nicosia 3.” In much the same way that new Turkish names in the north meant the Greeks weren't coming back, sterile temporary names in the south gave refugees hope of someday returning home.

Political renaming was nothing new for the Turks. In 1924 the Turkish government reacted to fear of growing numbers of Kurds in its eastern reaches by banning the use of Kurdish in schools and newspapers (p.112) and replacing Kurdish toponyms on maps and road signs.23 While this earlier purge of place names was perhaps no worse than post-World War I erasures elsewhere in Europe and Asia, the recent episode seems unusually harsh for the late twentieth century. At least that's the opinion of Israeli toponymy expert Naftali Kadmon, a professor of geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a long-standing member of the UN Group of Experts on Geographical Names. His lively book Toponymy: The Lore, Laws and Language of Geographical Names includes a global assessment of contemporary political renaming and credits Turkish Cypriots with “the most extreme form of verbal toponymic warfare.”24

Perhaps out of patriotism, Kadmon says little about Israel's use of toponymy as a weapon. While his anecdotes from UNGEGN meetings and the quinquennial UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names liken the dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots to the conflict between Israelis and Arabs, his critical spotlight falls on the Jordanian cartographers who erased Old Testament names from the map of the Holy Land and their Palestine Liberation Organization counterparts who produced a Palestinian map series on the cheap by photocopying Israel's 1:100, 000 topographic maps, replacing Hebrew names with Arabic names, and substituting the PLO logo for the Survey of Israel copyright notice. Despite his conspicuous silence on Israeli renaming, Kadmon candidly concedes as “a ‘fact of life’ that geographical names and their manipulation can be used as arguments by either side in a political conflict.”25

His countryman Meron Benvenisti is less circumspect. An author widely respected for his insights on Arab-Israeli tensions, Benvenisti begins his book Sacred Landscape: The Buried Histoi y of the Holy Land Since 1948 with a detailed account of a toponymic struggle with roots reaching back more than two millennia. Where Kadmon dismisses complaints that Israeli maps suppress Arab names with the valid observation that “all Arab towns and villages in Israel carry their Arabic names, and these appear in official Israeli maps,”26 Benvenisti draws a less kindly conclusion: while renaming elsewhere in the world largely restored names that “had existed for countless generations [with] each ethnolinguistic group having its own version … only in Israel was a new toponymy imposed by an official naming committee, which invented most of it.”27

While the current Arab-Israeli conflict can be traced to the late nineteenth (p.113) century, when Zionists urged European Jews to escape persecution by returning en masse to their biblical homeland, the toponymic dispute began in earnest in the 1920s, when Palestine was a British mandate, established at the Paris Peace Conference to administer the former Ottoman territory and foster Jewish immigration under the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The British administrators made detailed, systematic mapping a priority and set about compiling an official list of Arab, English, and Hebrew names for readily identifiable places, including Zionist settlements. (Most places had an Arab name, many had a Hebrew name, some had both, and all were now to have an English name.) To ensure accuracy, officials asked the Jewish Society for the Study of the Land of Israel, a volunteer Zionist group whose membership included experts in local history, to suggest, correct, or approve Hebrew toponyms for 360 places and historic sites on a draft list.28 Because many of the locations were Arab villages, the society supplied, corrected, or approved only 145 Hebrew toponyms, all of which were included in the First List of Names in Palestine, published in 1925 with the approval of Britain's Permanent Committee on Geographical Names.

A second, much longer list appeared in 1931. Compiled by the mandate's education department without consulting either the Jewish Society or the PCGN, the tediously titled Transliteration from Arabic and Hebrew into English, from Arabic into Hebrew, and from Hebrew into Arabic, with Transliterated Lists of Personal and Geographical Names for Use in Palestine angered the Jewish community by replacing Hebrew names from the 1925 list with Arab names transliterated into Hebrew.29 Thus, instead of Ashqelon, an established Hebrew name with a biblical pedigree, the new list called for Isdud, a transliteration of the Arabic toponym ‘Isdud. The General Council of the Jewish Community of Palestine denounced this “bastardization” as “a crass offense to the Hebrew language,” and the PCGN joined the protest with its own complaints, as did several government departments and even members of Parliament.30 Aware that Hebrew toponyms were linguistically and historically complex as well as politically sensitive, the British administration withdrew the 1931 list, reaffirmed its endorsement of Hebrew names in the 1925 roster, sanctioned any Hebrew name used by generations of Hebrew speakers, and made the Place-Names Committee of the Jewish National Fund the unofficial authority on Hebrew names in Palestine and a strong influence on the systematic naming (p.114) of new settlements.31 When Israel achieved independence in 1948, many members of the National Fund committee were appointed to the official Israel Place-Names Committee established by the prime minister's office.

Not surprisingly, nation-building is a dominant theme in Israeli applied toponymy, with Zionist symbolism particularly prominent before 1948, and names connoting connections with the biblical past comparatively common after statehood. Geographers Saul Cohen and Nurit Kliot, who studied the ideology of Israeli place names, classified 889 Hebrew toponyms, mostly for villages, towns, and cities.32 Among 346 places established between 1880 and 1948, 29 percent of the names had an ancient biblical or Talmudic association, 23 percent honored Zionist leaders or philanthropists, and 8 percent commemorated military victories, war heroes, and the like. For the 543 places established between 1949 and 1979, the proportions of ancient and military-heroism names rose to 46 and 10 percent, respectively, while the share for the national Zionist category dropped to 12 percent. According to Cohen and Kliot, this shift reflects a perceived need after 1948 to emphasize continuity with the Old Testament Kingdom of Israel and a diminished desire to commemorate Zionist benefactors.

A new pattern of naming followed the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israeli forces took control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, as well as the Sinai, returned to Egypt in 1982. As part of “Greater Israel,” the new “Administrative Territories” fulfilled the right-wing Likud Party's ambitions for a more defensible perimeter and afforded an opportunity for establishing new settlements, all requiring Hebrew names. Ancient biblical themes remained popular, accounting for 36 percent of the 174 place names established in occupied areas between 1967 and 1988, while national Zionist and military-heroism themes dropped to 7 and 6 percent, respectively, perhaps to avoid antagonizing the new settlements' Arab neighbors—as Cohen and Kliot point out, most of the new settlements are in areas densely populated by Palestinians.33 By contrast, abstract names like Orim (meaning “lights”) or ‘Alumim (“youth”)—which connote joy, stability, or confidence—account for 22 percent of the new toponyms, up from 15 percent for “Old” pre-1967 Israel. Instead of symbolizing connections with Israel's historic past, abstract names signify change and optimism.

Maps reveal a striking contrast between the occupied territories, (p.115) where most Arab names hang on nicely, and pre-1967 Israel, which witnessed a wholesale eradication of Arab toponyms. Meron Benvenisti, who considers nationalist renaming arrogant and dishonest, condemns the Israel Place-Names Committee for endorsing Hebrew names retroactively in the early 1950s while rejecting Arab toponyms made official decades earlier by the British. In chiding Kadmon for “resort[ing] to half truths”34 by asserting that “a governmental naming authority had never been set up in this country”35 Benvenisti notes tartly, and with measured sarcasm, that “the British Mandatory governmental authority, which has scrupulously attended to the standardization of names—perhaps even with excessive zeal—never ‘existed,’ in the opinion of this Israeli scholar, since it was a colonial authority rather than a Jewish-Israeli one.”36

In their rush to resurrect biblical place names, Israeli toponymists occasionally labeled uncertain locations. Finding Old Testament places on the contemporary landscape is difficult and potentially controversial, especially when the name disappeared from local usage and the biblical reference is vague. Benvenisti's examples include Yotvata and Mount Hor, ancient names from chapter 33 of the book of Numbers. A tourist pausing at Yotvata “on the road to Eilat, is convinced that he or she is actually stopping at the site of one of the encampments of the Children of Israel during their wanderings in the desert.”37 Disclaimers hidden in obscure documents don't make these careless appellations any less misleading. A particularly controversial example is the placement of Mount Hor, where Moses' brother Aaron was buried, in the central Negev, an arid area southwest of the Dead Sea. Although traditional Jewish and Muslim texts place Aaron's burial site in ancient Edom, within present-day Jordan, Zionist mapmakers wanted it on Israeli soil. When scholarly evidence made this appellation untenable, mapmakers relabeled it Mount Zin but left the name Mount Hor on the map in parentheses.38

A different kind of controversy arose in 1939, when Tel Aviv's leading rabbis complained to the National Fund committee about the cartographic commemoration of ancient Sodom by the toponyms Sodom Colony and Sodom Workers Camp. Angered because Sodom connoted homosexuality, the chief rabbis insisted that “this ugly name … be erased immediately from our maps and our children's lips.”39 Whether their complaint prompted a relabeling is difficult to determine: neither name appears among the 7, 700 toponyms in the 1983 (p.116) Gazetteer of Israel compiled by U.S. Defense Mapping Agency from official Israeli sources, but there's a Sodom listed as a variant of the official spelling Sedom.40 However compelling this cartographic inscription on the southwest shore of the Dead Sea, few archaeologists accept it as the historic site of the sinful city destroyed in the book of Genesis.41 This is just another example of the Zionist obsession with making the Hebrew map look biblical.

Israeli renaming also reflects wholesale abandonment of Arab villages in 1948, when the British pulled out, Israel's neighbors invaded, and the better-trained Israeli army captured considerable Arab land.42 In dissolving the British Mandate, the UN had partitioned Palestine into interlocking Arab and Jewish states, separated by a long, awkwardly porous border. Determined to defend its new, shorter perimeter, the Israeli government expelled Arabs who had not fled and demolished entire villages, expunging their Arab names from the cartographic landscape. In many cases, leveled areas became fields or orchards for Israeli farmers; in others, an abandoned site proved an advantageous location for a new settlement, with a Hebrew name naturally. Israeli historian Benny Morris documented the process in his book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949. A pair of dot maps inventory 369 Arab villages abandoned in 1948–49 because of fear, military attack, coercion by Jewish forces or Arabs, or “psychological warfare,” and 186 Jewish settlements established during the same period.43 Although the second map has fewer dots, its pattern is remarkably similar. In early 1949, as Morris observed, “the political desire to have as few Arabs as possible in the Jewish State and the need for empty villages to house new Jewish immigrants meshed with the strategic desire to achieve Arab-less' frontiers.”44

To comprehend what happened, I visited my university's map library, located the drawer with topographic maps for what was Palestine and is now Israel, and set about comparing pre- and post- independence landscapes. Examples of abandoned villages were easy to find. The one I chose includes a small mesa-like feature marked by hachures (lower left of figs. 7.4 and 7.5) and labeled Tall Kisan by the British and Tel Kison by the Israelis.45 (Tel, the map key notes, means “hill” or “ruin.”) This landmark and a pair of intersecting highways made it easy to extract corresponding excerpts, which I enlarged to focus on details easily lost among grid lines, elevation contours, and topographic symbols. (p.117)


Figure 7.4. The vicinity of Tall Kisan and the village of Al Birwa as portrayed on Sheet 2, Haifa, of the 1:100,000 Map of Palestine, published by the Survey of Palestine in 1943. Excerpt has been enlarged to approximately 1:62,500. Grid lines 1 km (0.76 mile) apart afford a sense of scale.

The area is about ten miles northeast of Haifa. Three villages shown as mere dots on Morris's first map appear as dark splotches on the 1943 Survey of Palestine map (fig. 7.4). Narrow road symbols partition the largest village, A1 Birwa, into three irregularly shaped blocks of densely packed masonry buildings. Bushy, treelike symbols immediately west represent orchards, while narrower vertical tree symbols on the other sides portray olive trees. Two miles south, Ad Damun has a smaller cartographic footprint with olive groves on the north, (p.118)


Figure 7.5. Tel Kison and the site of the abandoned village of Al Birwa as portrayed on Sheet 3, Hefa, of the 1:100, 000 Map of Israel, published by the Survey of Israel in 1988. Excerpt has been enlarged to approximately 1:62, 500 and cropped to correspond to the area shown on figure 7.4.

west, and south. As with A1 Birwa, dashed lines show footpaths leading eastward toward higher ground. The double-dashed lines heading north and west are unpaved roads leading downward to the Mediterranean Sea's comparatively flat coastal plain, a suitable site (the map reveals) for landing small aircraft. A mile farther south is Ar Ruweis, with a slightly smaller cartographic presence in a similar topographic setting. All three villages are on the lower eastward flanks of rugged terrain rising to the west. Abrupt turns along the paved north-south (p.119) road reflect a compromise between minimizing gradient and serving foothill villages.

That was then. Although the road network and some less conspicuous topographic clues helped me locate their sites on the 1988 Survey of Israel map (fig. 7.5), cartographically the three villages simply disappeared. New paved roads run east to west across the sites of the two smaller villages, while A1 Birwa is now just a vacant spot on the map, shunned by the planners who laid out Ahihud, a new settlement of detached buildings just downhill and closer to the main road, now Route 70. Missing symbols indicate that dirt roads and footpaths also dropped off the map after the Arab villagers left. According to a table accompanying Morris's map, villagers abandoned A1 Birwa around June 11, 1948—a question mark concedes uncertainty about the date. The code for “decisive cause” attributes their exodus to a “military assault on the settlement by Jewish troops.”46 Similar threats emptied A1 Birwa's smaller neighbors on July 15–16.

Gone but not forgotten, all three villages survive in cyberspace at PalestineRemembered.com, “the home of all ethnically cleansed Palestinians.” Alphabetical and cartographic indexes point to descriptions of abandoned villages and their former inhabitants. The index for the District of Acre (fig. 7.6) shows al-Birwa, al-Damun, and al-Ruways as dots 23, 24, and 26, identified below in romanized Arabic.


Figure 7.6. The three Arab villages in figure 7.4 carry on as dots 23, 24, and 26 on the District of Acre map from PalestineRemembered.com.

(p.120) It's an interactive map, and the dots are hyperlinks. Click on dot 23, and the server responds with census statistics and other facts about a community with 224 houses in 1931 and 1, 460 inhabitants (1, 330 Muslims and 130 Christians) in 1945. “Mostly destroyed” by the Israelis, al-Birwa once had a mosque, a church, and two schools. Although it's not apparent on the 1988 map, “three houses, two shrines, and one of the village schools remain standing.” According to Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, who is quoted extensively on the Web site, “All of these landmarks stand deserted amid cactuses, weeds, and fig, olive, and mulberry trees. The debris of destroyed houses punctuates the vegetation. There are also some graves near the site that are in a state of neglect. Part of the site and the land are farmed by the residents of Achihud,” labeled Ahihud on the 1988 map. The second of two “Israeli settlements on town lands” is Kibbutz Yas'ur, just across Route 70. Hyperlinks summon several photographs, one showing “the houses of the Jewish settler [sic] built on stolen lands.” Bitterness seems unavoidable but restrained.

PalestineRemembered.com is an electronic version of what Meron Benvenisti calls the “Arab map of Israel,” a motley collection of mostly small-scale maps designed “to perpetuate the names of Arab villages that had been destroyed.”47 Web sites bring another dimension to the Palestinian complaint with charges of ethnic cleansing and demands for reparations if not repatriation for 700, 000 Arab refugees.48 Deir Yassin Remembered (www.deiryassin.org) recalls April 8, 1948, when “the mainstream Jewish defense force, the Haganah, authorized [an attack by] irregular terrorist forces of the Irgun and the Stern Gang,” and “over 100 men, women, and children were systematically murdered.”49 Although repatriation is improbable—weekly attacks on civilians by suicide bombers only stiffen Israeli resistance to increasing its Arab minority—refugees have lingering memories of hastily abandoned property valued at over $24 billion.50 The United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, formed in 1948, has yet to negotiate a settlement, but its massive database includes a computerized geographic information system linking property records to scanned images of 5, 625 maps.51 Place names are surely a key component of the data, which remain confidential.

As the maps of Cyprus and Israel illustrate, toponymy acquires a special significance when ethnic groups with different languages covet the same territory. Plastered across a country's maps, place (p.121) names assert ownership, legitimize conquest, and flaunt control. To the victor goes the toponymy along with other spoils of war. But as Palestinian Web sites demonstrate, the losing side can make its own maps, designed to refresh memory, sustain dreams, and reinforce resentment. Essential for identifying places, geographic names possess a symbolic power that can inflame as well as claim.


(1.) U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, “The Disputed Area of Kashmir.”

(4.) The Population Reference Bureau Web site put the island's mid-2003 population at 900,000; see Population Reference Bureau, Data Finder. Although Northern Cyprus has not had a census since 1978, an official Web site reported the 2000 population as 210, 047, which might be a bit high as well as questionably precise. See Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, “Introductory Survey.”

(5.) Reunification of Cyprus is a goal of the European Union, which admitted it in hope of rapprochement. See Peel, “Trouble Is Brewing for Europe over Cyprus.” Turkey, itself eager for EU membership, has encouraged Turkish Cypriots to cooperate. See Sachs, “With Eye on Europe.”

(6.) Hoge, “Cyprus Greeks and Turks Agree on Plan.”

(7.) For a fuller historical background to the Cyprus conflict, see Minority Rights Group, Cyprus; and Solsten, Cyprus.

(8.) Tartter, “National Security,” esp. 219.

(9.) Estimated numbers of refugees vary between 170, 000 and 200, 000 Greek Cypriots and between 40, 000 and 60, 000 Turkish Cypriots. For examples, see Meleagrou and Yesilada, “The Society and Its Environment,” esp. 80, 89; and Calotychos, “Interdisciplinary Perspectives,” esp. 8.

(10.) Tartter, “National Security,” 221.

(11.) See, for example, Barchard, “Turkey Unperturbed by Hellenic Uproar.”

(13.) Tassos Papadopoulos (president of Republic of Cyprus), speech at official dinner, November 25, 2003.

(14.) Republic of Cyprus Press and Information Office, “Results of Invasion.”

(16.) “Cyprus,” Economist.

(17.) O'Dwyer, “Candle in the Sea.”

(18.) Hamilos, “Comment and Analysis.”

(19.) Huggler, “No Children to Hear the Village Bell.”

(20.) Also see Kadmon, Toponymy, 80–81.

(21.) Ladbury and King, “Settlement Renaming in Turkish Cyprus.”

(22.) Ibid., 364.

(23.) Culcasi, “Cartographic Representations of Kurdistan in the Print Media,” 43; and Izady, The Kurds, 61.

(24.) Kadmon, Toponymy, 80.

(25.) Ibid., 82.

(27.) Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape, 54.

(28.) Katz, “Identity, Nationalism, and Placenames,” esp. 105–6.

(29.) Government of Palestine, Transliteration … of Personal and Geographical Names for Use in Palestine.

(30.) Letter from Izhak Ben-Zvi to the general secretary of the government of Palestine, quoted in Katz, “Identity, Nationalism, and Placenames,” 108.

(31.) Cohen and Kliot, “Israel's Place-Names as Reflections of Continuity and Change.”

(33.) Cohen and Kliot, “Place-Names in Israel's Ideological Struggle.”

(34.) Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape, 45.

(35.) Kadmon, Eretz Israel, quoted in ibid., 45.

(36.) Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape, 45.

(37.) Ibid., 20.

(38.) Ibid., 20–21; also see Bar-Am, “In the Middle of Nowhere.” Questions also arose about the correct location of Mount Sinai; see Fishkoff “Looking for Mount Sinai.”

(39.) Benvenisti cites Central Zionist Archive KKL/5/20503 as the source for this quote but provides no further details; see Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape, 32.

(40.) Hourani and Heyda, Gazetteer of Israel, 150.

(41.) For insights on the site's uncertainty, see MacDonald, East of the Jordan, 45–61.

(42.) For a concise cartographic summary of the evolution of Israel and its border, see U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The Gaza Strip and West Bank.

(43.) Maps and tables listing village names and reasons for abandonment are in Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, viii–xx; quotation on xiv.

(44.) Ibid., 237.

(45.) For a concise description of topographic maps for Israel, see Parry and Perkins, World Mapping Today, 314–16.

(46.) Ibid., xiv-xv.

(47.) Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape, 43.

(48.) See, for example, Deir Yassin Remembered; and the MidEast Web Maps, Palestine maps. Also see MidEast Web Maps, “The Israeli Camp David II Proposals for Final Settlement.”

(49.) Deir Yassin Remembered. Revisionist Israeli historian Benny Morris confirms the date and the slaughter: “The IZL/LHI attack on Deir Yassin near Jerusalem on 9 April ended not only in a massacre but also in the expulsion by the conquering unit of the surviving Arab villagers.” See Morris, 1948 and After, 84.

(50.) I slightly inflated an estimate, reported in 1998 dollars, as “nearly $24 billion.” See Kershner, “The Refugee Price Tag.” This figure does not include the lesser but not inconsiderable value of property left behind by Jewish immigrants from Arab states. See Rischbach, “An Answer for Jews and Palestinians.” Neither group of refugees has been compensated.

(51.) Fischbach, Records of Dispossession, esp. 338–39.