Israel back on map

Before, left, and after photos of an interactive map at the Westfield Wheaton mall shows that Israel actually was depicted on the map but had been covered up by stickers. Photos by Suzanne Pollak
Before, left, and after photos of an interactive map at the Westfield Wheaton mall shows that Israel actually was depicted on the map but had been covered up by stickers. Photos by Suzanne Pollak

A huge floor-to-ceiling map at the Westfield Wheaton Mall (Wheaton Plaza) was removed Monday, following complaints that it was a distorted depiction of the Middle East, omitting Israel while including Palestine, misplacing Tel Aviv, misrepresenting the shape of the West Bank and not mentioning Gaza.

Following numerous emails on the Jewish Silver Spring listserve complaining that Israel was not listed as a country on the map, and a flurry of phone calls to mall management, a decision was made to take down the map. During its removal Jan. 6, events took an unusual turn.

As one mall employee began to pull the brightly colored map down, he curiously walked over to where the Middle East was depicted and removed three-in-a-row white population stickers only to find the word Israel clearly printed underneath.

The map was installed for both fun and educational use by shoppers, who plotted a dot on their birth country “in a testament to the rich cultural diversity of our customer base, the general Wheaton area and our nation,” noted Ken Buckner, marketing director for Westfield Wheaton.

The map was an interactive one, and shoppers were asked to put a sticker where they were from. The entire map had a multitude of these stickers, and it would be very hard to determine if the stickers covering the word Israel were intentionally, and more specifically maliciously, placed.
The map was titled Many Nations, One America and thousands of shoppers viewed it and placed their individual dot on it, according to mall officials.

Despite realizing that Israel was identified on the map, the mall staff decided to take it down anyway. That map has been on view near the food court on the second floor by J. C. Penney for more than half a year, having been installed around July 4.

“The map was extremely popular with both customers and mall/shop employees, and was used as a centerpiece of Westfield Wheaton’s hosting and participation in the 2013 World of Montgomery Festival in October,” explained Buckner. “The map was featured on Westfield Wheaton’s dedicated pages inside the festival’s official ‘Passport,’ which was given to over 5,000 festival-goers.”

While mall officials chose not to speak directly about the depiction of the Middle East, at least one person who had emailed the mail to complain received an email back from Brent Wise, general manager of Westfield Wheaton, which stated in part, “Thank you so much for taking the time today to speak with me regarding the Map near JC Penney’s. I assure you that Westfield would never intentionally or knowingly try to offend anyone.”

One woman who had said she “was very troubled” when she first saw the map and had taken a photograph of it was relieved yet still concerned about the location of both Israel and Palestine once she was told what had happened.

Palestine was identified on the map in the same type style and size as other countries throughout the world. However, according to the United Nations, Palestine is a nonmember observer state and not a country of its own.

Warren Manison of Potomac called the map “troublesome. We ought to be very concerned.” Although he did not see the map himself, Manison said he heard from others that Palestine was drawn spreading from Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. “That’s their calling card,” he said, pointing to what he referred to as Palestinians who work to demonize Israel and hope one day to locate their own country there.

“It’s pathetic that they put that up,” he said.

The map was made specifically for Westfield Mall and was not installed at any of the company’s other malls throughout the country. Mall management would not divulge the name of the vendor that produced the map for them.

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