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ISRAEL / PALESTINE – BULGARIAN JEWISH MAP - 1948 ARAB-ISRAELI WAR: Карта на Израел [Map of Israel]. Zoom


A fascinating ephemeral map of Israel / Palestine made during the Israeli War of Independence (or 1948 Arab-Israeli War) by Bulgarian Jews, showing the territory as still divided into Jewish and Arab zones as proscribed by the 1947 UN Resolution, but before the conclusion of war redrew the boundaries.

Place and Year: N.P, N.D. [but Israel, 1948].
Technique: Whiteprint (blue-on-white) (Fair, wear and stains with old tape repairs (from verso) along old folds, tiny loss at fold vertices), 66.5 x 35.5 cm (26 x 14 inches).
Code: 67480

This fascinating map was printed in Israel by, likely newly-arrived, Bulgarian Jews during the Israeli War of Independence (or 1948 Arab-Israeli War).  It was made by the whiteprint method (the reverse of blueprint), with all text written in Bulgarian Cyrillic.  The map shows Israel / Palestine as being divided into the two Jewish and Arab zones, plus the special zone for Jerusalem, which was to be an international condominium, as proscribed by the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine (Resolution 181), of November 29, 1947 (the inset map, on the left. specifically focusses in the boundaries).


While this ephemeral piece features no imprint or date, it was likely made sometime in the months after the State of Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, claiming the Jewish zone as mandated by the UN.  Immediately thereafter, in what was to be known as either the Israeli War of Independence, or the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, plus Palestinian militia groups, attacked the fledgling country. 


Importantly, the map shows the locations of both ‘Евреи’ (Jewish) and ‘Араби’ (Arab) settlements, both inhabited and abandoned.  It shows that during that war, many Jewish settlements in the West Bank had to be evacuated due to the surge of the Jordanians into the area, whereas Israeli advances in the north and the Negev necessitated the abandonment of some Arab settlements.  The map brilliantly illustrates how geography has made the Arab-Israeli dispute such an intractable issue. 


The map would certainly predate the conclusion of the war in March 1949, and the related armistice agreements, which dramatically redrew the boundaries in Israel’s favour.  Essentially, Israel defeated all its opponents, save for Jordan, which generally held its own.  As such, the war left Israel with 78% of the former Palestine Mandate; Jordan with the West Bank and most of Jerusalem (including the Sacred Old City); and Egypt with only the Gaza Strip.  Notably, the Arab powers denied the Palestinians their dream of forming their own country.  These boundaries would remain in place until Israel took control of all of the former Palestine during the Six Days’ War in 1967.


The present map is intriguing, as it speaks to the great diversity of the Israeli population upon the birth of the nation.  Many Jews arrived in Israel / Palestine after World War II with little or no knowledge of Hebrew or English, so published maps, books, periodical and posters in their native languages.  As the print runs tended to be small, and as many of the works were of an ephemeral nature, these publications tend to be quite rare today, yet they are valuable and authentic artefacts of social history from a transformative period.


Bulgarian Jews in Israel

For many centuries Bulgaria had a small but vibrant Jewish community that played an outsized role in the region’s cultural and economic life.  While the first Bulgarian Jews migrated to Palestine as early as the 1880s, then and for some decades thereafter the number of Bulgarians making aliyah remained very small. 

On the eve of World War II, Bulgaria had a Jewish population of approximately 50,000.  During the war, Tsar Boris III became a puppet of Nazi Germany.  However, in what became known as the ‘Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews’, some of Boris’ officials, in league with leading figures of the Orthodox Church, successfully resisted Nazi attempts to deport and kill the Bulgarian Jews.  Unfortunately, the Jewish communities in Bulgarian-occupied regions of Macedonia and Trace (north-eastern Greece) were not protected and suffered cruel fates.  However, by the the war’s end, the great majority of Bulgaria’s Jews had survived, in sharp contrast to most anywhere else in Europe. 

The period following the war was very trying for the surviving Bulgarian Jews, as strong currents of Anti-Semitism lingered; the economy was in a shamble; and the new Communist regime, established in 1946, was not seen as being especially sympathetic.  Many Jews emigrated, some far away, such as to the United States, Canada or Australia, while others sought new livres in Western Europe.  However, in the decade or so after the war, the majority of Bulgarian Jews immigrated to Palestine (from 1948 Israel).  Some of the early arrivals fought as soldiers during the Israeli War of Independence, while larger waves of immigration came following the conflict.  It is estimated that 43,961 Bulgarians immigrated to Israel between 1948 and 2006, with the majority coming during the early years.  As such, hundreds of thousands of today’s Israelis are of at least partial Bulgarian descent. Today, Bulgarians are the fourth largest group of European decent in Israel.  The only reason why they are not prominent as a distinct community is because they tended to integrate quickly into the mainstream Israeli society.  By contrast, it is estimated that barely 1,200 Jews currently remain in Bulgaria.

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