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Strange Maps

This map turns the San Francisco Bay Area into the Middle East

Thought experiment: What if you graft Israel's borders onto the San Francisco Bay Area?
The borders look familiar and so does the coastline—but not together, on the same map.

Ah, California: its warm climate and beautiful beaches; its militarized borders and endless wars. Wait, what? Well, America’s Golden State shares the former two aspects with the countries on the western edge of the Mediterranean. The latter two, however, are endemic to Israel and its environs.

This map is a mash-up of both regions: the political geography of the Middle East grafted onto the physical geography of the San Francisco Bay Area. But why? And who is the Doctor Frankenstein who performed this shocking thought experiment?

“Israel (…) has been in the news all my life, but always seemed quite remote,” writes map creator trampolinebears, who lives in the Bay Area.

Tel Aviv is 7,400 miles (12,400 km) from San Francisco—halfway around the world (1). These parts of the world are not just physically distant; their geopolitics could hardly be more different. The Bay Area is part of a much larger, single polity with peace at home. Israel sits at the centre of a region rife with mutual suspicion, enmity and violence—not just between Israelis and Palestinians, but also with, between and within Israel’s neighbors.

That makes for a complex tapestry of shifting alliances and seemingly endless conflicts, a situation that may be hard to imagine on California’s pacific shores. Until you start frankensteining both geographies, that is: “Surprisingly, Israel turns out to fit the San Francisco Bay Area quite nicely, with the sea on one side and the mountains on the other,” writes trampolinebears.

“The distance from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem never meant much to me, but when I think of it as driving down 280 from Palo Alto to San Jose, it fits in my own experience. The Syrian civil war doesn’t seem so far away with ISIS-affiliated fighters in the hills over Vacaville.”

The map crams a bunch of new nations into the Bay Area, each corresponding to one ‘over there’. Local cities are linked to their closest counterparts in the Middle East. In look and feel, the map has a strong National Geographic vibe, for extra believability.

  • San Jose (Jerusalem) is the capital of the State of the Bay (Israel). Only a short drive towards the coast are the cities of Santa Cruz (Ashdod), San Mateo (Tel Aviv), San Francisco (Netanya) and Point Reyes (Haifa). Petaluma is Nazareth, and just beyond are the Calistoga Heights (Golan Heights).
  • The State of the Bay is locked in an uneasy embrace with Alameda (Palestine), a state in two parts: the densely-populated Monterey Strip (Gaza Strip) on the coast, and the East Bay (West Bank), with major centres like Oakland (Tulkarem) and Dublin (Nablus).
  • Parts of the East Bay are under occupation by the State of the Bay. Other parts are administered jointly with or solely by the Alameda National Authority. The State of the Bay has withdrawn from the Monterey Strip, which is now controlled by a breakaway Alamedan party, hostile to both the State of the Bay and the ANA.
  • Beyond Monterey and across the Bay State’s long border beyond the San Benito Desert (Negev Desert) towards Kettleman City (Eilat) lies the San Luis Obispo Wilderness (Sinai peninsula), part of the Republic of Southern California (Egypt).
  • Just beyond Kettleman City, but not bordering the Bay State is the Kingdom of the Mojave (Saudi Arabia). Another Kingdom, San Joaquin (Jordan), lies to the east of the conjoined countries of the Bay and Alameda. Stockton is the capital, Amman. Vacaville the city of Irbid, near the northern border.
  • In theory, the Republic of the Sacramento Valley (Syria) is run from its capital, Williams (Damascus)—pretty close to the Bay State border. In reality, rebel groups of the Free Sacramento Army and (ISIS-affiliated) Berryessa Army, control vast swathes of the country, including just east of the Calistoga Heights, in the Bay State.
  • North of those heights begins Mendocino (Lebanon), with its capital, Fort Bragg (Beirut) a bit further up the coast.

“It’s not a perfect fit: Israel is a few miles thinner at Ashdod and a few miles thicker at Netanya, and there’s no bay along the East Bay (West Bank), but overall I’m quite happy with how these two disparate regions of the world line up,” says trampolinebears.

If the map can help Californians relate to the conflicts in the Middle East, can it perhaps also do the opposite? Switch the coastlines and the political borders, reverse the brackets—Jerusalem (San Jose), etc.—and try to imagine the Middle East as a unified, conflict-free zone: at peace with itself and preoccupied with business and leisure rather than politics and war.

Now there’s a thought experiment.

Map sent in by Martin Foldager. Found here on Reddit.

Strange Maps #903

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(1) If only in a colloquial sense. Since the Earth is an oblate spheroid (science-speak for ‘flatter at the poles, bulging at the equator’), the longest possible distance “halfway across the world” is half of the equatorial circumference, or 12,450 miles (20,035 km). The polar circumference is the shortest possible one; the two furthest points on this circle are 43 miles (70 km) closer together than along the equatorial one.


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