Don’t Sign On the Green Line

The recently launched ‘Sign On The Green Line’ campaign, which urges Anglo-Jewish institutions to agree to insert the 1949 armistice line into their maps of Israel, purports to be a purely educational pressure group. Seeing as that line represents the internationally-recognised boundaries of the Jewish State, it makes sense to the sixteen founding students and the handful of persuaded left-leaning communal organisations to impose it on their maps. The campaign insists this is a purely educational and uncontroversial effort, with no political undertones. This cannot be further from the truth.

Given that the campaign was backed by Yachad, an organisation whose Zionist bona fides have been questioned by the umbrella Zionist Federation, which has voted to deny it entry, the notion that the campaign has no political interest beggars belief.

Moreover, the very idea that drawing different borders on maps can possibly be politically neutral is incredible. The campaign itself readily observes that ‘maps affect our perspective,’ so clearly it wishes for this educational policy to have some effect on the Anglo-Jewish community – particularly its young – otherwise what purpose would it serve? And that effect is profoundly political: it aspires to raise doubt in our minds as to Israel’s claim to any territory beyond that armistice line. That, after all, is precisely why the international community is so keen on establishing it as Israel’s frontier.

Yet to acquiesce to the campaign’s demand would be deeply damaging to communal education and to Israel’s welfare. Emphasising the 1949 armistice line is a refusal to take into account not only the aspirations of some of the greatest Zionist thinkers and Israeli pioneers (whose views are apparently of less educational utility) but also what has changed since Israel’s War of Independence. The armistice never settled Israel’s conflict with its neighbours nor provided it with the security it justly craves – so much so that Israel’s legendary diplomat and Foreign Secretary, Abba Eban, described the green line as an ‘Auschwitz border’.

Israel has also gone on to annex part of the territory over the green line, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The former annexation united Israel’s capital and incorporated into Israel, among other sites, the Kotel, so central to Judaism and consequently also to every Israel Tour and Birthright trip; while the latter has helped to keep historically implacable Syrian belligerence, and more pressingly that country’s present civil war, further from Israeli population centres. To ignore these legal developments is blithely to dismiss the democratic decision of the Israeli people and to stand not with Israel in its effort to draw its own borders, but with those who wish to deny Israel that right.

And then there are the Israeli communities over the green line, on the so-called West Bank, a name for the biblical territories of Judea and Samaria that serves to strengthen Arab claims to that land. Would it not be of enormous educational value to exhibit those communities on a map of Israel? Such a map would, incidentally, replicate the maps used during the Oslo Accords, a process led by Yitzchak Rabin. As the IDF’s Chief of Staff in the Six-Day War (when those territories were won by Israel in a war initiated by the Arabs), he knew all too well the dangers that line represented, and he therefore laboured as prime minister to ensure it would not become Israel’s final border.

The campaign to sign on the green line thus, among other things, fails to take into account the legal and topographical changes that have taken place in Israel since Israel’s War of Independence. Ironically, the campaign also fails to take into account how little has changed on the Arab side. Israel’s War of Independence was launched by the Arab world because the latter refused to recognise an independent Jewish State in its midst. It is that recognition that Israel’s current prime minister believes is at the heart of this conflict and he has therefore made it a red line for Israel’s negotiators. Anglo-Jewish education would be far better served by the community signing not on the green line but on that red one instead.

About the Author
Jonathan Neumann writes on religion and politics.