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September 3, 2015 | 19th Elul 5775

Remembering and forgetting III

Galilee Diary #315, December 10, 2006
Marc J. Rosenstein

Remembering and forgetting III

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I assign this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates."

-Genesis 15:18

If you look at a map in a biblical atlas, of the land of Israel in the time of King Saul, you will discover that Saul's kingdom was primarily in the area we today call the West Bank [of the Jordan], or Judea and Samaria. The coastal strip, all the way down into Gaza, in those days, was in the hands of the Philistines, a powerful sea-going people who had mastered – and held a monopoly on – iron tools and weapons, making them invincible (see I Samuel 13:19-22). And of course, the name Palestine, later, came from the Romans' name for the land of the Philistines. In other words, in Saul's time (around 1000 BCE), the part of the land we call Israel was Philistia/Palestine, and the main part of the land associated with the Palestinian Authority was the kingdom of Israel.

Despite the historical centrality of the "heartland" of Judea and Samaria, the Zionist pioneers of the first half of the 20th century settled primarily along the coast and in the Jezreel and upper Jordan valleys. Hence, when the partition of the land along the lines of population densities was proposed and debated between 1937 and 1947, the Jewish state was assigned those areas where the Jewish people had purchased land and where the pioneers had settled – leaving the West Bank designated for the Palestinian state, along with the western Galilee and Gaza. The War of Independence in 1948 converted this boundary into an internationally recognized armistice line, called (based on cartographic custom) "the Green Line." From 1948 to 1967 we all knew what Israel looked like – the shoulder of the Galilee, the narrow waist of the coastal strip, the broad triangle of the Negev.

In 1967 Israel conquered the West Bank, but did not annex it, keeping it under military occupation pending a final resolution of its status. That situation continues to the present. What of the Green Line? Those Israelis who believe that Judea and Samaria must become part of the state – for historic, religious, and/or strategic reasons – have a tendency to prefer maps from which the Green Line has been erased. Hence, our previous Minister of Education, from the right-wing Likud party, encouraged the publication of textbooks whose maps did not demarcate a boundary between Israel and Judea and Samaria, implying that all the land west of the Jordan is Israel. Meanwhile, Palestinian nationalists agreed on this one point with the Israeli right, also publishing maps without any border other than the Jordan river. The difference, of course, was that for the Israelis the map showed Israel, while for the Palestinians it showed Palestine. When we Jews see a Palestinian map of "Palestine" with no indentation where the Green Line belongs, it makes us angry and afraid; there is no place for us on that map. I suspect that Palestinians see maps of "greater Israel" as similarly provocative.

But now we have a new Minister of Education, from the Labor party, and she has ordered the department's maps to restore the Green Line, as a historical fact that is still "on the books" until agreed otherwise. Needless to say this has aroused quite a tempest: is the presence or absence of the Green Line from schoolbook maps a question of historical accuracy, or defeatism? Chauvinism, or Zionist fulfillment? Education, or politics? History, or fantasy? Fact, or provocation? And who will pay to reprint all those textbooks?

Interestingly, even in the left-wing newspaper Ha'aretz the weather map has no Green Line. It seems that weather phenomena don't recognize even the most emotionally charged and historically fraught borders. Clouds, I guess, have no memory.

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