Opinion

The Israeli Student's Map of Israel

In a class of 40 university students, only one knew what the Green Line is – not much of a surprise in a country where nationalism must be religious

Student A. lives in a settlement. She’s the only person in a class of 40 who could explain what the term “Green Line” – Israel’s pre-1967 border – means. But she doesn’t know that the Green Line is a border. “I only know that I live beyond the Green Line,” she said.

A. is a curious, assertive student and a social activist. She says she’s not religious, but she touches the mezuzah on the doorpost when she enters the classroom.

Student M. is a Bedouin from the Negev town of Rahat. He’s also well-informed and curious, and wants to keep studying until he gets his master’s degree. He also doesn’t know where the Green Line begins and ends. To him, Nablus in the West Bank and Rahat are in one country, the State of Israel, just as A. doesn’t see the Green Line that separates the settlement she lives in from the State of Israel.

They aren’t the only ones. In all the years I’ve been teaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hundreds of students have answered the question “what is the Green Line?” on the final exam. Their answers are many and varied, but rarely correct.

Some say it’s a name for the boundaries as stipulated in the Balfour Declaration, some say it’s the border between Judea and Samaria within the West Bank, and some say it’s the border between Israel and the Arab countries. To the students, the map of the settlement projected on a screen looks like a work of art. The patchwork of colored splashes that show the settlements confuses and worries them.

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They ask: “Will we have to know how to draw the map on the exam?” “Do we have to remember the names of the settlements”? They’ve never heard the term “settlement blocs.” “Everything is one bloc, I don’t see any blocs,” a student remarked.

Except for Student A., only three others had ever visited a settlement in the West Bank. Many have been to the Golan Heights but were surprised to learn that the communities there are also settlements. In a year they’ll have finished their studies and earned a B.A. Some of them, especially the Bedouin men and women, will become teachers and teach hundreds of students what they themselves don’t know.

Light years from there, in a school in Ra’anana north of Tel Aviv, a debate is roiling about covering the loins of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man.” Sometime before, in Kfar Sava, a storm broke out over the separation of boys and girls at a theater performance. In Ashdod, a revolt broke out over the opening of stores on the Sabbath. Educational Television’s satire show “Gav Ha’uma,” a supposed bastion of the secular community, presents infuriating examples every week of increased religiosity in Israel.

The debate over the meaning of the Green Line and incidents like those in Ra’anana and Kfar Sava address mainly symptoms or symbols of increased religiosity. But there is no debate over the connection between religiosity, or religion, and nationalist patriotism, between religion and the erasing of the Green Line from the consciousness and the education system, and between faith in God and faith in the ownership of occupied territory.

That is, there is widespread agreement that if the state is Jewish, it is God who created it. If it is a haven for the Jews of the world, then increased religiosity is part of the package, supposedly an essential component of strengthening Zionism.

The illusion that in a country like this there is a place for distinguishing secular people from religious ones is what feeds the nationalist fraud. This is a country where nationalism must be religious, and thus religion cannot be separated from the state, whose judges are required to rely on Jewish law. It’s a country where the divine promise draws the territorial borders.

If there is irreparable damage to the Zionist idea, it’s in the political consensus that the state will serve religion and will have no basis for existence without it. This dangerous concept has had enormous success, and Student A. and Student M. are the proof of that. But the loins of the “Vitruvian Man” are more interesting.

File photo: A Jewish settler looks at the West Bank urban settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, from the E-1 area on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, in December 2012.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP