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Who’s Afraid of the Green Line?

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A metal post marking the Green Line in the Maccabim area.
A metal post marking the Green Line in the Maccabim area.Credit: David Bachar

The laudable decision of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality to hang maps in classrooms showing the Green Line – the internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank – has created a storm. The Education Ministry and the State Mapping Center have opposed the move, which challenges the 55-year-old ban that the government imposed on the Green Line. This ban has left most Israelis, young and old, ignorant of its existence.

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Beyond the important discussion about the absence of the Green Line from Israeli maps, the bigger picture should not be forgotten: While the line has been erased for Israelis, for Palestinians it has deepened in the service of creating a regime of Jewish supremacy for the entire land of Israel/Palestine.

Already at the end of the 1960s, Israel decided to remove the Green Line from official maps while at the same time asserting Jewish control over Palestinian territories. This control was established on the ground by expropriating land, colonizing resources, creating closed military zones, establishing vast Jewish “shepherding” ranches and the designation of vast lands as “security areas.” But no less important, the creeping annexation developed and advanced on official maps, through erasing the international border while adding the names of some 200 Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

Many have rightly argued that erasing the line from the maps made it possible to imagine the entire Land of Israel (between Jordan and the sea) as the State of Israel, thereby legitimizing the colonization of the West Bank by Jews, which is considered a severe war crime under international law. At the same time, erasure of the Green Line has now made it possible for Aviv Geffen, a leading Israeli pop singer previously identified with the left, to conduct his campaign of obsequiousness in front of the lords of the land in the settlement of Beit El, without fears or doubts, as if he were performing inside his country and not on expropriated Palestinian land in occupied territory.

The erasure of the Green Line is also evident in the way that settlers are part and parcel of the Israeli political system while the Palestinians living right beside them are excluded. It’s not a theoretical issue: In 10 of the last 13 elections, the votes of settlers were decisive in preventing the formation of a center-left government.

Ahead of the next election, it is worth noting the glaring anomaly: Israelis accept it as a matter of course that settler politicians like Zeev Elkin and Avigdor Lieberman sit in the cabinet, that Itamar Ben Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich and many other settlers are in the Knesset. No other country, as far as we know, allows lawmakers or ministers to live outside its borders. At the same time, the Palestinian permanent residents, ruled by the same Israeli regime, have no political rights. This is not democracy.

At the same time, for the Palestinians, an opposite process is taking place: namely the strengthening and deepening of the Green Line. Over the last 30 years, the relative freedom of movement to enter Israel that Palestinians once enjoyed has diminished considerably. It began out of fear of terrorist attacks, but as time went by, barring entry to Israel became an instrument for determining the political relations between the Jordan River and the sea. The Green Line returned big-time into the lives of Palestinians and today constitutes a complete system of suppression in the form of physical obstacles and fences, as well as legal and political barriers.

Credit: Eran Wolkovsky

The separation barrier (most of which lies east of the Green Line) is an important part of this system, side by side with the legal tools, such as the “citizenship law” and planning and land policies that deny Palestinians on either side of the Green Line the basic civil rights of equality, freedom to immigrate, possess property or establish a family or community.

The result is that the Green Line and the separation barrier constitute a one-way physical and legal barrier on the national scale. From the Palestinian viewpoint, the Green Line and the barrier are a physical obstacle and a borderline all at once. From the perspective of the Jews, the Green Line and the barrier are neither an obstacle nor a border.

This feature of the Green Line gets Israel, in practice, on the “inside” without being compelled to accept the fact that the land on the other side is on the “outside.” If a border typically and legally fixes the division between two sovereignties, the one-way Green Line enables the constant expansion of one side’s sovereignty at the expense of the other, while usurping international law.

The Green Line regime is only the tip of the iceberg: Its duplicity (open for Jews, shut for Palestinians) set the stage for an apartheid rule over the entire land, in which Jews have freedom of movement, residence, work and property rights over almost the entire area, while the Palestinians are limited to enclosed compounds and lack political, property and movement rights outside them. In between are the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, who enjoy relative freedom of movement, but their rights to family life, to own property or establish their own communities are compromised due to the racist administration of the territory.

The Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Council did well in deciding to expose the simple truth in its classrooms. It would be right for other municipalities and academic and professional bodies, such as the universities, the Bar Association and the Israeli Geographical Association, restore the line to their maps for the sake of accuracy, justice and the law. Likewise, it would be appropriate for the political parties that support peace to do the same ahead of the election.

More than that, this is a wake-up call, a warning to Israeli society to put the Green Line back on our physical and mental maps. Only then will the picture emerge, and widespread opposition begin to the deepening apartheid regime that is taking place right before our eyes, with the kind help of the silent maps created by the state.

Prof. Oren Yiftachel teaches political and legal geography at Ben-Gurion University. Michael Sfard is an attorney who represents occupied Palestinians and Israelis who oppose the occupation.

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