Why is the Green Line not on our schools’ maps?

Mira Sucharov

I always enjoy seeing my kids bring home assignments from Hebrew school, and last week was no exception. On a map of Israel were labelled five major cities whose names the students had to write in Hebrew. I delighted in reminding my son that we have relatives or friends in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, and near Be’er Sheva. There was only one problem with the map, I noticed. There was no Green Line. So to the untrained eye, it looked like Israel’s borders span from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

As I often do when I want to tease out a political conundrum, I took to social media. On my public Facebook page, I offered to donate $36 to charity for the first person who could show me a Green-Line-indicated map of Israel currently being used in any Jewish educational setting. 

Laurie MacDonald Brumberg wrote that a Washington, D.C., Jewish day school has a National Geographic map containing the Green Line hanging in the classroom. Karin Klein of Chicago showed me a Green Line map she said was used at a Schechter day school. And from Gabriel T. Erbs I learned that J Street U has launched an initiative to circulate Green Line maps to educational institutions. David A.M. Wilensky, writing recently in JewSchool, reported that Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs has agreed to champion this among URJ camps and Hebrew schools. Gila Miriam Chait added that Yachad, a pro-Israel, pro-peace group in the United Kingdom, is following suit.

We all know that Middle East maps are heavily invested with the symbolism of legitimacy and delegitimation. The Palestinians have long been accused of erasing Israel from their school maps of Palestine. It’s ironic that we are doing the same thing we accuse our adversaries of doing.

But some might argue that since the Green Line is an armistice line, not a border, there is no need for Israel to include it. It’s true that it is not a border, but neither does Israel’s international territory extend eastward from Jerusalem all the way to the Jordan River. The point is, the West Bank is under occupation – whether one sees the occupation as justified or not – and maps should reflect this geopolitical reality.

What might a more politically informed Israel curriculum entail? From my kids, I have heard about the ingenious ways that Israel foiled the Egyptian invasion of 1948, including placing stones in irrigation pipes to create noise simulating artillery. My eight-year old was impressed. 

What I remain less certain about is how much complexity about Israel’s future our kids’ schools are willing to impart. Will kids learn who the “Palestinians” are? I know that I am guilty of frequently muttering to them about “Israel and the Palestinians” without proper context. While narratives of inter-state war can be much simpler to impart, when it comes to the Palestinian civilian aspect of Israel’s founding, and the current military occupation over millions of Palestinians, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

When we learn about the past, it’s equally important to consider the future. In fact, no one knows more about the importance of historical memory in shaping today’s collective political outlook than the Jewish community. As Wilensky writes in the context of the maps, “it’s unpleasant for many to hear, but the final status of a two-state solution – if such a thing can ever be achieved – is going to rely heavily on the Green Line. Putting visual depictions of that reality before the eyes of American Jewry will go a long way toward showing them the somewhat unpleasant truths that will help build a more absolutely pleasant future.”

As for the J Street U’s map initiative, given that Rabbi Jacobs has pledged to roll them out at Reform schools, I hope he will make our communities in Canada an early stop.

Mira Sucharov is associate professor of political science at Carleton University.