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by Peter Hirschberg

Gaza Pullout Masks Israel's Expansion In W Bank

(IPS) JERUSALEM -- A directive by Israel's education minister that all maps in new editions of school textbooks must include the 1967 line that separates Israel from the West Bank has sparked a political firestorm, with right-wing politicians and religious leaders threatening to boycott the books if they are issued.

"You cannot expect children to understand history if portions are excised from school texts," explained Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who was one of the founding members of Peace Now, an extra-parliamentary group that strongly opposes Jewish settlement in the West Bank and supports the creation of an independent Palestinian state there.

Furious right-wing lawmakers, who oppose giving up these areas on religious or security grounds, lashed out at Tamir, accusing her of "politicizing" the education system and of introducing a leftist "Peace Now agenda" into the school syllabus.

Tamir's decision pokes at the very nerve center of the dispute within Israeli society over the future of the settlements and of the West Bank.

Many Israelis on the religious right, especially the settlers, believe that Israel has a God-given right to the West Bank -- they call the area by its biblical name of 'Judea and Samaria' -- and that relinquishing it is unacceptable. And while many Israelis, unlike the settlers, are ready to make territorial concessions in the West Bank, they believe a complete reversion to the 1967 lines would dangerously compromise the security of the country.

For many Palestinians, the 1967 lines form the basis of their demand for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But even among Palestinians there is no consensus: the ruling Hamas party holds the position that the Jewish state should be dismantled and that all of historical Palestine, including what is today Israel, should revert to the Palestinians. In maps in Palestinian textbooks, the Green Line is also absent, as is any delineation of Israel, with the entire geographical area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea represented as Palestine.

Yuli Tamir's decision follows academic studies that have revealed the disappearance of the Green Line in Israeli text books, as well as the replacement of the "West Bank" with the term "Judea and Samaria" -- usually employed by religious Jews who oppose territorial compromise on the grounds that settling these areas is an essential part of the messianic process.

The term Green Line was coined to denote the armistice lines that came into existence in 1949 at the end of the Mideast war between Israel and its neighbors, Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The line gets its name from the green pencil with which it was etched on the map during the armistice talks. Since the 1967 war, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza, the term Green Line has been used to refer to the unofficial border that separates Israel from these areas.

Until 1967, the West Bank was controlled by Jordan, and Gaza by Egypt. Now, they are either under Israeli military control or controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Last year, Israel withdrew completely from Gaza and dismantled all the settlements there, but the pullout was unilateral and in the absence of any agreement between the sides no final, internationally-recognized border has been determined.

Zvi Hendel, a religious lawmaker who strongly opposes dismantling settlements and vacating the West Bank, told IPS that the education minister was trying to infuse the classroom with her personal political views. "If her intention was that the children should learn history, where the borders were in 1967, that would be legitimate," he says. "But she is playing politics. She wants to push the Peace Now agenda."

The Green Line, he adds, was the border "for only 19 years (from 1948 to 1967). For almost the last 40 years it hasn't been the border. I treat her idea with contempt. I don't believe it will happen."

Another hardline religious lawmaker, Yitzhak Levy, accused Tamir of trying to "dictate a future peace agreement," and of trying to get students "to disengage, in their hearts and souls, from Judea and Samaria." Levy, a former education minister, said that while the education system was "on the verge of collapse," Tamir was "meddling in politics."

A group of rabbis issued a religious decree, forbidding students from using the new textbooks, if they are ever issued. "Education Minister Yuli Tamir has, through her actions, declared an open war against the Holy One, blessed be He, and against the Land of Israel," the rabbis said in their ruling. "The education minister has joined the enemies of Israel who have fought against the people of Israel over the generations."

In criticising Tamir, some lawmakers referred to Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban's description of the 1967 boundaries as "Auschwitz Borders." A return to these lines, Eban believed, would essentially render Israel indefensible, with its enemies holding positions overlooking the country's major population centers.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who heads the centrist Kadima party, gave Tamir qualified support. "There is nothing wrong with marking the Green Line," he said. "But there is an obligation to emphasise that the government's position and public consensus rule out returning to the 1967 lines."

Olmert's plan for another unilateral withdrawal, which he has put on the backburner since the Lebanon war in the summer, calls for the evacuation of many settlements in the West Bank, but also for the retention of major Jewish settlement blocs, most of them close to the Green Line but inside the West Bank.

Left-wing lawmakers who strongly support territorial compromise as the basis for a peace agreement with the Palestinians, backed Tamir. Avshalom Vilan, a member of the dovish Meretz party, said the Green Line had never been erased and that marking it was elementary because it would most likely be the basis for any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

Yossi Sarid, a former education minister and veteran peace campaigner, said that "students in Israel should know that Israel's eastern and northern borders are not final, and that they will be settled one day through negotiations."

Tamir insists her decision is "an educational oneł We teach, for instance, about United Nations Resolution 242, but we don't show students the Green Line," she says, referring to the UN resolution that forms the basis for a two-state solution, with Israel and an independent Palestinian state living side by side. "We cannot deny that there used to be a border that is still being debated today."

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Albion Monitor   December 18, 2006   (

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