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It's time to erase the Green Line

If the Israeli government makes no distinction between Palestinians on either side of the Green Line, there is no reason for human rights activists to do so.

By Neve Gordon

The Arab Bedouin village of Atir in the Naqab/Negev. (Photo by Amjad Iraqi)

The Arab Bedouin village of Atir in the Naqab/Negev. (Photo by Amjad Iraqi)

Around 50 students sat on the concrete floor of a makeshift shack, absorbing the desert heat as they listened to Salim talk about the imminent destruction of Umm al Hiran and Atir, two unrecognized Bedouin villages located 20 minutes from my apartment in Be’er Sheva.

On May 6, the Supreme Court ruled that the villages could be destroyed, paving the way for the government to proceed with its plan to build a Jewish settlement called Hiran in place of Umm al Hiran, as well as to replace the adjacent village Atir with a Jewish National Fund forest. If these plans are actualized, approximately 900 Palestinian Bedouin citizens will be forcefully relocated from their homes.

Salim told the students what the village was planning to do in order to reverse the verdict, while insisting that the solution would not come from the courts. The courts, he said, operate in the service of power; “therefore we need to approach power directly; we need to convince Bibi [Prime Minister Netanyahu] to retract the demolition orders. We need to gather forces and protest against this immoral act,” he said.

At one point I turned to Salim and asked him why the residents of Umm al Hiran do not join forces with the nearby residents of Susya, who were also being threatened with eviction and demolition?

Just 20 kilometers separate Umm al Hiran from the small Palestinian village Susya. For over two decades Susya’s residents have been struggling against the efforts of Jewish settlers and the Civil Administration to dispossess them of their small swath of land. On May 5, one day before the ruling on Umm al Hiran and Atir, the Israeli Supreme Court decided not to issue an injunction against Susya’s demolition and the expulsion of its residents. There, too, the government can legally carry out its demolition plans at any moment.

Children wave Palestinian flags in the village of Susya in the south Hebron Hills. Susya was one of many villages visited by the Italian activists. (photo: NO TAV Movement)

Children wave Palestinian flags in the village of Susya in the south Hebron Hills. Susya was one of many villages visited by the Italian activists. (photo: NO TAV Movement)

Salim turned to me and answered: “They are in the West Bank and we are in Israel, they are living under occupation and we are citizens. We have rights as citizens. We are not the same.”

Somewhere along the 20 kilometers that separate the two villages lies the Green Line. If once the Green Line was conceived as a border that could provide a just solution between Israelis and Palestinians, it currently serves as a very effective mechanism of colonial control. It operates primarily as a separating device that has, since 1967, produced the fictive promise of two states. In reality, however, this Green Line helps sustain a racist regime. After all, it functions to obfuscate that the logic motivating the effort to uproot the residents of Umm al Hiran and the residents of Susya is one and the same: the Judaization of space.

Paradoxically, the Green line is not only utilized by the Israeli government to help sustain Israel’s colonial rule—it has also been appropriated by an array of other actors, including foreign diplomats, donors, human rights NGOs, and the Israeli public at large—both Jews and Palestinians.

Consider the field of human rights. Most donors and human rights organizations focus on one side of the Green Line; they either give funding to NGOs promoting the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank, or, alternatively, they provide financial aid to NGOs working in the pre-1967 borders, thus helping to reproduce the difference between the residents of Umm al-Hiran and Susya.

To be sure, Salim from Um al-Hiran is an Israeli citizen and Nasser al Nuajah from Susya is not. This difference, as any human rights lawyer will be quick to point out can, in certain instances, be meaningful vis-à-vis Israeli courts. Indeed, Salim’s answer to me is probably influenced by the human rights NGOs that have been helping his village to strategize in the face of imminent expulsion. And, yet, at this historical juncture, this distinction is being used to elide the fact that both Salim and Nasser are Palestinians whose land is being expropriated in order to advance Israel’s Judaization project.

While it is true that colonial regimes have always used modes of divide-and-conquer to control the inhabitants, what is novel in the case of Israel\Palestine is that progressive donors and liberal human rights NGOs are unwittingly reinforcing these distinctions and the logic that produces them.

Knesset Member Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, is well aware of the divisive impact of such distinctions, and recently went to speak with the residents of Abu Ghosh, one of two Palestinian towns on the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that were not destroyed during the 1948 war. He told the residents that for years they had been stigmatized for having collaborated with the pre-state Zionist military forces, and then added: “You are not collaborators, you are Palestinians.” Odeh understands that the only way to resist domination is by uniting the dominated and overcoming the strategic division it has created on the ground.

Human rights organizations and their donors need to make a similar conceptual shift. Their work should focus on creating alliances rather than reinforcing colonial distinctions. It is therefore time that they internalize that the Green Line is not a solution but a fiction—and a violently destructive one at that.

Neve Gordon is the co-author (with Nicola Perugini) of the newly released The Human Right to Dominate. This article first appeared in Al Araby Al Jadeed.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      Q: When is it legal in the U.S. for police to beat up a civilian?
      A: Never. It is never, ever legal or appropriate for the police to beat up civilians. Police may arrest or detain civilians for any number or reasons, using the minimum amount of force necessary; it is never legal to beat them up.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Q: Is the U.S at war with U.S civilians?
        A: No.

        Ergo, our resident pro Arab propagandist, Bruce is trying to compare apples with oranges.

        Having said that, I am not advocating the beating up of civilians. I just wish that the dear Palestinian Arabs would not delight in murdering our civilians every chance they get.

        Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        There is no magic in the green line. The green line was an armistice line meant to separate waring parties until a peace agreement could be negotiated when real borders would be negotiated. The king of Jordan and Israel were involved in fruitful negotiations towards peace and delineation of borders before Palestinian Arabs assassinated King Abdullah and aborted plans for peace.

        The Palestinian Arabs have had many opportunities since to create a Palestinian state and make peace with Israel resulting in agreed upon borders, but have failed to do so. The Palestinians have rejected all offers of a negotiated peace.

        Michael Oren in an interview with David Horowitz of the Times of Israel indicates no matter what Netanyahu did and no matter what a Labor government might have done in negotiations, the Palestinians were never going to sign an agreement with Israel.

        Michael Oren quotes Joe Biden who said in 2010 he asked Mahmoud Abbas to look him in the eye and promise he would make peace with Israel, and Abbas refused.

        Michael Oren thinks that a two state solution should be pursued but one should look at the realistic outcome of a Palestinian state:

        “I think that our position should be, as a matter of diplomacy, we support the two-state solution. As a practical matter, think it out. We’re not just talking about moving 80 to 100,000 Israelis. We’re talking about creating a state that has no institutions, no economy, a corrupt, unelected leadership, which is incapable of defending itself, even last summer when Abbas was going to be overthrown. So how long is this state going to last? Really. No one is being realistic.”

        The existence of a green line or border is not the issue. The issue what transformation has to take place in the PA and Gaza to permit the establishment of a viable Palestinian state that can live in peace with a Jewish state.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      The headline is horrible.

      The green line MUST be reasserted so that Palestinian self-governance may occur (as well as Israeli self-governance come to be universally accepted).

      There are MANY different conditions for Palestinians in different settings, some better than Palestinian conditions in Israel, some much worse actually.

      1. Lebanon – Very limited civil rights.
      2. Syria – Very limited rights
      3. Area A – Decent rights within a very small enclave, with periodic Israeli interventions
      4. Area C – Confused. Some freedoms, no voting, limited mobility, Jim Crow invisibility
      5. Jordan – Decent rights, some prejudice
      6. Israel – Decent rights with prejudices, personal and institutional
      7. Gaza – Mixed, but due to both internal and external limitations. Freedoms but within a small area. Periodic active war zone, but no escape from war zone possible
      8. Egypt/Sinai – Moderate political rights (same as others)
      9. Arab world diaspora – Varies, prejudices
      10. Western world diaspora – Mostly decent rights.

      What unifies? What accomplishes?

      Certainly, self-government in the West Bank and Gaza will give a path for many many of the diaspora suppressions to unwind.

      A human rights oriented movement that doesn’t result in Palestinian self-government in Israel won’t provide that path. That is a path to permanent struggle, and depression.

      Reply to Comment
      • BigCat

        Non-sequitur, Richard!

        The Palestinian self-governance can occur in “any line” that guarantees a “peace” Israel can defend if the Palestinians wake up one day and tear up the peace treaty between them and Israel. The “green line” is not a ‘conditio sine non qua’ re “Palestinian self rule” and/or the lack it. All the Palestinians have to do is to agree to 2S42Ps within any “reasonable line” (and don’t tell us that “reasonable” is whatever the Palestinians say it is, because that would be childish).

        BTW, Richard, Palestinians already have “self-governance”.

        Reply to Comment
        • Richard Witty

          Big Cat,
          Peace can only come with two healthy communities, so that requires a viable Palestine (viable physically and viable culturally). The only viable Palestine is one in which the majority of its community centers are connected, unencumbered, and particularly in which there is an unencumbered connection between Gaza and the West Bank.

          Culturally, East Jerusalem is the prior intellectual center of Palestinian life (still at least partially), and to achieve a mutually healthy set of communities, must be included in Palestine.

          The PA and the PLO have both recognized Israel, and clearly affirmed the two-states for two people outline, originated it (relative to the distinctly Palestinian state – rather than “Arab”).

          Its time to do. Otherwise, you face the actual application of a single state, which even if excludes Gaza, will not be a Zionist state, as no Zionist coalition will be able to form in a new knesset.

          The militants in each community can be contained, if actually sought by Israel.

          Reply to Comment
          • BigCat


            A viable “Palestine” is very possible without Jerusalem. If you do not agree, I would like to see arguments to that effect. Remember, we are talking about “objective viability”, not “viability as defined by the Palestinian Authority”.

            To Jews, there are some basic truths that cannot be disputed: Jerusalem is “beyond national”; Jerusalem lies at the heart of Judaism and is central in the life of Jews. When praying, if a Jew is located outside the land, he should turn his face towards Eretz Yisrael and pray. If he is in the land, he should turn towards Jerusalem . . . if in Jerusalem, he should turn toward the Temple. If in the Temple, he should turn his face towards the Holy of Holies. Anyone who wants/supports the division of Jerusalem simply does not understand Judaism, Jewish life and the Jewry. Jerusalem is more to Jews what Mecca is to Muslims. What you would not support re Mecca (e.g. division of Mecca), do not even attempt to support re Jerusalem. Moreover, dividing Jerusalem is physically/technically impossible because of the topography, infrastructure, the locations of the Arab, Jewish and other populations inside Jerusalem, etc. (“Arab East” Jerusalem does not exist as fact, but merely on paper). The only , way to divide Jerusalem is through ethnic cleansing and building a wall through the holiest place in Judaism.

            There are other religions who consider Jerusalem important to them. Fair enough. But that’s not a problem at all, because the State of Israel guarantees freedom of worship to all faiths in Jerusalem. All religious sites of different religions are protected and all non-Jewish folks have free access to their respective holy sites.

            So, why do Palestinians want their capital right in the middle of the heart of Judaism? Why can’t Palestinians have their capital in Ramallah or Nablus, or Jericho or Rawabi, etc? The claim that J’lem is the intellectual centre of the Palestinians is not backed up by facts. It wasn’t so yesterday and it ain’t so today, and even if it were, it would not make a difference.

            Frankly, I am not worried about the one state solution, because it just won’t happen under any circumstance. Just watch us.

            Reply to Comment
          • Richard Witty

            Jerusalem is probably the most difficult aspect of the two-state approach.

            Almost all border issues are resolvable. The right of return is resolvable if defined by color-blind legal criteria based on consented legal principles.

            Jerusalem is more problematic. Jerusalem is not only central to Jewish life, Jewish religious, Jewish ethnic. It is also central to Muslim faith, also to Christian.

            And, nationally, it is also central to Palestinian.

            Opponents of Palestine often confuse the varying formations of Palestinians’ identity, that constitutes some threat.

            Palestinians that do not identify also as part of pan-Arab community and pan-Islamic community, hold single sets of requirements and concerns that would be tangibly resolvable with Israel.

            But, you brought up that the world Jewish community (beyond Israelis) have an interest, and that somehow requires the either/or “All of Jerusalem” or “none of Jerusalem”. But often stated in terms of “they” require “All of Jerusalem”, pan-Arab and/or pan-Islamic.

            Both bottoms of the iceberg exist, contribute significantly, exert pressure, even to the extent of compelling war.

            All, when it is the present people in the locale that must reconcile, not the solidarity communities.

            Jerusalem is dividable. It was divided for 19 years. And, it may be jointly administered.

            Either/or is the choice of war. Division is the choice of two self-governing states. Joint administration is the experiment in two states linked by a trade and other confederation.

            There will not be perfection in any of the options.

            If we are Jewish religiously, then we have to pursue the “House of prayer for ALL nations” theme, not the “house of prayer for only us” theme.

            Otherwise we will be the protective shell around nothing.

            Reply to Comment
    3. marnie

      Actually the US has been at war with certain citizens since its inception and continues to this day. Native Americans were murdered, driven off their lands and onto reservations where many continue to live, with the highest rates of suicide in the US.

      African Americans, almost exclusively young males, are killed with regularity in the US.

      Nine African Americans were killed in their church by one racist redneck bastard who believed African Americans were stealing “our country” and “our women”, the American version of Lehava.

      There has been an epidemic of deaths of African American young men at the hands of almost exclusively white cops.

      You can replace African American with Palestinian and it works. Funny that.

      Reply to Comment
      • CigarButNoNice

        Marnie said: (quote) one racist redneck bastard who believed African Americans were stealing “our country” (close quote)

        But when the Arab squatters on the Land of Israel say they’re killing, uh, I meant resisting, Jews, uh, I meant Zionists because they’re “stealing their country,” Marnie and her like are all for that kind of racist redneck bastardery. Funny that.

        Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Funny that. And I was under the impression that the president of the U.S is an African American.

        Would that happen in a country which is at war with it’s African American citizens?

        …only according to idiots and Marnie.

        Reply to Comment