British Jewish youth want a more honest conversation, demand that their community leaders recognize reality on the ground when discussing Israel and the conflict.
By Jessica Weiss and Emily Hilton
America uses it. The EU uses it. There are even some maps in which the Israeli government uses it. So why then, is the British Jewish community so afraid of demarcating, let alone discussing the Green Line?
Regardless of your political perspective, in order to try and gain some understanding of the Israeli-Arab conflict, one must be able to identify contested areas, know the history that goes with them, and understand the significance of land. Areas over the Green Line are distinct from the rest of Israel, both legally and politically. They are treated differently by the Israeli army, the Israeli government, the majority of Israeli people and the entire international community.
Within many British Jewish organizations, synagogues and youth movements, the maps of Israel we are given to teach with, and to learn from, are drawn up as if the most formative of historical events never occurred. By using maps without the Green Line we fail to educate young people about the history of conflict. More importantly, doing so precludes any genuine discussion about the conflict — and the possibility of reaching a peaceful resolution – both in the classroom and the wider community. Maps that use the 1949 armistice lines allow us to accurately educate about the complex history, and show the present day realities of the region.
Yet, when 16 members of the next generation of Anglo-Jewry launched a campaign asking Jewish organisations to use maps of Israel with the Green Line last week, we were condescendingly told that representing the Green Line is to make a political statement. That to use these maps would be an indication of an organization’s position on the future final borders of Israel/Palestine.
However, what the Jewish community doesn’t want to acknowledge, is that using maps without the Green Line is in and of itself a political statement. Because almost all messaging relating to this conflict is in some way or another political, we think that this conversation is actually more about honesty.
It is patronising that the elders within our community do not want us to be informed. The condescending tone in which the Zionist Federation in Britain claims that we “hold little sway in the community,” shows how out of touch they are with the young British Jews. It doesn’t matter how many Birthright trips or summer camps one attends, or leads for that matter: we are tired of feeling like our voices don’t matter and that even the slightest deviation from the “milk and honey” narrative renders us irrelevant.
In Britain and beyond, questions are raised about the conflict constantly. Young British Jews are at a disadvantage because of the inadequacies of our knowledge. Maps are a key currency in this conflict and pretending that it is not a political choice to use a map without the Green Line does not allow for nuanced understanding of Israel’s history and future.
This isn’t about taking sides or about pre-determining a border. It is about allowing people to feel confident in their understanding so they can even begin to engage in the discussion. It’s about not being afraid of knowledge but rather empowering future generations with it.
The reality of Israel is difficult. Educating about it is difficult; it brings up questions that on occasion make us feel uncomfortable. But difficult does not always equate to bad. All we are asking for is an Israel education that does not consist solely of “sunshine, Herzl and falafel.” All we are asking for is that Jewish institutions use maps that recognize the Green Line.
Time is running out for the British Jewish leadership to have an honest and frank conversation about Israel and the West Bank. Not only are the youth of British Jewry ready, we are begging for it.
Jessica Weiss is a student of Middle Eastern studies at Manchester University. She is a former RSY-Netzer madricha and spent eight months last year traveling and volunteering in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.
Emily Hilton is a history student at University College London. She has been involved in both the Netzer Olami and RSY-Netzer youth movements, for which she led a tour to Israel in 2013. She tweets at @emilyhilton.