Why I support the Green Liners

Do you support the Sign on the Green Line campaign? I do. Indeed, Jewish students who are sponsoring this initiative need to be aware that I’ve been engaged on a very similar project for a great many decades, probably from before these delightful young people were born.

Never mind. This campaign has my broad support. In a moment I’m going to say why. But before I do I need to explain that the objective of Sign on the Green Line is to ensure that British-Jewish organisations only use maps of Israel that incorporate and display the armistice lines agreed upon in 1949, and which formed the de facto boundary of the Jewish state until the Six-Day War 18 years later.

It may come as something of a surprise to the students behind Sign on the Green Line to learn that I routinely incorporate the Green Line into the maps that I use as teaching aids when I lecture on the history of the modern Middle East. In fact, I use a series of maps, designed to illustrate the evolution of the Jewish state from the commencement of the Palestine Mandate until the present day.

I begin with a map drawn up by the League of Nations, showing the boundaries of the Mandate as granted to the UK in 1922. When you examine this map carefully you cannot fail to notice that the territory of the Mandate actually included the entirety of what is now Jordan. Many of my international students — especially those originating from the Arab world – are genuinely shocked at what I show them. So I direct them to no less an authority than the BBC website, where the map is reproduced.

As I do so, I explain that, in 1923, the British declared the Mandate territory east of the Jordan river (subsequently the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan) to be prohibited to Jews. And I add, for good measure, that Jordanian law still forbids Jews from becoming citizens of the Jordanian state.

But Jews continued to enjoy the right to establish and maintain communities west of the Jordan river. So the next map I show my students marks the major areas of Jewish settlement throughout post-1923 Mandate Palestine. Many of my international students — especially those originating from the Arab world — are genuinely shocked at what I show them. So I direct them to photos of the Jewish dead, massacred in Hebron and elsewhere in 1929. There was a thriving Jewish community in Hebron until that pogrom. Surely, I ask, Jews have the right to return there?

Next comes the map drawn up by the UN in 1947, when the UN proposed partitioning Palestine west of the Jordan river into an Arab state and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem belonging to neither, but instead under international control. Many of my students are genuinely shocked at what they see: a Jerusalem no longer under exclusive Muslim authority. I point them to a much more important truth: that the Palestinian Arabs were offered a “two-state” solution in 1947, but rejected it in favour of war.

And so, inevitably, we reach the point where I display a map showing the Green Line — the 1949 armistice line agreed upon by the Jews and the Arabs following Israel’s war of independence. Many of my Arab students are shocked when I explain that the Green Line is not an internationally recognised border between two states, but was envisaged rather as a temporary boundary pending a final peace settlement.

Some of the Jewish students behind Signing on the Green Line seem unaware of this point. One has been quoted as saying that in sponsoring the Green Line campaign he pledged “only to use maps of Israel with the correct state lines.” But of course the Green Line is not a “state line” at all.

It’s simply where the guns stopped firing following Israel’s triumph in a war designed to destroy it at birth. What the Green Line does emphasise, however, is how very tenuous were the de facto boundaries of the Jewish state following that armistice.

As for the “West Bank,” the armistice negotiation put this territory under Jordanian control. This fact seems not to appear on the Signing on the Green Line website. I wonder why.

Last updated: 7:45am, February 28 2014