With the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks having been renewed, it’s again time to talk about the Green Line. As long as everyday activists within and outside Israel and Palestine seeks to press for various outcomes, it would be good if we had a shared policy vocabulary. Right now the pages of that dictionary—particularly when it comes to the hoped-for outcome of these talks—are rather smudged.
Take Philip Weiss’s latest offering on the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss. There, he reprinted an anecdote relayed by an anonymous American Jewish friend. In the anecdote, the friend reports attending a nostalgic gathering for veteran Israeli folk dancers. After realizing that the name of his favorite folk dance, Al Tira, is the name of a destroyed Palestinian village, he spots an old acquaintance from his youth who now lives “an hour south of Jerusalem.” Which side of the Green Line? the writer asks, correctly suspecting it’s a settlement. The acquaintance-cum-settler replies, "Oh, no one cares about the Green Line." The writer retorts: “I care about the Green Line, and so do millions of people."
I can certainly relate. I, too, recently discovered that some relatives of mine moved “an hour south of Jerusalem” a fact which led me to do the mental geography and enjoy my own sense of self-righteousness that I live in the non-occupied territory of Ottawa, Canada. (Irony alert when one takes a split-second to contemplate the fate of the First Nations people, but we shall bracket that for now.)In short, as someone who abhors the ongoing Israeli West Bank settlement project, I count myself among the “millions of people” the writer asserts who “care about the Green Line.” But I continue to wonder whether the anti-Zionist perspectives represented by websites such as Mondoweiss and underscored by those active in the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement actually do too.
I’m trying to avoid charges of hypocrisy, because, as I’ve argued in the context of the Stephen Hawking boycott of the President’s Conference, hypocrisy charges may tell us something about the person but end up obscuring the actual issues at hand. So, in that spirit, let’s stick to the issues.
“Caring about the Green Line,” in the words of that anonymous writer, means not only desiring an end to the occupation. It also means the transformation of the Green Line into an international border between two states: one for Israelis, another for Palestinians. If one doesn’t see two states as the natural and preferable outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian mess, if one prefers one state, then one is actually saying that the Green Line should be erased and forgotten, rather than be transformed into a proper border between two sovereign states.
The problem is, the last time I asserted the need to re-establish the Green Line and bring about two states—a point I return to often on these pages, and which, which in liberal Zionist circles as well as within the international consensus, is hardly controversial, Mondoweiss (this time in the form of Adam Horowitz) responded by comparing me to a Jim Crow-era proponent of racial superiority and segregation.
And by the way, Al Tira may happen to be the name of a Palestinian village, but in the context of the Israeli folk song the writer was alluding to, it is a Hebrew phrase meaning “don’t fear.” So while it can be useful to unearth buried collective memories, sometimes a cigar is... well, a simply a cultural artifact pointing to the need to allow both sides—not only one—their respective narratives, identities and futures.