Draw the Line, in Green

Gershom Gorenberg

My new piece is up at the Daily Beast:

One day in the late 1980s, my wife and I visited a staffer at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem for an off-the-record conversation. The walls of his office were decorated with large maps produced, he mentioned, by the CIA. One showed the West Bank, with the border between it and Israel precisely depicted. Our careful journalistic distance from the interviewee evaporated. We shamelessly begged him for a copy, which he politely gave us.

It was a treasure. In those days, the Israeli government had a near-total monopoly on mapmaking in the country—and government maps never showed the Green Line, the border between Israel and occupied territory. The Internet’s instant access to alternative maps was still in the future. To the best of my memory, so were the commercially published Israeli road atlases that today show the border in a barely noticeable gray. Even members of parliament weren’t always sure if a new community was inside Israel or was a West Bank settlement.

I point this out, firstly, to lay to rest any notion that erasing the Green Line is a recent or accelerating phenomenon. It’s not. Bibi Netanyahu did not initiate the cartographic cover-up, nor did his predecessors in the rightwing Likud. Nor was it inspired by the messianic fervor of religious activists, much as some Israelis would like to blame them for all the ills of the occupation.

To be fair, erasing the border is a game that Palestinians can play as well. A wall map that I’ve seen decorating quite a few Palestinian Authority offices shows the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, marked as Palestine, without any internal border.

The propagandists on each side of the conflict like to ignore their own maps and call attention to maps drawn by the other side that show a single, undivided territory. Israelis who do this say Palestinian maps deny Israel’s existence as a state. And yet, when carefully considered, Israeli maps without the Green Line do the same thing: They erase the State of Israel.

For years I wondered exactly when and how the Green Line was removed from Israel’s official maps. Then, in an Israeli archive, I came across a carbon copy of the original directive. It was written by Yigal Allon, then the minister of labor, on October 30, 1967, less than five months after Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War. Allon’s ministry included the government’s Survey Department. He told the department chief that from that day on, the pre-war boundaries should no longer be printed. …

Read the rest here, and return to SoJo to comment.

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