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Last week, the Knesset Education Committee voted 8 to 2 against a decision by Education Minister Yuli Tamir to commission new geography textbooks that delineate the 1949 cease-fire lines - known as the Green Line. We are not sure whether Tamir's decision was necessary, but the Knesset's objection to it, if it was on ideological grounds, is even harder to understand.
The Green Line, whose contours were not decided by negotiations or decisions but by the War of Independence, was our de facto border until 1967. After the Six Day War, Israel essentially annexed east Jerusalem - uniting a city that had been divided - and eventually extended Israeli law to the Golan Heights, but it never fully extended civilian law to Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Arabs living in these territories were not offered citizenship, and - until the Oslo Accords - were entirely under the rule of an Israeli military administration.
It is obvious that, as Tamir stated at the Knesset hearing, the Green Line "has judicial status" and that we do not regard the legal status of the Golan or Netanya as equal to that of Nablus.
Objecting to Tamir, National Religious Party head MK Zevulun Orlev said that "the government decision since 1967 has established the Green Line as dead. The education minister is trying to restore it on the daily agenda and engrave it on the consciousness of pupils, as an expression of the political views of Peace Now."
If Tamir were suggesting that the Green Line should be demarcated with a solid line, as an international border with a Palestinian state, we would agree. That would not only be politicized, but factually incorrect. We have no reason to believe that she is suggesting such a step.
By the same token, pretending that the Green Line does not exist is also politicized. In that vein, Israel has always rightly been outraged by Palestinian text books that omit the factual demarcation of the sovereign state of Israel.
In fact, the Knesset decision against Tamir implies not that she was wrong but that her step was superfluous. "The textbooks in the education system include satisfactory material, which properly instructs on the history of the country and state's borders, including the cease-fire lines," read the committee decision.
Presumably, the argument is whether the Green Line should only be the subject of historical discussion, or should also be included in current maps of the state. We think it should, and that doing so need not imply that that line is or should be a national border.
Indeed, it could be argued that those who are most against a return to the pre-1967 de facto borders should be the first to press for creating more awareness of the location of the Green Line.
One wonders whether most high school graduates know that returning to the Green Line would mean that Israel would be 15 kilometers (9 miles) wide at its narrowest point, and that the distance between Tel Aviv's beach and the Green Line is 18 kilometers (11 miles). This is about the distance across Washington, DC - not the metropolitan area but the District of Columbia itself.
It is these dimensions, reenforced by the topographical fact that the mountain ridge that bisects the West Bank dominates the coastal plain where most Israelis live, that underlie the consensus that Israel should never again allow a hostile army to control this area. Geographical facts are no less critical to understanding our reality than is the history of this land and of our people in it. In this regard, it is encouraging that the Public Committee on Bible Education held its first meeting yesterday. As Tamir, one of the committee's 39 members, explained, "The beauty of the Bible is reflected in the values and moral dilemmas it raises. ... I believe that dealing with moral issues can help develop pupils' moral judgment."
Though Bible studies are already part of the curriculum from grades 1-12, ministry officials concede that there is a growing gap between schoolchildren in the secular educational system and "the Bible's world and language," and that this gap increases the polarization between the religious and secular publics.
If this committee succeeds in finding ways to better impart basic knowledge of the Bible - and, we hope, of other essential Jewish works - to our children, it would be a far greater contribution than new maps including the Green Line. We hope that pupils will learn about both, and many other subjects critical to understanding the meaning and origins of the unique state in which they live.
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