My Word: Drawing the Green Line

The tale of two kibbutzim and a line drawn in blood

April 23, 2015 21:57
The tale of two kibbutzim

Twins Haim and Yitzhak Levinovitch hold a photo of their father, Yehoshua, killed in the massacre at Kibbutz Kfar Etzion in 1948, when they were two years old. . (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The question of where to draw the line is never simple. Neither is the question of where and how the Green Line was drawn.

These are boundaries, borders if you will, blurred by tears.

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Just over a year ago, Emily Amrousi wrote a column in Israel Hayom under the title “Whose land is it?” In it she compared the situation of Ramat Rahel and Kfar Etzion. The former is a kibbutz accepted as being an enclave within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, the latter is a kibbutz in the Etzion Bloc – within the general Israeli consensus but beyond the pale for most of the world, a world that hasn’t felt comfortable referring to the area as Judea since the Romans finally ended Jewish sovereignty there in 135 CE, and renamed the region Syria Palæstina.

Both Gush Etzion and Ramat Rahel were founded around 1926.

The Etzion area particularly suffered from deadly sporadic Arab riots that targeted Jews in 1929 and 1933. In 1948, the fates of Kibbutz Ramat Rahel and Kibbutz Kfar Etzion diverged. Both came under heavy attack from the Arab Legion in the War of Independence. Kfar Etzion, after a brave battle, fell on the day the state was proclaimed. Most of its members there were killed; the lucky ones were transported to a desolate prisoner-of-war camp in Transjordan. Ramat Rahel managed to hold out. From that point on, Ramat Rahel was considered a legitimate part of Israel, in contrast to the four kibbutzim of the Etzion Bloc destroyed in 1948. 

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The 1948 war, was not about “the settlements” but the very existence of the Jewish state. Ditto the Six Day War in 1967 in which the Jordanians lost Gush Etzion and it returned to Jewish hands.

Jews rushed back to rebuild the area. The names of the current Jewish communities there reflect those of the original pioneers.

Last week, on her radio show on Reshet Bet, Liat Regev interviewed twins Haim and Yitzhak Levinovitch, whose father, Yehoshua, was one of the 127 killed in Kfar Etzion that fateful Friday, May 14, 1948.

They told how the residents and fighters, holding a white flag, were gathered together as if for a photo – and were then mowed down, men and women dying together.

Strangely, for years they did not use the word “massacre” to describe the slaughter. But massacre it was. One whose story is not often told.

THE SCENIC drive between Ramat Rahel and the Etzion Bloc takes about 15 minutes. They are not “worlds apart” but the world thinks of them separately. The dead Jews of Kfar Etzion do not count as far as the United Nations, European Union and most countries are concerned.

It’s one of those double standards that sadly no longer astonish.

The difference in status between the two kibbutzim came to mind last week when the foreign ministers of 16 European countries sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini asking her to promote the labeling of products made by Jewish-owned industries located beyond the 1949 armistice line, the so-called Green Line.

The move makes me see red on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s also hard to know where it will end, but it does not bode well.

Defenders of the labeling idea say it will offer consumers the means of making an informed choice about the products they are buying. But that choice exists already. No one has to purchase a product labeled “Made in Israel” just as nobody is forced to buy produce “Made in Spain” if they feel uncomfortable about Spanish rule over the Basque region, or in Barcelona for that matter.

It is, of course, hard to avoid cheap “Made in China” products but I’ve never seen a product labeled “Made in Occupied Tibet.” The world doesn’t seem to have a problem with that, however.

Wines from the historically contested Alsace-Lorraine region do not come with a label in the negative sense of the word. Why should uncorking a bottle from the Golan Heights be any different? And to whose bloody hands are we meant to transfer control of the Golan: Bashar Assad’s forces or al-Qaida, currently positioned along the border with Israel? Or perhaps Islamic State? Both the Assad regime and Islamic State have been preoccupied butchering Syrian and Palestinian residents of Damascus and the surrounding area this month.

Singling out Jewish businesses does nothing to fight anti-Semitism, the oft-stated goal of European countries such as France and Belgium as they witness the deadly toll of hatred. It does even less to bring about a real peace with the Palestinians. It pushes the Palestinian Authority further from the negotiating table. Why would they risk giving up something in talks when they can gain so much by letting others reduce Israel for them? Peace is more likely to grow from economic security rather than the destabilizing threats of would-be peacemakers, but among the chief victims of the boycott against Jewish businesses beyond the Green Line will be the Palestinians who work in them. And labeling “settlers” as different from other Israelis sets them apart as targets for terrorism.

The timing of the EU letter couldn’t have been more unfortunate. The story broke on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, leading Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman to suggest: “They can mark all the products from Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights with a yellow star.”

For a moment I had the uncomfortable image of babies born in Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Medical Center on Mount Scopus having “Made in Israeli-occupied territory” stamped on their bottoms. Then I realized it wouldn’t be all the babies born there: just the Jewish ones.

The hospital was founded on Mount Scopus in 1934 but was besieged in the War of Independence.

In May 1948, a convoy was attacked by Arabs as it left the hospital and all 77 doctors and nurses traveling home were killed. The hospital then quickly fell into Jordanian hands, returning to Israel in 1967 and being reestablished as a premier medical center, treating and staffed by Jews and Arabs, in 1976.

The labeling suggestion furthers the delegitimization of Israel. Some ultra-liberal circles have already gone beyond delegitimization to demonization. They must consider this a victory: On the one hand they like to portray Israel as an apartheid state, on the other they promote boycotts and sanctions of it, never stopping at the pre-1967 line.

I am constantly bombarded with press releases about anti-Israel “successes” like the statement I received last week boasting: “Palestinian activists, led by the NC4P, BDS South Africa, PSA, COSAS, the ANCYL and others successfully protested the Israeli Ice Hockey World Cup Game yesterday evening in Cape Town. Marbles were released on the ice as well as red coloring to reflect the blood of the thousands of Palestinians who suffer under Israel’s apartheid government.”

I waded through my mail but did not find a condemnation of the brutal attacks on “foreigners” taking place in South Africa. So let me cry out for them instead.

When the world spends so much time and energy on singling out Israel for its perceived abuses, it is allowing atrocities to take place elsewhere. Boatloads of would be migrants are drowning as they struggle to reach European shores; Christians and Muslims are being slaughtered by jihadists throughout Africa and the Middle East.

The cure? Divert attention to Israeli homes, businesses and agriculture: It usually works.

Neither Jordan nor Egypt, both of which have since signed peace treaties with Israel, established an independent Palestinian state in the territories they controlled between 1948 and 1967. And neither wants to risk strengthening Hamas, its jihadist partners or its Iranian sponsor now. But the EU won’t let that get in the way. We see ourselves as the Start-up Nation – producing medical and technological breakthroughs galore. The world sees us as the Jewish upstart.

There is still hope: Just this week the Israel Academy of Sciences and Britain’s Royal Society announced a new joint scholarship program, for instance. There is no boycott of Israel, the Europeans say. Just those territories beyond the Green Line.

But it won’t end there.

How fortunate for Ramat Rahel, that its oldest members managed to avoid death and captivity in 1948.

Too bad for the residents of the Etzion Bloc that its pre-state founding members weren’t so lucky.

The arbitrary 1949 armistice line might be the defining point for the European Union, but I can’t help thinking of Europe in 1939.

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