Teach the Green Line

The Right is up in arms for the wrong reasons. People must be taught just how high the stakes really are.

gush etzion map 298 (photo credit: )
gush etzion map 298
(photo credit: )
Education Minister Yuli Tamir's plan to teach the Green Line in schools has provoked a bizarre storm of outrage on the Right. What makes this reaction bizarre is not that outrage is unwarranted; it is that the outrage has focused on the wrong issue. The Right is up in arms over Tamir's decision that textbook maps of Israel should include the Green Line. Yet on this point, Tamir is obviously correct. Schools are supposed to give children the basic knowledge they need to function as informed citizens, and in Israel that means knowing where the Green Line is. Without that knowledge, it is impossible to form an intelligent opinion on the No. 1 political issue of recent decades: whether Israel should withdraw to the Green Line or its vicinity. Indeed, the Right should be the first to demand that children receive this information. For years, it has accused the Left of obfuscating the dangers inherent in withdrawal, but it is precisely the widespread ignorance of the Green Line's location that makes this possible. How can anyone understand how vulnerable withdrawal to the Green Line would leave central Israel if he does not know just how close that would bring Tel Aviv to Palestinian rocket launchers? Or how easily gunmen could hit at Kfar Saba from the Green Line? Or how quickly an army stationed on the Green Line could march to the sea and sever Israel in two? For precisely this reason, a study conducted two years ago by two Hebrew University professors, which was quoted in last week's Haaretz, found that when university students who identified themselves as rightists were shown maps of the Green Line, their professed willingness to engage in political activism rose sharply. Before seeing the maps, most had pictured the West Bank as much smaller than it is; learning the truth made them realize just how high the stakes really are. (In contrast, the maps had little impact on students who identified themselves as leftists.) Clearly, it would be wrong for textbooks to show the Green Line as a border, which it is not now and never was: It is the War of Independence armistice line, which neither side accepted as a final border. However, there is no indication that Tamir intends any such thing, and the problem is easily avoidable - for instance, by making borders solid lines and the Green Line a dotted one. IN CONTRAST to the map issue, what should be arousing outrage - among people of all political persuasions - is the new geography curriculum. This curriculum, which is due to be introduced next year in 10th, 11th and 12th grades, would effectively turn geography classes into political indoctrination sessions. The new curriculum (which was actually developed under Tamir's predecessor, Limor Livnat, but is being launched by Tamir) is supposed to make geography more "relevant" by discussing "different approaches for delineating [Israel's] final borders." The students will be presented with the three main options - returning to the Green Line, retaining all the territories, and various proposals for border adjustments and compromises - and will be expected to "recognize and understand" these different approaches. "The question of borders will become an issue that is debated in the classroom," Dalia Panig, the Education Ministry's coordinator for geography studies, told a Hebrew newspaper. "There is a constant debate in Israeli society regarding the different approaches to determining the borders, and there is no reason it shouldn't take place in the classroom." In the ministry's fantasy, teachers would be strictly neutral, giving equal time and equal backing to each approach. That, however, assumes that teachers are robots rather than human beings. Virtually every Israeli has an opinion - often a passionate one - on where Israel's borders should be, and teachers are no exception. And it is beyond the ability of most human beings to serve as fair and neutral moderators in political debates over issues on which they themselves have strong opinions. Inevitably, no matter how hard they try to remain neutral, teachers will end up taking sides: Those with leftist views will challenge rightist students with pointed questions while offering only simplistic and easily shot-down challenges to leftist students, and those with rightist views will do the same thing in reverse. Moreover, no matter how hard teachers try to encourage debate, students who disagree with their teacher may well be reluctant to espouse their views, for fear of antagonizing the teacher just when they need him most: 10th through 12th grade is when students take their matriculation (bagrut) exams, which determine to what universities and even what departments they can gain admittance. And 50 percent of a student's final bagrut score comes not from the exam itself, but from his classroom performance, as determined by his teachers. That is a strong incentive to self-censorship, and it is liable to result in classroom debates being even more skewed toward the teacher's views. Finally, there is the inevitable effect of peer pressure. In classes where most students are on one side of the debate - a likely outcome in many schools, given that political views in Israel tend to fracture along religious and geographical fault lines - students on the other side will be reluctant to press their case for fear of antagonizing their peers. That will make the debate still more one-sided. The result is that students who come into class without strong views on the subject are likely to emerge thoroughly indoctrinated by whichever political position is adopted by the teacher and the majority of the other students - both because they will not have heard the other side's best arguments, and because the combination of teacher and peer pressure is highly unconducive to forming independent views. And that is a gross abuse of the education system's power. Schools are supposed to give children the information they need to function as adult citizens, and knowledge of where the Green Line is located is indeed essential for an Israeli citizen today. But when schools cross the line from instilling knowledge to political indoctrination, democrats of every political stripe should rise up in protest.