By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
JERUSALEM, Dec. 5 -- Maps in future Israeli public school textbooks will show the boundary that existed between Israel and the West Bank before the 1967 Middle East war, Israel's education minister announced Tuesday. The move drew sharp protest from lawmakers, settler groups and religious leaders who claim the West Bank as part of the Jewish state.
The minister, Yuli Tamir, is a member of the Labor Party and a founder of the advocacy group Peace Now, which opposes Jewish settlement in the occupied territories. Palestinians envision a future state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, all of which Israel occupied in 1967.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has stated that Israel should evacuate parts of the West Bank so as to define its borders around land with a solid Jewish majority. He has said that several large Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank would be included as part of Israel in any final peace deal.
The Israeli government has frequently criticized the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states for using maps in classrooms that do not define the state of Israel, now 58 years old. The maps generally mark it as "Palestine."
Israel's policy of not marking the West Bank began soon after it captured the territory from Jordan in the 1967 war. Most school maps now evoke Jewish history by labeling the territory by the Biblical terms "Judea and Samaria."
In defending her order in interviews with Israeli reporters Tuesday, Tamir noted the difficulty in pressuring Arab countries to mark Israel on maps when the Jewish state does not designate the West Bank as a separate entity on its own maps. She told Israel's Army Radio that "if we don't show these borders, we will turn out very confused children."
"You cannot expect children to understand history if portions are excised from school texts," said Tamir, a professor of political philosophy at Tel Aviv University.
The order drew angry reactions from legislators affiliated with parties that claim the West Bank as part of "greater Israel," an area that they generally define as stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
Roughly 250,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank beyond Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, amid approximately 2.5 million Palestinians.
"In general, I'm not against giving all the information there is to students," said Shaul Goldstein, head of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem. "On the other hand, it's obvious she is doing this for political reasons, to educate our youth that 'this land is not ours.' "
Israel Radio reported that a group of conservative rabbis issued a religious decree prohibiting the use of any textbooks whose maps show the "Green Line," the 1949 armistice line separating Israel and the West Bank.
Ronit Tirosh, a legislator from Olmert's centrist Kadima party and a former director general of the Education Ministry, told reporters Tuesday that Tamir "cannot decide for Israeli pupils what is part of Israel and what isn't." Israeli officials estimate it will take more than a year for new maps to reach Israeli classrooms if the policy proceeds.
Olmert, whose governing coalition includes Labor as its largest member, said after meeting with Tamir that "there is no reason not to mark the Green Line and where the borders of the country were in 1967," according to the Ynetnews Web site.
"But there is a duty to present the fact that the government's stance and the consensus in the country rule out returning to the 1967 borders," Olmert added.