This past year, I visited Israel for the first time since learning about the occupation. On a typical preplanned day trip with my family, we visited “Genesis Land,” a tourist destination in the West Bank that includes camel rides and dinner with a man dressed as the biblical Abraham. Many American Jewish families attended the dinner, and we all participated enthusiastically in the shmaltzy activities. At one point, “Abraham” gestured out to the land before him, the West Bank, exclaiming that the land was ours to enjoy.
But that particular land, beyond the Green Line, is not ours. It does not belong to the American Jewish community, and while some of it will likely become part of Israel under a peace agreement, it does not currently belong to Israel. It simply cannot if Israel is to remain Jewish and democratic. For the sake of Israel’s future, the values on which Israel was founded, and the lives that continue to be endangered by ongoing conflict, our maps, our communities and the organizations that represent us must reflect that reality.
I remember seeing my first map of Israel that showed the Green Line — the line marking the border between pre-1967 Israel and the occupied territory. It was very different from what I had been shown growing up. In books and on the walls of my synagogue and Hebrew school, I had seen many maps of Israel, but without the Green Line. One of many of these images still appears on the iconic blue boxes from the Jewish National Fund that I used to place tzedakah in. Although the boxes were redesigned last year, the JNF continues to exclude the Green Line in its map of Israel.
The JNF maintains that the map on its tzedakah boxes does not represent a political position. Yet, omitting the Green Line leaves no physical space for a Palestinian state or a Palestinian people. Instead, the map presumes complete annexation of the occupied West Bank as an established political reality. It undermines the prospect of a two-state solution — by denying the existence of Palestinians on that land, and ignoring the ongoing question of their political status and their future.
Tzedakah is often defined as charity, but its root is the Hebrew word for justice. Can we be sure that the funds we contribute to the JNF right now are going to causes that are righteous and just?
For too long, our communal institutions have pushed aside discussions of the American Jewish role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and our responsibility to help support solutions to safeguard Israel’s future. We have ignored the Green Line, contributed funds to the settlement movement and refused to acknowledge the legitimate Palestinian desire for self-determination in a state of their own. We have contributed to the ongoing quagmire and status quo with our actions, our money and our silence. In many cases, we have done so unwittingly. We are not to blame for the state of the conflict — but we are far from innocent.
As Israelis and Palestinians suffer through rounds of violence and despair, we finally must begin to ask ourselves: In what ways have we contributed to this deadly impasse? And in what ways can we help move past it?
First, we can take bold steps to recognize the Green Line. Our community took a big and productive step in that direction last month at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem. A sweeping coalition, including the Reform and Conservative Movements, passed a bill that calls on major Zionist institutions — the Jewish Agency, World Zionist Organization and JNF — to be transparent with their funding. These institutions have come under fire at times for their support for the settlement movement — at the expense of needy Israeli communities within the Green Line. This vote shows that there is widespread demand for more transparency and clarity, and that the largest Jewish movements in America can lead the way.
There are more encouraging signs. T’ruah (Rabbis for Human Rights) recently launched a campaign asking the JNF to be transparent about the projects it funds over the Green Line, and to include the Green Line on its tzedakah boxes and maps. Some rabbis have taken steps to ensure that their synagogues’ maps feature the Green Line. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Reform Movement, has said that he’s “encouraging those who are part of the URJ, across our various sectors, to use a map that delineates the Green Line … to clearly illustrate our commitment to two states.”
We must continue to ask tough questions of the JNF, the Jewish federations and other communal institutions. It’s not because we are seeking to be combative or controversial, but because these organizations are supposed to act on our behalf, that we need to ensure that they are acting with accountability and responsibility. In the interest of tzedakah, until we have transparency, we can never be sure that the funds we contribute are going to causes that are righteous and just.
Zoe Goldblum is a sophomore at Stanford University and J Street U vice president for the Northwest region.