There is a general consensus that the establishment of an Arab
Palestinian sovereign state, alongside Israel, will provide the
most reasonable, stable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. This approach assumes that the Palestinian State will
extend over all or most of that part of former British Palestine,
which Israel occupied in 1967, i.e., the West Bank and the Gaza
Strip. The goal of this paper is to examine the geographical
characteristics of the frontier created by the 1949 armistice,
which will have a strong impact on defining the borders between
Israel and the future Palestinian state.
Barrier of Total Separation
The 1949 Armistice Line, known as "The Green Line," which from 1949
to 1967 formed the boundary between Israel and the West Bank and
Gaza Strip, was hastily delimited under the assumption that it
would be replaced, within a short period, by a carefully examined
and negotiated permanent boundary. The location of the line was
largely based on military positions each side held when the UN
cease-fire came into force (Harkabi, 1949/Rosen, 1956). Senior army
officers, on both sides, dominated the delimitation process which
took place during armistice negotiations held on the Greek island
of Rhodes. The main deviations from the cease-fire lines in the
armistice agreement were the ceding by Jordan to Israel of small
areas that contained parts of main roads and railways required for
the normal operation of the Israeli communication system (Harkabi,
Hardly any attention was given in the process of delimiting the
"Green Line", which became, in effect, a barrier of total
separation between the West Bank and Israel, to the interests and
even vital necessities of the inhabitants of the areas on which it
was imposed. Not only did these lines separate numerous villages
and several townships from much, if not most, of their lands and
sources of subsistence, but in some cases even from their water
supply. They cut across the built-up area of some villages and made
some inaccessible to motor transport (Brawer, 1988). Most
negatively affected by this 307 km long line was the population in
the frontier zone on its Jordanian (West Bank) side. The severity
of this impact depended largely on the human and physical
geographical characteristics of each section of this newly created
frontier zone and of its respective hinterland. Political and
economic developments over the period since its imposition, in
1949, conspicuously contributed to changes, which each part of this
zone has undergone with the resulting "ups and downs" that its
inhabitants have experienced.
Based on the varying physical and human geographical attributes of
the frontier zone it can be divided into the following
1. The Arid South - Crossing a thinly or almost uninhabited part of
2. The Jerusalem Corridor - The eastern protrusion of the frontier
into the deeply dissected and moderately inhabited Central
3. The Jerusalem Conurbation - Cutting through the Holy City and
its immediate surroundings.
4. The Central Coastal Plain - The most densely inhabited and
economically active part of the country.
5. The North - Running through the moderately inhabited northern
fringes of the Central Highlands and the Jordan Valley.
Due to the differences in the human and political make up on either
side of the "Green Line", the effects it produced on the West Bank
side were very different from those the Israeli side
There were periods of extreme economic distress and depopulation in
the West Bank, while the Israeli side was subject to the
establishment of many new communities, development projects and
economic growth. However, during times of political unrest and
outbursts of violence, much of the barrier effects of the "Green
Line" and its pre-1967 frontier zone characteristics have been
revived on the West Bank side.
Of the 84 Arab villages and townships on the West Bank side of this
frontier zone, 27 lost more than 25 percent of their agricultural
lands and in 39, more than 30 percent of the families became
destitute. On the Israeli side of the frontier zone the imposition
of the "Green Line" hardly affected the extent of land possessions
and sources of livelihood of its 17 Jewish villages. Eight of the
23 Arab villages on the Israeli side were deprived of small parts
of their lands, which remained on the West Bank side (Brawer 1980).
The inhabitants of these Arab villages found, within a short
period, employment, markets and other sources of income in the
rapidly developing Israeli economy. Villages (both Arab and Jewish)
destroyed or abandoned during the 1948-49 hostilities, and
Jerusalem, are not included in these figures. One hundred and seven
new Israeli (Jewish) towns and villages have been established
(ICBS, 1950-2000). During the same period, numerous small Arab
villages or hamlets expanded into towns, townships and villages on
the West Bank side of the frontier. While all the Israeli frontier
communities were well planned, equipped with modern infrastructure
and supported by public funds, the growth of the Arab villages has
been spontaneous, often through the addition of clusters of
buildings housing displaced clans or families, many of them former
The differences in geographical properties of segments of the
frontier zone and the impact of the developments that each
underwent have strong bearings on their fate. This discourse will
focus on two of these segments.
The Arid South
The "Green Line" runs from the shores of the Dead Sea in a westerly
direction, through a very rugged arid region known as the Central
Highlands (Hebron Highlands), with a northerly turn 15 km north
east of Beersheva. The point where it crosses the main road from
Hebron to the coastal plain can be taken as its northern end. This
81 km long section of the "Green Line" (26.5 percent of its total
length) had, at the time of its delimitation (1949), only three
Arab villages and three hamlets on the West Bank side of the
frontier zone. The area through which this segment runs was mainly
inhabited, before the 1948 War, by small sub-tribes of nomads and
semi-nomads (Bedouins). The Israeli side was uninhabited - there
were neither Arab villages (three were destroyed in the 1948 War)
nor Jewish settlements. Nomads were barred from entering it under
military security orders. Being very marginal, in so far as
cultivable land is concerned, with frequent years of drought, both
sides of this zone were mainly utilized for grazing (sheep and
goats), with scattered small patches of barley fields. The
population of the West Bank side of the zone was at the time of the
imposition of the "Green Line" estimated at 6,000 (Village
Statistics, 1945; Gurewich, 1947).
This segment of the frontier had become more populated by the time
the sudden change in the status and functions of the "Green Line"
had taken place, in 1967, following the occupation of the West Bank
by the Israeli army. The number of Arab villages and hamlets on the
West Bank side had risen to six and nine, respectively. The Arab
population grew to nearly 17,000, mainly due to the influx of
refugees from what had become Israel (1967 census) and natural
increase. Aid provided by relief organizations enabled a large part
of this population to meet the minimal subsistence requirements.
The area in the frontier zone producing some food crops, despite
poor soil and aridity, was gradually extended by strenuous efforts
and persistent hard work of the destitute inhabitants. The
contemporary Israeli side had four new communities with 1,300
inhabitants who made up its entire population (ICBS, 1968).
The main impact on the West Bank frontier zone of the opening of
the "Green Line" (1967) with the movement of labor and products
into Israel was to increase its population and improve considerably
the standard of living of its inhabitants. Residents of the inner
parts of the region were attracted to the vicinity of the frontier
from where they commuted to sources of employment in Israel. This
also affected the way of life of many of the nomads who became
sedentary residents of the frontier zone (Shmueli, 1977).
A turning point in the availability of sources of livelihood for
the inhabitants of this segment of the frontier zone came early in
1988 following the outburst of the Palestinian uprising (1987) and
the spreading of acts of violence. Security measures undertaken by
the Israeli authorities gradually closed the Israeli labor market
to West Bank residents. A restricted working permits system was
introduced, which reduced the number of West Bank and Gaza Strip
Arabs legally employed in Israel from approximately 130,000 to less
than 20,000. The detrimental effects of these restrictions along
the southern segment were not as severe as in other parts of the
frontier. The topography of the landscape, the long thinly
inhabited and not closely guarded boundary, enabled many to
infiltrate into Israel, as illegal workers, some to their former
The fact that the closure of the Gaza Strip had been more strict
and effective provided more vacancies for infiltrators from the
southern West Bank. Despite the economic hardships the inhabitants
of this part of the frontier suffered during the first intifada
(1987-93) it continued to attract migrants, especially nomad, from
other parts of the southern West Bank (IMA, 1990). The easing of
the mentioned Israeli restrictions, with the end of the uprising
(the establishment of the Palestinian Arab Authority, 1994),
enabled numerous Arab frontier zone inhabitants to legally earn a
living in Israel, though to a greatly reduced extent, due to the
many foreign workers (mainly from Thailand, China , Romania and
other countries) who were attracted to Israel to replace the
banned, rebelling Arab neighbors.
The outbreak, in the autumn of 2000, of the recent Palestinian
uprising has revived, in a more stringent and effective manner, the
Israeli crossing restrictions and barrier functions of the "Green
Line." By this time, the population and extent of its activities,
on both sides of this segment, had expanded considerably. On the
West Bank side the Arab frontier population had grown to nearly
50,000 (PCBS, 1998), three of the hamlets became villages and one
village (Samua) grew into a township. On the same side seven new
Israeli (Jewish) small settlements, with a population of 2,100
(ICBS, 2000) produced the main novelty in the human landscape. The
Israeli side was reinforced by five Jewish communities (5,900
inhabitants), an Arab township (Hura) and an Arab village populated
by nomads (Bedouins), most of whom belong to sub-tribes who roamed
this neighborhood long before it became part of Israel (together
6,200 inhabitants). Agriculture based on modern techniques is
practiced by some of the Jews, on both sides of the frontier zone.
Some of the new communities are outlying residential suburbs of
Beersheba, the main urban and industrial center of southern
The much larger Arab population of this zone depends, to a great
extent, on the Israeli economy. Its marginal, local, rain-fed
farming and pastoral life can, at best, provide subsistence to a
The Central Coastal Plain
This 96 km long segment extends along the eastern fringes of the
coastal plain and the western foothills of the Central Highlands
(Samarian Highlands), from the north-western edge of the "Jerusalem
Corridor" to the Plain of Esdraelon. Unlike the southern segment,
it cuts across a very densely populated part of the country. It
borders on what may be described as the main center of Israel's
economic life, and includes the country's narrow waist where only
14.5 km. separate the "Green Line" and the Mediterranean
Infested with malaria, this part of the coastal plain was only
thinly populated up to the beginning of the twentieth century. The
Arab population, which used parts of the arable lands of the plain
resided mainly in the more healthy adjoining foothills. The few
Jewish settlements, established towards the end of the nineteenth
century, paid a heavy price, in loss of life, in its struggle with
swamps and disease. These environmental conditions have undergone
rapid changes since the 1920s, when the growing Jewish immigration
was attracted to this part of the coastal plain, which then
experienced a considerable improvement in the standard of living of
many families in this frontier zone. No change had taken place
between 1949 and 1967, in the pattern of settlement and number of
villages on this side of the frontier zone, except for the addition
of two refugee camps.
By 1969, the fundamental change in the status and functions of the
"Green Line" converted this segment of the frontier from a
distressed area to the most prosperous part of the West Bank. The
townships and villages of this frontier zone were the first to
benefit from the opening of Israel to West Bank labor, services and
products. The swift expansion of the Israeli economy and its
increasing demand for workers, especially in the building trade and
in agriculture, offered better employment opportunities and wages
than those available in the West Bank. By the mid-1970s almost the
entire adult male population of some frontier villages commuted
daily to work in Israel. Migrants from all over the West Bank and
the Gaza Strip were drawn to these frontier townships and villages
because of their convenient access to Israeli employment centers.
Bus lines of the Israeli internal bus transport system were within
walking distance. Workers from the West Bank were allowed to work
but not reside or even stay overnight in Israel. Numerous workshops
and small industries also sprang up in the West Bank side of the
frontier, to cater mainly to Israeli clients, providing work to
thousands. Male unemployment, which was more than 30 percent just
before the 1967, had fallen to less than 10 percent by 1977 and
remained at about the same level until 1988 (ICBS, 1976, 1977,
1988). By 1977, the population had grown by more than 40 percent
and doubled by 1988 (Tulkarem from 15,300 in 1967 to 33,700 in 1988
and Qalqilia from 8,900 to 24,400). The total Arab population of
this segment of the West Bank frontier was estimated at 144,000,
more than 50 percent of whom were dependent, either fully or
partly, on employment in Israel or provision of products and
services to Israel (ICBS, 1988; IMA, 1889).
The occupation of the West Bank by Israel opened it to an Israeli
settlement process. Seventeen new Jewish settlements, with nearly
9,000 inhabitants, sprang up, by 1988, in this part of the West
Bank side of the frontier. More than half of them were, in fact,
outlying urban residences whose inhabitants commuted across the
"Green Line" to work and for some services in Israel. All these
settlements are included in the Israeli national infrastructure and
social services and benefit from some fiscal privileges.
The Israeli side of this frontier zone was reinforced by 11 new
Jewish communities and a substantial increase in population, the
establishment of modern industries and intensification of
agriculture. Development activities extended up to the "Green Line"
and in some areas across it into the West Bank side. On the Israeli
side of the frontier, the Jewish population had reached 93,000 by
1988, and the Arab population had also more than doubled, to
131,000, both by natural increase and by legal and illegal migrants
from the West Bank. It became largely urbanized, four of the
villages grew into small towns, their built-up areas more than
trebled (Um el Fahm from 7,500 in 1967 to 23,800 in 1988, Tayiba
from 7,570 to 19,800). These Israeli Arabs had become deeply
involved in the Israeli economy from which they derived their
livelihood (ICBS, 1989; SOI, 1967-1988).
The outbreak of the Palestinian uprising, towards the end of 1987,
and the Israeli political and security measures taken in response,
including periods of total closure of the "Green Line," gradually
undermined the economic relationship between Israel and the West
Bank that had developed over the preceding 20 years. Hardest hit by
these events were the inhabitants of the towns and villages of the
West Bank frontier zone along the central part of the coastal
plain. A study in a town and six villages, carried out at the end
of 1989, revealed that nearly 30 percent of the adult males were
unemployed, about a third of these men managed to work short
periods by obtaining an entry permit or crossing illegally into
Israel (TAU-DG, 1989). This situation worsened in the summer of
1991 when many of the tens of thousand Palestinians expelled from
Kuwait reached their original home villages in the frontier zone.
The Israeli labor shortage created by the closure of the West Bank
was met by a large influx of foreign workers.
The end of the Palestinian uprising in 1993, following the Oslo
agreement and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, to
which the full or partial control of nearly 80 percent of the Arab
inhabitants of the West Bank was entrusted, brought only partial
relief to the West Bank population, especially to the inhabitants
of its frontier zone. The re-opened Israeli labor market offered
substantially fewer employment opportunities than before the
uprising. Restored public security in the West Bank attracted
again, to the much cheaper services and markets of the Arab towns
and villages, in the frontier zone, large numbers of Israelis from
the neighboring densely inhabited coastal plain. This became an
important source of income to many West Bank frontier zone
inhabitants, but it lasted for only six years. Today, the rate of
unemployment in the town of Tulkarem is estimated, by a senior
municipal official, at 40 to 50 percent, and there is evidence of
people leaving the zone to liberelatives, mainly in Jordan but also
in other countries.
It seems most likely that when a boundary will be delimited between
Israel and a Palestinian state, most of its length will be located
within the present frontier zone between Israel and the West
What should be considered the logical conclusion of this discourse
is that conditions and developments on the West Bank frontier
require that, in settling the issue of the future boundary,
priority be given to the nature of its administration and functions
rather than to competing minor territorial re-locations of the
"Green Line". The exploitation of the geographical position and
attributes of the Israel-West Bank frontier zone, to turn it from a
compression zone into a cooperation zone, will provide a
significant contribution to a peace agreement, or even to a
transitional arrangement. This can be achieved by the establishment
of mutually accommodating rules which will govern the functions and
administration of the boundary rather than by territorial
satisfactions. The tranquil and "open border" periods along the
"Green Line" since 1967 have demonstrated the potential benefits of
interdependence between Israel and the West Bank. This would also
end the abnormality of Israel's dependence on more than 150,000
workers from the Far East, when its requirements can be met by an
available, suitable labor force on its doorstep.
1. This paper is based mainly on field-work carried out by members
of the staff and senior students of the Department of Geography,
Tel Aviv University, under the guidance of the author.
2. Information obtained from the Israeli Military Administration of
the West Bank quoted
in this study, was for internal use, not published but not
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