Reflections on the Attributes and Dynamics of the West Bank Frontier Zone
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, 1949).
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 segments:
1. The Arid South - Crossing a thinly or almost uninhabited part of the country.
2. The Jerusalem Corridor - The eastern protrusion of the frontier into the deeply dissected and moderately inhabited Central Highlands.
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 experienced.
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 semi-nomads.
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 Israeli employers.
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 Israel.
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 minority.

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 coast.
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 Bank.
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 restricted.

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