A short history of the Green Line

A map showing the Green Line. (CIA)

A map showing the Green Line. (CIA)

JERUSALEM, June 18 (JTA) — When the guns from Israel’s War of Independence finally fell silent in 1949, Israel signed a series of armistice agreements with its Arab neighbors. With Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, the armistice lines more or less matched the international borders of Mandatory Palestine. The situation was more complex with Jordan, which during the war had occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River. With no previous border to go by, the whole length of the dividing line between the two armies had to be negotiated. Official negotiations in Rhodes were stuck, so Israel secretly completed the negotiations directly with King Abdullah. A line was drawn on the map, depicting more or less the armies’ deployment lines at the end of the war. There was one exception: Under Israeli military pressure, Abdullah ceded certain strips in the coastal plan and in the Wadi Ara hills that were not actually held by the Israelis. The lines were marked green on the maps, giving birth to the term the Green Line. That winding line, which ran approximately 215 miles from Beit She’an in the north to the southern slopes of the Hebron Mountains in the south, marked Israel’s border with Jordan until the Six-Day War began on June 5, 1967. In that war, of course, Israel conquered the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem after being attacked by Jordan. Since then, the term “Green Line” has acquired more political than geographic significance. Israel’s return to the Green Line became the main demand of the Arab world and the Israeli left. For the right, the contours of the Green Line — which left Israel dangerously narrow along its heavily populated coastal plain — became the main argument for retaining settlements and an Israeli military presence there. But the results of the Six-Day War essentially wiped out the Green Line. Israel controlled the entire West Bank, and the border was opened for free movement of people and trade — and, eventually, for bombs and terrorists. Two factors make the Green Line nearly impossible for Israel to live with: its arbitrary nature and its proximity to Israeli population centers. The line runs west of Beit She’an, separating the Beit She’an and Jezreel valleys from major Palestinian population centers such as the Nablus and Jenin regions. Just south of Afula, the line bends southwest, separating the Arab towns and villages of Wadi Ara — under Israeli control since 1949 — from their Palestinian sister villages in the east. At times, the line divided villages down the middle, like the village of Barta’a in the Wadi Ara region and two Arab villages further south. Just east of Hadera, the line cuts south all the way down to Rosh Ha’ayin, creating the soft belly of the state. At some points, for example near Tulkarm and Kalkilya, it is less than 6 miles from the Green Line to Israel’s heavily populated coastal plain. In other words, in the absence of any natural territorial barriers along the line, Palestinian terrorists coming from any of those towns can reach coastal cities such as Netanya, Herzliya and Kfar Sava in less than two hours on foot, or within minutes by car. Moreover, at this point the Green Line also lies just a few miles from strategic locations such as the electric power plant in Hadera, the fuel tanks of Pi Glilot — the site of a recent terrorist attack which, but for a technical malfunction, could have been of catastrophic scale — and Ben-Gurion International Airport. From near Ben-Gurion, the Green Line pulls east toward Jerusalem and then once again southward, along the Hebron Hills down to the Negev Desert. For years, the Green Line was virtually forgotten. Jews and Arabs alike crossed the line undisturbed, Jewish settlers going to and from their homes in the West Bank and Palestinian laborers seeking work in Israel. Here and there, the army placed roadblocks on the former line, but by and large it was virtually nonexistent. This week, construction work began on a security fence that will run more or less along the Green Line. Proponents of the fence believe it will help stop terrorist infiltrations — and may revive the old border, possibly galvanizing a political settlement with the Palestinians. The opponents comprise several camps. The Israeli right fears that reviving the Green Line may accelerate demands for evacuation of West Bank settlements. The settlers fear that a fence will leave them more isolated than ever. The Israeli left is concerned that the fence will defer negotiations on a permanent settlement, while still not stopping all attacks. The Palestinians, for their part, claim that the fence will further curtail their freedom of movement, particularly between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and will prevent illegal laborers from finding work in Israel.

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