the Seam Line
From October 1998 to August 2000, I lived in Jerusalem, working
as a freelance journalist. I wanted to live in an integrated
area with Jews and Arabs, but the closest I came was the armistice
line set up after the war of 1948. In "mixed" Abu Tor, my house
was the last on the Jewish side; my walkway was part of the
pre-1967 border between Israel and Jordan. Out my window, drilling,
hammering and new cement were slowly erasing the border as Jewish
buildings pushed up all the way through the onetime no-man's-land
to the edge of the stone houses on the Palestinian side.
borders around me seemed uncertain, as always throughout Israel's
history. When Israel declared statehood in 1948, it didn't declare
borders -- but in 1949, it agreed with each of its neighbors
on ceasefire lines that also defined the West Bank and Gaza.
For a time, Israel negotiated treaties that included stipulations
on frontiers -- with Jordan in 1994; with Egypt in 1979; even
provisionally with Syria in 1974. But the official status of
the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel occupied in 1967, has not
been decided. After more than 50 years, the state of Israel
has never established legal, binding borders.
In June 2002, Israel began constructing a massive new barrier
to separate itself from the Palestinians, a vast formation of
walls and fences intended to eventually surround the entire
West Bank and enclose Jerusalem. It is called the Seam Line
Project, suggesting stitching that connects -- rather than separates
-- two pieces of a whole. The name implies an attempt to fuse
the demands of occupation and security.
In fall 2002, I took a 10-day journey through Israel, the West
Bank and Gaza to trace the official and unofficial borders of
a country full of incomplete frontiers. I would start at the
new fence and wall, continue along older Israeli-Arab borders,
and visit places where the frontiers are far from clear. I wanted
to assess how lines are drawn in border zones where people see,
hear, smell, infiltrate, ignore, explore, peddle to, steal from,
long for, recoil from, partner with, throw stones at and try
to kill the people on the other side. What is it like to live
on the border in a country without borders -- or whose borders
The Great Wall: Concrete, Concertina Wire
The sheer scale of the Seam Line Project shows Israel's eagerness
to find a formula that will save lives and land. The total cost
will be about $1 million per mile, and the first phase of the
West Bank section, to be completed in July 2003, will stretch
80 miles long. The width of the barrier area will be an awesome
55 yards, as wide as a football field. A person crossing from
the Palestinian side to the Israeli side would encounter a concertina
fence, a ditch, an army road, sensor fences or sensor walls up
to 28 feet tall, a trace road (for tracking footprints of infiltrators),
another army road, another trace road and another concertina fence.
A section of the onetime borderland
between Israel and Jordan has been made into a playground.
is not a border," say Israeli officials, who, with careful consistency,
refer to the massive wall and fence system as the Seam Line
Project. Certainly it defies most conventions of border establishment:
There is no agreement with the people on the other side. Israel
will not withdraw its forces from the Palestinian side, and
that access is built in, with roads designated for Israeli military
vehicles on both sides. The United Nations has not acknowledged
the new walls and fences. The jutting, jagged barrier will not
follow the armistice line accepted as the informal West Bank
border since 1949, but will enclose West Bank Jewish settlements,
will exclude many nearby Palestinian villages, and, in the first
phase of construction, will involve confiscating an estimated
42 square miles of land, mostly farmland, from Palestinians.
The project will also enclose an estimated 10,000 (according
to the Israeli Ministry of Defense) to 26,000 (according to
the Palestinian Authority) Palestinians, who will be trapped
between the old border and the new wall, unable to easily enter
either Israel or the West Bank.
Opinion polls show that up to 80 percent of Israelis support
the new barrier. Desperate to stop suicide bombers, a group
of citizens even formed the Movement for Separation, which sued
for the government to build the Seam Line faster. Yet nothing
is simple when it comes to drawing new lines on Israel's map.
The delays in building are partly caused by Jewish settlers
who don't want a border that could signal Israeli military withdrawal
from the West Bank. The Seam Line Project, if it were to become
a border, would kill their dreams of an expansive Greater Israel
encompassing the West Bank and Gaza Strip.