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  • Crossing the Green Line between the West Bank and Israel
  • Matthew S. Gordon
Crossing the Green Line between the West Bank and Israel. By Avram S. Bornstein. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

This is a careful, and sometimes maddeningly calm, work of what might be called political ethnography. Its subject is the border (the so-called Green Line) that separates Israel from the West Bank, one of several territories occupied by Israel in June 1967, and the impact of the border upon the lives of West Bank Palestinians. The book’s author, Avram Bornstein, an assistant professor of anthropology at John Jay College, CUNY, devoted roughly three years of time - between September 1988 and the summer of 2000 — to visiting Israel and the Occupied Territories. During longer visits, after 1994, Bornstein lived with a Palestinian family in a village near Tulkarm in the northern West Bank. During that period, he worked alongside Palestinian laborers in construction, agriculture and other areas.

Bornstein begins with a grim assessment of Palestinian experiences at the border crossings into Israel. His account, it should be noted, dates to the mid-1990’s, when tensions in the Occupied Territories were running particularly high (although not as high as they have become today). As Bornstein shows later in the book, the border assumed its malevolent quality for Palestinian society from very early in the Israeli occupation. The violence of the border was/is both physical and symbolic: physical in that every Palestinian risks arrest, beating, torture each time he or she approaches the heavily armed Israeli checkpoints; symbolic, or, perhaps better, emotional, in that most often the border crossing involves “simple but painful humiliation” (16) occasioned by suspicious questioning, queries for identification cards and hours of delay. For years, Palestinians and foreign observers (much less so U.S. media) have underscored the role played by these repeated episodes of “routine” humiliation in fueling local resistance to Israeli control.

A second chapter is devoted to the historical backdrop to the Occupation. His comments, complemented by a set of useful maps (28–32), will be useful to readers poorly acquainted with the history of the conflict. Bornstein shows the extent to which Israeli conduct in the West Bank has involved brutality, close control of all Palestinian political and economic activity, and sharp limits on any and all Palestinian development. By the early 1970’s, land confiscation and settlement joined the list of Israeli initiatives. By 1997, the number of Jewish settlers reached 140,000 and, by 2000, more than double that figure. A heavy military presence has been a constant; despite troop withdrawals linked to the cynically named “peace process” of the early and mid-1990’s, Israeli military control over the Territories has never really slackened.

Three subsequent chapters (3, 4 and 5) rely directly on Bornstein’s fieldwork. For those who teach courses on the Arab-Israeli conflict, these middle chapters should prove useful in communicating to students the nature and costs of the conflict over Palestine. Bornstein is chiefly concerned in this book with what he calls the “structural” effects of the border upon Palestinian (and, to a lesser degree Israeli) society; he wants, in other words, to understand the border in geo-political and economic terms. Using the lives of his hosts and informants as evidence, Bornstein paints a clear, painful picture of the distortions brought on by the Occupation upon the local Arab economy and labor market.

Three closing chapters (6, 7 and 8) turn to cultural and more long-term political matters. Bornstein shows, for example, how closely related barriers and borders are to the shaping and nature of modern Palestinian identity. The book is, without question, a valuable addition to the literature on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Its contribution lies in its careful tracking of the daily impact of the Israeli occupation. In other words, Bornstein does an admirable job of relating wider patterns of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the lives of individual Palestinians and Israelis. The book has a decidedly more academic feel than, say, the writings of David Grossman and Amira Hass (to cite examples of non-Palestinian writers who have chosen to observe developments in...

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