Article - Border Settlements
The border settlements
are an important part of the history of Jewish colonization of the Holy Land. What makes them particularly outstanding is their role as outposts of Jewish settlement, and while it is true that the first settlers of Deganyah and Kinneret, and even those who preceded them, did not always set up their tents in proximity to the country's geographical borders, their very presence constituted a range of outposts marking the borders of the Jewish State which lay ahead.
During the period of the British Mandate, the leaders of the Yishuv were determined to gain a foothold in areas which were officially closed to Jewish settlement. This led them to adopt such stratagems as creating facts in situ by setting up buildings overnight. This was the basis of the "Tower and Stockade" system under which, during the years 1936-1939, numerous settlements were set up in a manner calculated to provide maximum protection to their settlers. Most of these scattered settlements were established near the borders of the country, in the heart of hostile Arab territory. Nir David in the Beth-Shean valley was the first of such settlements and it was followed by many more similar ones, the most famous of which was Hanitah which was colonized in 1938 as the result of first-class planning and political courage. The settlers of Hanitah set up their tents in Western Galilee near the Lebanese border, an area which had previously known no Jewish settlement.
Eight years later, pioneering efforts were directed to the wide open spaces of the Negev which was still a kind of "terra incognita." The British government's White Paper specifically prohibited the purchase of land by Jews in the area, but in spite of this harsh restriction, the month of October 1946 saw 11 settlements sprout out of the yellow soil. These 11 settlements, which included Urim, Nirim, Shoval, Be'eri, Revivim, Mashabbei Sadeh, and Mishmar ha-Negev, had the effect of extending the borders of the Land of Israel. They fixed, de facto, the southern border of the country and created a new geopolitical reality. But for them, it is doubtful whether it would have been possible to incorporate the Negev into the Israeli State during the War of Independence.
Once the State had been established, it soon became apparent that its straggling borders were exposed and vulnerable at many points and the problem of the borders demanded an urgent solution. The first steps were taken in the early 1950s, when a number of towns were established in Upper Galilee, populated by new immigrants. Shelomi, Segev, Margaliyyot, Even Menahem, and others were sited so as to close gaps along the northern frontier and increase the Jewish population of the area.
Another area which cried out for mass settlement was the Jerusalem Corridor, and here too a number of typical frontier settlements, such as Mevasseret Yerushalayim, Ma'oz Ziyyon, Matta, Orah, Amminadav, Mevo Beitar, and others, were set up to form a solidly based string of settlements which also made a notable contribution to the agricultural development of the region.
At the same time a number of settlements were established in the Adulam Region (between Jerusalem and the Lachish region) and they suffered from recurrent infiltrations. Examples of these are Givat Yeshayahu, Roglit, Neveh Mikha'el, and Avi'ezer, which strengthened the south-east hinterland of Jerusalem and helped calm the security situation.
However, there still remained a large number of sensitive points at which Israel's control was somewhat lax. The situation along the eastern border was particularly worrying. In 1961 a frontier settlement was established in the Korazim area (opposite the northern shore of the Kinneret) and called Almagor. This was the first of a string of such settlements which sprang up one after the other.
These settlements continued the principle of the "Ussishkin Forts" which were established in the eastern section of Upper Galilee during the 1940s and included such settlements as Dan, Dafnah, and Kefar Szold. Within a few years Almagor was followed by Ma'aleh Gilboa on Mount Gilboa, Biranit in Galilee, Mevo Modi'in in the Modi'in region, Zur Natan opposite Qalqilya and Grofit in the Aravah. The land for these settlements was supplied by the Jewish National Fund while the Jewish Agency and the Housing Ministry took care of the buildings. The contribution of these points of settlement (which have meanwhile become permanent settlements) to the security of the areas in which they were situated, cannot be overestimated. The security forces and the Border Police in particular knew that they could rely on their support and were greatly helped by them in their war against terrorists and infiltrations.
The veteran settlements too took their part in sharing the security burden and the yoke was a particularly heavy one for the Hulah and Jordan valley settlements which, until the Six-Day War, were a sitting target for the enemy's guns. The members of Shamir, Ha-On, Tel Katzir, Gonen, Sha'ar ha-Golan and others suffered continuously at the hands of the Syrians and Jordanians and raised a generation of "Shelter Children" who frequently spent the greater part of their days in the shelters. We cannot overlook the trials of the development towns of Beth-Shean and Kiryat Shemonah which suffered from the bombardment and incursions of their neighbors from across the border. Needless to say, those bombings and incursions, though they resulted in loss of life and damage to property, failed to break the spirit of the inhabitants and the vast majority of them refused to leave their homes.
Following the Six-Day War, the area facing the Syrian border quieted down and the center of disturbance moved to the northern border facing Lebanon. A series of attacks have taken place in the border settlements - the massacre of the schoolchildren at Ma'alot, the ambush of a school bus carrying the children of Avivim, Katyusha fire on Kiryat Shemonah, the infiltration of Shamir and Kefar Yoval, and a long list of similar incidents.
The manner in which the settlers of these border settlements have stood firm in the face of danger has been proof of their fulfilling a function, acting as a security belt around the frontiers of the State of Israel.