A bordered world

Israel is to build a barrier along its Egyptian border. We look at other separation barriers worldwi

Israel has announced plans to build a wall along its border with Egypt to keep illegal immigrants out and protect against terrorism.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said yesterday that a barrier blocking the main infiltration routes along the 266-kilometre (166-mile) frontier will be constructed and advanced surveillance equipment installed. The total cost will be roughly £170m (one billion shekels).

Thousands of migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia have crossed the border over the past few years. Netanyahu said that, while refugees could still seek asylum in Israel:

This is a strategic decision to secure Israel's Jewish and democratic character.

So, the wall is largely a pragmatic measure, but physical barriers are fraught with the symbolism of oppression -- Gaza, the Berlin Wall. Just how common are these physical boundaries, why are they there, and which countries make most use of them?

Here are just a few examples of the separation barriers that exist along country borders. They offer a snapshot of the political tension around them and the complex technology they entail. Interestingly, walls have also been proposed on the borders of Pakistan/Afghanistan and Russia/Chechnya. Is this the answer to cross-border conflict and problems such as smuggling and immigration? Please do leave comments below.

Israel

This new barrier will cover nearly all of the country's borders. Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, sums up the Israeli position:

We need a fence, as I said ten years ago, with all of our neighbours. With the Palestinians, we need two states for two people, a fence that will surround a solid Jewish majority. We will be here and they will be there.

Indeed, a barrier runs along the entire land border of the Gaza Strip. The section separating it from Israel was constructed in 1994, and consists of wire fencing with sensors. It is separated from Egypt by a wall of concrete and steel, built after 2004.

A similar barrier around the West Bank is under construction, but has attracted huge controversy. The International Court of Justice declared in 2004 that the erection of the barrier is "contrary to international law". Debate rages, as the wall (in some places, eight metres high) is not being built along 1949 Armistice lines, but within the West Bank, annexing areas with substantial Israeli settlements, as well as water sources.

Settlers, and others, have also protested, arguing that none of the land should be relinquished. Construction paused in 2007, ostensibly due to lack of funds.

Elsewhere, Israel's borders are a physical legacy of past wars with neighbouring states. Its borders with Lebanon and Syria are covered by sophisticated security barriers with electronic surveillance and warning systems, a result of the 1949 Armistice and 1967 war, respectively.

Jordan -- the most peaceful of the borders -- is largely unbolstered, except for the section adjacent to the West Bank.

India

India -- the seventh-largest country in the world -- has also been constructing walls along its extensive borders since the mid-1990s.

Construction of a Kashmir barrier was completed in 2004, covering 550 kilometres (340 miles) of the disputed 740-kilometre (460-mile) ceasefire line; the aim is to prevent arms smuggling and keep Pakistani separatist militants out. The electrified barrier is between eight and 12 feet high, and also carries a network of thermal imaging devices and alarms, where power supply allows. It is well within Indian-controlled territory, though Pakistan claims that it violates bilateral accords.

Roughly half the tumultuous 2,900-kilometre (1,800-mile) border with Pakistan is similarly covered by barriers, and India plans to extend this the whole length. A barrier on the border with Bangladesh is under construction to prevent illegal immigrants from entering. And it is hoped that another structure on the Burmese border will stem smuggling and terrorism.

America

About 554.1 kilometres (344.3 miles) of the 3,141-kilometre (1,951-mile) Mexico/US border is covered by a separation barrier, aimed at keeping illegal immigrants out and stemming the drugs trade. The barrier runs mainly along the border with New Mexico, Arizona and California, with construction ongoing in Texas, and consists of a series of short walls with "virtual fences" in between, including a system of sensors and cameras.

In the past 13 years, there have been approximately 5,000 migrant deaths along this border, according to the Human Rights National Commission of Mexico, a finding that was endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Labour should be able to find a better alternative to Corbyn than Smith

The week in the media, including Cambridge entrance exams, the Brexit tourism boom, and why Owen Smith is a no-hoper.

A woman canvassing for Jeremy Corbyn called me the other day. I explained to her that I would be voting for Owen Smith as Labour leader – as long as he seemed to have no chance of winning. She sounded bemused but, after I explained my reasoning, I think she agreed, although she may simply have decided to humour a feeble-minded eccentric.

I told her that my objection to Corbyn is not so much about his political position as about his competence as leader. If he cannot command the confidence of Labour MPs, he is unlikely to command the confidence of voters that he can run the country. However, Labour needs a more convincing alternative than Owen Smith, a soft-left figure in the mould of Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband, who lost three general elections between them. As his proposal that we should sit down and talk to Islamic State suggests, his ear for politics, like that of the incumbent leader, appears to be manufactured from tin. Moreover, his past as a lobbyist for a drugs company represents precisely the bundle of connections between politics, media and international capital against which so many voters are in revolt.

Smith deserves a large vote, mainly to give heart to future challengers. But – given that no party has ever overthrown two leaders in a single parliament without either having fought a general election – his victory would leave the party with the prospect of nearly four wasted years followed by defeat in 2020. Labour should be able to find a better alternative to Corbyn. There is still time for him (or preferably her) to emerge.

Agent Choudary

It is widely believed in the Muslim community that the Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary is an MI5 agent, whose high-profile flamboyance was used to attract and flush out the most dangerous radicals. Those who subscribe to this theory are not fazed by his conviction at the Old Bailey on terrorism-related charges. Although the prosecution detailed numerous instances in which people allegedly linked to him were convicted of planning violent attacks, nearly all such attacks failed, according to the theory, because Choudary did his job, allowing plotters to be apprehended before they could strike. Now MI5 has decided that he should continue his work in prisons, which are said to be increasingly potent sources of radicalisation.
I hesitate to scoff too much. Who would have thought that the Soviet security services could recruit several former public school boys in the 1930s and plant them in positions at the top of MI6 and the Foreign Office? We should not assume that our spymasters are incapable of being equally clever. Besides, the MI5 agent theory probably does Choudary far more damage among young Muslims than the media’s standard portrayal of him as an evil genius.

Apt pupils

A new hurdle, in the form of a university-wide exam to test “aptitude”, will confront applicants to Cambridge from this autumn. It illustrates why state schools can never hope to catch up, still less overtake, fee-charging schools in the race for elite university places (another manifestation of what the NS calls “the 7 per cent problem”).
Unlike its predecessor, which was abolished three decades ago because it was thought to favour those from privileged backgrounds, the new entrance exam, Cambridge argues, does not require coaching. The publication of sample questions shows that this is not true. Several are, in essence, exercises in logic, which comes naturally to a tiny minority but not to the majority who will need, if nothing else, a great deal of practice to achieve competence even at an elementary level. The better fee-charging schools will organise the necessary preparation for the dozen or so candidates each year who try to get into Cambridge. Comprehensives, with far more modest resources, will not do so for the one or two candidates they are likely to have even in a good year. Their teachers’ inferior knowledge of how the exam will be marked and what tutors will be looking for – matters on which Cambridge is unhelpfully vague – will further disadvantage state school candidates.

Stashing cash

I cannot think of a better example of what crazy times we live in than this. Keeping cash under the mattress used to be something that criminals and mentally impaired old folk did. Now, the Financial Times reports, banks and other financial institutions are thinking of doing it, although they will use vaults rather than mattresses. This is because interest rates are moving into negative territory, so private-sector banks are, in effect, charged for keeping cash in their central bank accounts. The FT estimates that banks have lost €2.64bn since European Central Bank rates became negative in 2014. Some pension funds have already asked their banks for wads of cash in €500 notes.
Could any satirist or futuristic novelist have envisaged this?

Foreign throngs

The Brexit vote and the subsequent fall in sterling’s value has led, it is reported, to a sharp increase in tourism. I thought of this as we struggled through people crammed into the excellent Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire, the other day. Haworth is a tiny village (population 6,379) that was so poor two centuries ago that raw sewage ran down the main street. Now, it has created a flourishing industry from being the place where the Brontës’ novels were written. 

The prospects for British manufacturing and financial services may be uncertain but there’s always tourism, for which we seem to have an absolute gift. Even the damp, cold climate is an advantage, because it forces more people into the shops. But I wonder what the Brexiteers think of this growth in the number of foreigners, possibly including terrorist sympathisers, now walking our streets and thronging our museums, royal palaces and country houses. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser