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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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue