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berlin wall
The Berlin wall

The Berlin wall was built by East Germany as an “anti-fascist protection” on August 13, 1961. 28 years later, in November 1989, it was taken down. Walls – history has often taught – don't solve any issues. On the contrary, they emphasize them, underline differences, become a symbol of lack of communication and, sooner or later, are demolished. But since we hardly ever pay any attention to the lessons from history, anywhere there is an ongoing conflict for coexistence or survival, new walls are built.

Fort Israel

The building of walls is a vital component of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, a controversy that has been dragging on since 1948. The barriers that have been raised have become a symbol of this conflict, qualifying and quantifying the contrasts and the differences of opinion. At the same time, they embody the feelings of oppression (for the Palestinians) and of insecurity (for the Israelis).

There is wall dividing Israel from the West Bank that was constructed along a border whose definition was never negotiated, but that was instead unilaterally decided by Tel Aviv. The Israelis claim it represents a protection against Palestinian terrorists and had to wait for a verdict of their Supreme Court in 2004 to confirm its legitimacy against international laws. Such a self-acquittal confirms that there were serious doubts over the legality of this barrier.

After all, the UN's General Assembly approved a resolution in October 2003 stating that the wall with the West Bank is illegal in the portions that do not reflect the so-called “Green Line” or armistice line. In 2004 the International Court of Justice declared the wall to be illegitimate. But, as often happens when Israel's security is at stake, these legal opinions were simply ignored. As where the protests by human rights groups, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, or by the International Red Cross.

Therefore, this barrier has become the symbol of the Apartheid endured by the Palestinians. The wall is 700 km long, has a height of 8 meters, is surrounded by barbed wire on both of its sides and is filled with surveillance posts. Its construction costed around 2 billion dollars, a sum that leaves out the money that was spent on roads or channelizations. Needless to say the wall was built over Palestinian private property, that some Arab communities were split in two, that water basins were redirected towards Israel.

If we ask whether this wall has improved Israel's security, the answer is definitely positive. Nevertheless, Israel's interests don't take into account the fact that this initiative has lead to a change in the relationship with the Palestinian National Authority. The decrease in the number of attacks from the West Bank didn't solve the absence of any agreement over a permanent deal capable of eliminating the risk of any act of terrorism altogether.

Israel has extended the same approach to the border with the Gaza Strip by building 55 km of barriers along a buffer zone marked by barbed wire. The latest round in the war against Hamas has confirmed that walls are not the solution to insecurity when rockets can be launched over them or tunnels dug beneath them. If the Iron Dome defense system has worked pretty well against the rockets, the Israelis are now planning to excavate a moat along the border with Gaza to stop the digging of tunnels. A ditch 20 meters deep and reinforced with steel that should become insurmountable for the Palestinians.

A similar concept was supposed to be applied – but never has been to date – along the so-called Philadelphia Corridor between Gaza and Egypt. According to the peace treaty signed with Egypt, the Israelis patrolled these 15 km of border until 2005 to prevent Hamas from digging tunnels underneath it. One of the proposals evaluated was to dig a canal along the border and fill it with water. This is the same project that is being taken into consideration to mark the border between Gaza and Israel.

Tel Aviv has also built 265 km of wall along the border with Egypt and the Sinai peninsula. The project was initially designed to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country – mainly Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees – but has now become a tool against the Islamic militants roaming around the Egyptian peninsula. This barrier is about 5 meters high and is equipped with cameras, barbed wire and walkaways for patrols. It costed 416 million dollars and the Israeli government is currently debating whether to increase its height to 8 meters.

As a matter of fact, Israel is basically entirely surrounded by walls or barriers. The Israelis have built a number of fortifications, walkaways, tunnels and bunkers along the border with Syria and the Golan heights since the 1973 conflict. The buffer zone between Syria and Israel is under the control of the UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Forces). The same can be said for the border with Lebanon: protection barriers, observation posts and patrols monitor the area controlled by UNIFIL.

It is legitimate to ask whether such a protection system is capable of granting Israel the security it longs for. It can be true in the short term, not in a future perspective. Tel Aviv will have the security it deserves once it will cease to need walls and barriers to protects its citizens.

israel wall
The wall in Israel

Walls in the Middle East

There are several other countries in the region that solve, or wish to solve, their problems by building yet more barriers.

There's a security risk for the ships that go through the Suez Canal because of the threat posed by Islamic terrorists operating in the Sinai? General Abdul Fattah al Sisi has just approved a project to build a 6 meters high barrier on both sides of the 164 km long canal. Estimated cost: 200 million dollars. Will this help solve the security issue? Hardly, if the real issue is having active terrorist groups in the country menacing Egypt's security. A barrier will not put a halt to the activities of the Beit al Maqdiss. And one wall will not be sufficient if Al Sisi goes ahead with his plans to build a second canal running parallel to the existing one.

Saudi Arabia is planning a mega-wall with Yemen to block both the flow of immigrants and contraband and the terrorists from Al Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP). The structure should be 1800 km long and go from the Red Sea to the border with Oman. Ryad has also begun constructing a barrier along the 900 km it shares with Iraq. This consists of 5 lines of wire-fences and barriers, 78 control towers, 50 radars, 8 command and control centers, 32 quick response posts. The cost is not a problem for the Saudis. This defensive system is the reign's first response to the threat posed by the ISIS in Iraq.

There are yet more walls in the Arabian peninsula between the United Arab Emirates and Oman and along the 193 km separating Kuwait from Iraq.

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wall on the border between Melilla and Morocco

A world of barriers

The rest of the globe is infested with walls that usually represent an inadequate, but fast reply to more complex issues.

There is the wall built between the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and Morocco in 2005 to block illegal migrants from crossing into Europe. They are 20 km of barriers, 6 meters high, that are illuminated day and night. It should be sufficient to watch what happens to the boats that cross the Mediterranean to understand how difficult it is to stop the flow of migrants fleeing poverty and wars. For similar purposes, the United States have spent several billion dollars to build a 4 meters high wall along the 3200 km it shares with Mexico.

The list could continue: Greece has built a wall 10 km long and 4 meters high at the border with Turkey, Turkey has raised one in the area of Nusaybin along the Syrian border, Bulgaria has put up a barrier along the 33 km it shares with Turkey and Ukraine is planning to seal its border with Russia with a wall long 1920 km. India is building a barrier at its border with Burma (1624 km), another one along the 3000 km it shares with Bangladesh, while it finished constructing a wall 550 km long in Kashmir and at the border with Pakistan. At the same time, there are walls under construction between Iran and Pakistan (700 km), Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (45 km), Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (1700 km), Uzbekistan and Afghanistan (209 km) and Uzbekistan and Kirghizistan (870 km).

Moving to Africa, there is the sand barrier, euphemistically called “hard shoulder”, erected by Morocco following their invasion of Western Sahara. The wall is 2720 km long and is mined to protect from potential invaders. The same could be said of the barriers South Africa has built with Zimbabwe and Mozambique, or the one between Botswana and Zimbabwe, or between Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus, North and South Korea and so forth.

Each wall exists because of an alleged or real menace and brings along some form of misunderstanding between conflicting parties. By counting them, we can verify the number of crisis zones still affecting our world.