Your View

A world of walls?

This is a guest post by Shiraz Maher

Israel has one – but have you heard about the others?

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. During that time scores of other barriers and walls have gone up around the world as documented in a fascinating report by the BBC.

Of course, the one we’ve all heard about is the Israeli security fence which attracted fierce criticism after its construction in 2003. Built in response to the Palestinian intifada which claimed more than 900 lives since September 2000, the fence has dramatically halted the number of terrorist attacks inside the country.

Excuse the pun – but from the wall-to-wall coverage it received – you could be mistaken for thinking that Israel’s decision to defend itself in this way was unprecedented. Yet, not only is this wrong but, ironically, a lot of the physical barriers currently in place are located in the ‘Muslim world’.

The Saudi-Yemeni border is just one place where a physical barrier is used by a Muslim regime to defend itself against ‘smuggling’ and ‘terrorism’. The head of Saudi Arabia’s border control, Talal Anqawi, has described it as

a sort of screen … which aims to prevent infiltration and smuggling

Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen has always been problematic, providing a trafficking route for weapons smuggling. Indeed, the explosives used in the 2003 Riyadh bombings which targeted compounds housing western expatriates were blamed on Yemeni smugglers. It was not the first time Saudi Arabia blamed the Yemenis for not doing enough to stop terrorism. Yemeni smugglers are also believed to have helped facilitate the bombing campaign against US military bases in the mid-1990s.

Once the Saudi government lost confidence in Yemen’s ability to curb domestic terrorism, they decided to build a physical barrier. Much of it runs through contested territory. According to the 2000 Jeddah border treaty between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, a demilitarised ‘buffer zone’ should exist between both countries, protecting the rights of nomadic Bedouin tribes which live in the cross-border area.

Yet, parts of the Saudi barrier stand inside the demilitarised zone, violating the 2000 agreement and infuriating Yemen. The Foreign Minister, Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi, made official representations to the Saudi government in 2003 arguing

This area is supposed to be for pasturing. That was part of the agreement. The tribesmen have been allowed to cross over from one side to another for pasturing. That is a traditional way of life for tribesmen in that area.

Not anymore. A prominent leader of the Wayilah tribe which occupies the disputed area explains

The barrier has hindered grazing and free movement by many tribesmen. The tribesmen have the right to be free, but the barrier is taking away their freedom.

As far as I know, this ‘siege’ hasn’t been covered by Press TV but I’m sure Yvonne Ridley and George Galloway will soon be leading a delegation to support the heavily persecuted Wayilah tribe who are discriminated against mainly because they are Shia – a minority sect of Islam despised by Wahhabis.

More recently, Saudi Arabia has also built a physical barrier along its border with Iraq to stop jihadists from the Kingdom going over to join the mujahideen. Talal Anqawi hailed it a major success saying that cross-border incursions had dropped by up to 40%.

Beyond the Middle East, Iran’s 900 km border with Pakistan is currently being replaced by a concrete wall (10 feet high, 3 feet thick), fortified with steel rods. Ostensibly built to thwart drug traffickers and terrorists, the local Baloch people oppose its construction as it cuts across their land and separates communities living on either side of the divide. The opposition leader of Balochistan’s Provincial Assembley, Kachkol Ali, has bitterly opposed the wall saying his people were never consulted about it and that it cuts off families from one another. A statement from the Balochistan People’s Party reads

…the Baloch community of border village Sorap of western Mekran region have shown [sic] their fears about being politically and socially divided. The people were forced by the Iranian authorities to vacate the town in a stipulated time period [10 days].

A number of Baloch communities, particularly in the Kech district of south-western Balochistan, straddle the Iranian-Pakistani border area. After Iran began construction of its wall, many of those residing on its side were forced back across the border into Pakistan where they are separated from their families and land.

I’m hoping to join the next occupation of lecture theatres at universities around the country to protest against this insufferable outrage. I can hear it now: ‘Viva, Viva, Balochistina!’

There are plenty more examples of this within the Muslim world too. In the Western Sahara desert Morocco has built a massive wall, spanning more than 2700 km. Its primary aim is to guard against Sahrawi separatists who organised themselves into the Polisario Front – a political and terrorist movement – which seeks independence for the Sahrawi people. Much of the wall is lined with barbed wire and landmines, which is something it shares in common with parts of the Pakistan-Indian border (particularly in Kashmir).

Twenty years on from the collapse of the Berlin Wall physical barriers continue to be employed around the world. They may not be pretty, but they are effective. Indeed, even Israel’s biggest critics would have to concede that suicide bombings have fallen away sharply ever since the construction of the security fence in parts of Gaza and the West Bank. Yet, Islamists and parts of the political left obsess only about Israel but do not extend similar condemnation to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, or Pakistan.

I had no idea about most of the other security walls and fences constructed around the world. We tend to hear only about Israel’s because of the news coverage and hippy activism it attracts. No other security fence has attracted quite as much attention and theirs – that despite Israel suffering a torrent of terrorist attacks from 2000-2003. Ultimately, my point is the same as the one I made earlier in the year when the Gaza conflict took place: where is the ‘fairness’ and ‘consistency’ that Islamists and their leftist cheerleaders continually complain about? And why this one-track obsession with everything Israeli?