Joshua Keating: Today's Berlin Walls





[Joshua Keating is deputy Web editor at Foreign Policy.]

The Israel/Palestine “Separation Barrier”

What: The Israeli government first proposed a physical barrier between Israel and the West Bank in 2002, saying it was necessary to prevent terrorists from entering Israeli territory. It is now more than half complete. Although often referred to as "the wall," in most places the barrier consists of an electronic fence surrounded by trenches and barbed-wire fences and is roughly 60 meters wide. The barrier has 66 gates, though many are often closed.

How it divides: The most controversial aspect of the barrier is that most of it runs not along the "green line" separating Israel and the West Bank, but through ostensibly Palestinian territory. Palestinians living between the barrier and the green line require permits to remain in their homes. The wall has also been extended in several locations to encompass Israeli settlements on the West Bank, effectively annexing sections of Palestinian territory. The relatively few crossing points, even fewer of which are open at any given time, disrupt cross-border Palestinian trade. The International Court of Justice at the Hague has declared the wall to be in violation of the Geneva Conventions and ordered construction to stop. Like the Berlin Wall, the solid sections of the barrier have become a target for Palestinian graffiti artists.

Future: Israel has been forced to make several adjustments to the route of the wall due to challenges filed in Israel's Supreme Court. It now expects the wall to be completed next year, though that is already seven years behind schedule. Thanks to delays and cost overruns on the $2.5 billion project, some analysts now predict it will never be completed.

The U.S.-Mexico border fence

What: In 2006, President George W. Bush approved a congressional plan to build 700 miles of fencing in several sections along the U.S.-Mexico border, citing the need to curb illegal immigration. The fence consists of both physical barriers and “virtual fences” of cameras and motion detectors. About 613 miles of fencing have been constructed so far. There have been several congressional proposals in recent years to extend the fence along the entire U.S. border.

How it divides: There are an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States and more than a million people are arrested each year trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The current round of fence construction was approved over the protests of then Mexican President Vicente Fox -- who likened it to the Berlin Wall and warned that it would damage relations between the two countries -- and border protection agents themselves, who argued that immigrants would simply find new routes. In addition, the fence’s proposed route would divide the territory of several American Indian reservations and disrupt the migratory patterns of a number of animal species.

Future: U.S. President Barack Obama promised to review the current construction plan during his campaign, but has so far made no moves to halt fence construction. A majority of Americans support building a fence along the entire border.

The Korean Demilitarized Zone

What: Running along the 38th parallel that has marked the division between North and South Korea since World War II, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) is, in fact, one of the world's most heavily militarized borders. On either side of the 4 kilometer-wide border, nearly 2 million North and South Korean troops are stationed.

How it divides: Described by former U.S. President Bill Clinton as "the scariest place on Earth," the DMZ has been mostly peaceful in the five decades since the end of the Korean War, so peaceful, in fact, that the area has become a haven for wildlife, including several endangered species. There has been something of a competition in recent years to see which side can build the most impressive guard posts and fortifications along the DMZ, a contest known as the "skyscraper wars." Although more than 16,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the Korean War, most of them have chosen to cross into China first, a much less dangerous proposition. The recent, and unusual, defection of a South Korean man to North Korea through the DMZ has prompted Seoul to launch a review of border security.

Future: A recent program allowed some South Koreans to cross the border to meet with relatives, from whom they've been separated since the end of the war. The program was halted after North Korea captured a South Korean fishing boat. For the most part, cross-border contact between the two Koreas remains almost unheard-of and given Kim Jong Il's nuclear provocations, is likely to stay that way...


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