Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Harriet Sherwood

Stephen Hawking joins academic boycott of Israel

Professor Stephen Hawking died at the age of 76, after over 5 decades of a deadly disease that left him handicapped and crippled on a wheelchair, communicating through an electronic device. He had published “A short history of time” that sold 8 million. He was officially received by world leaders and monarch.

Physicist pulls out of conference hosted by president Shimon Peres in protest at treatment of Palestinians
What really winds up Israel is that this rejection comes from a famous scientist, and it is science that drives its economy, prestige and military strength

Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott the Israeli president’s conference has gone viral. Over 100,000 Facebook shares of the Guardian report at last count. Whatever the subsequent fuss, Hawking’s letter is unequivocal. His refusal was made because of requests from Palestinian academics.

Stephen Hawking mystery
 Hawking’s boycott ‘threatens to open a floodgate with more and more scientists coming to regard Israel as a pariah state’. Photograph: PA

Hawking, 71, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual president’s conference, Facing Tomorrow, in June, which features major international personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will celebrate Peres’s 90th birthday.

Hawking is in very poor health, but last week he wrote a brief letter to the Israeli president to say he had changed his mind. He has not announced his decision publicly, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking’s approval described it as “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”.

Hawking’s decision marks another victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions.

In April, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland became the first lecturers’ association in Europe to call for an academic boycott of Israel, and in the United States members of the Association for Asian American Studies voted to support a boycott, the first national academic group to do so.

In the four weeks since Hawking’s participation in the Jerusalem event was announced, he has been bombarded with messages from Britain and abroad as part of an intense campaign by boycott supporters trying to persuade him to change his mind.

In the end, Hawking told friends, he decided to follow the advice of Palestinian colleagues who unanimously agreed that he should not attend.

Hawking’s decision met with abusive responses on Facebook, with many commentators focusing on his physical condition, and some accusing him of antisemitism.

By participating in the boycott, Hawking joins a small but growing list of British personalities who have turned down invitations to visit Israel, including Elvis Costello, Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Annie Lennox and Mike Leigh.

Many artists, writers and academics have defied and even denounced the boycott, calling it ineffective and selective. Ian McEwan, who was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 2011, responded to critics by saying: “If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed … It’s not great if everyone stops talking.”

Noam Chomsky, a prominent supporter of the Palestinian cause, has said that he supports the “boycott and divestment of firms that are carrying out operations in the occupied territories” but that a general boycott of Israel is “a gift to Israeli hardliners and their American supporters”.

Hawking has visited Israel four times in the past. Most recently, in 2006, he delivered public lectures at Israeli and Palestinian universities as the guest of the British embassy in Tel Aviv. At the time, he said he was “looking forward to coming out to Israel and the Palestinian territories and excited about meeting both Israeli and Palestinian scientists”.

Since then, his attitude to Israel appears to have hardened.

In 2009, Hawking denounced Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza, telling Riz Khan on Al-Jazeera that Israel’s response to rocket fire from Gaza was “plain out of proportion … The situation is like that of South Africa before 1990 and cannot continue.”

Israel Maimon, chairman of the presidential conference said: “This decision is outrageous and wrong.

“The use of an academic boycott against Israel is outrageous and improper, particularly for those to whom the spirit of liberty is the basis of the human and academic mission. Israel is a democracy in which everyone can express their opinion, whatever it may be. A boycott decision is incompatible with open democratic discourse.” (Palestinian deputies in Israel are Not allowed to express freely their opinions)

In 2011, the Israeli parliament passed a law making a boycott call by an individual or organisation a civil offence which can result in compensation liable to be paid regardless of actual damage caused.

It defined a boycott as “deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage”.

 This article was amended on 8 May 2013. The original described Hawking as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. He stepped down in 2009.

Israel using flechette shells in Gaza

Palestinian human rights group accuses Israel military of using shells that spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal darts
Flechette shell darts
 An image provided by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights of darts from a flechette shell it says the Israeli military fired in Gaza last week.

The Israeli military is using flechette shells, which spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal metal darts, in its military operation in Gaza.

Six flechette shells were fired towards the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, on 17 July, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

Nahla Khalil Najjar, 37, suffered injuries to her chest, it said. PCHR provided a picture of flechettes taken by a fieldworker last week.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) did not deny using the shells in the conflict. “As a rule, the IDF only employs weapons that have been determined lawful under international law, and in a manner which fully conforms with the laws of armed conflict,” a spokesperson said in response to a request for specific comment on the deployment of flechettes.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, describes a flechette shell as “an anti-personnel weapon that is generally fired from a tank. The shell explodes in the air and releases thousands of metal darts 37.5mm in length, which disperse in a conical arch 300 metres long and about 90 metres wide”.

The munitions are Not prohibited under international humanitarian law, but according to B’Tselem, “other rules of humanitarian law render their use in the Gaza Strip illegal. One of the most fundamental principles is the obligation to distinguish between those who are involved and those who are not involved in the fighting, and to avoid to the extent possible injury to those who are not involved. Deriving from this principle is the prohibition of the use of an imprecise weapon which is likely to result in civilian injuries.”

Flechette shell darts embedded in a wall in Gaza
 A image taken in 2009 of darts from a flechette shell embedded in a wall in Gaza. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

The legality of flechette munitions was upheld by the Israeli supreme court in 2002, and according to an Israeli military source, they are particularly effective against enemy fighters operating in areas covered by vegetation.

The source said a number of armies around the world deploy flechette shells, and that they were intended solely for use against legitimate military targets in accordance with international law.

The IDF has deployed flechette shells in Gaza and Lebanon before. B’Tselem has documented the deaths of nine Palestinians in Gaza from flechettes in 2001 and 2002. Flechettes have also killed and wounded dozens of civilians, including women and children, in conflicts between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Israeli military deployed artillery shells containing white phosphorous in densely populated areas of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009, causing scores of deaths and extensive burns.

It initially issued a categorical denial of reports of the use of white phosphorous, but later admitted it, saying the weapon was only used to create smokescreens.

Human Rights Watch said its use of the munitions in Operation Cast Lead was indiscriminate and evidence of war crimes.

In response to a legal challenge, the IDF said last year it would “avoid the use in built-up areas of artillery shells containing white phosphorus, with two narrow exceptions.” The exceptions were not disclosed.

Jewish diaspora angry as Netanyahu scraps Western Wall mixed prayer plan

Decision to abandon landmark deal described as a ‘slap in the face’ and prompts charity to cancel gala event with Israeli PM

A high-profile body that liaises between Israel and the Jewish diaspora has reacted with fury at a decision by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to in effect abandon a plan to allow men and women to pray together at the Western Wall.

The Jewish Agency has cancelled a gala dinner with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and is to discuss the ramifications of the decision at a meeting this week.

The Israeli cabinet decided on Sunday to scrap a compromise agreement made 17 months ago, which was intended to resolve a battle lasting more than a quarter of a century over equal rights for women praying at the Western Wall. (In 1967, both genders prayed together)

Netanyahu came under intense pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition government and the religious authorities that manage the site, the holiest place that Jews can pray.

The plan would have created a new area for worship at the Western Wall for men and women to pray together. At present, prayer areas are segregated, with a small stretch of the wall of the ancient temple reserved for women.

The deal, made in January 2016, was welcomed by liberal and reform Jews, and the feminist group Women of the Wall, which has mounted monthly protests at the Old City site since 1989. The gatherings frequently ended in physical tussles and arrests.

Women of the Wall also demanded an end to ultra-Orthodox bans on women praying aloud, reading from the Torah and wearing traditional prayer shawls, known as tallit.

The compromise followed three years of intense negotiations between liberal Israeli and American Jewish groups and the Israeli authorities and was seen as a significant breakthrough in promoting religious pluralism in Israel, where ultra-Orthodox authorities govern almost every facet of Jewish life. (If this lame issue needed such intense negotiation, what the Palestinians should expect from the right parties in Israel?)

But opposition from Israel’s ultra-Orthodox religious establishment has prevented the agreement from being implemented

Speaking after Sunday’s announcement, Moshe Gafni, the leader of the ultra-religious United Torah Judaism party, said: “We are happy about this, and thank the holy one, blessed is he, on this great success.”

But Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, accused Netanyahu of reneging on a “historic” agreement with liberal Jewish denominations.

“This is a bad day for women in Israel,” she wrote on Facebook.

“The Women of the Wall will continue to worship at the women’s section of the Western Wall with the Torah scroll, prayer shawls and phylacteries until equality for women arrives at the wall as well.” (If there is No equality in praying, what kind of liberal and democratic system are we talking about?)

Natan Sharansky, a former government minister and chairman of the Jewish Agency, who helped broker the original deal, said the move was a “deep disappointment”.

The agreement would have established “a dignified space for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall,’’ Sharansky said. “[The] decision signifies a retreat from that agreement and will make our work to bring Israel and the Jewish world closer together increasingly more difficult.”

The Jewish Agency’s board of governors, which is meeting in Jerusalem this week, said: “In light of [Sunday’s] decisions by the government of Israel, the board of governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel will be changing its entire agenda for the remaining two days of its meetings in Jerusalem, in order to address the ramifications of these decisions.

“The scheduled dinner with the participation of the prime minister has been cancelled.”

A ceremony to mark the opening of the board of governors at the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, on Monday was also cancelled

Salai Meridor, a former head of the Jewish Agency and former ambassador to the US, said the decision was “a slap in the face to world Jewry” and the Western Wall “belongs to all Jews”.

The American Jewish Committee said the decision would weaken ties between American Jewry and Israel.

“The Kotel [Western Wall] belongs to all Jews worldwide, not to a self-appointed segment,” said its chief executive, David Harris. “This decision is a setback for Jewish unity and the essential ties that bind Israel and American Jews, the two largest centres of Jewish life in the world.”

The cabinet decision came before a deadline set by Israel’s high court of justice on Sunday for the state to respond to petitions on its failure to implement the agreement.

Thousands of Jews pray every day at the site, the last remnant of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount, pushing scraps of paper bearing handwritten prayers into the cracks between stones.

The wall also attracts thousands of tourists and international dignitaries, with Pope Francis, Donald Trump and Madonna among global figures who have visited.

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis strictly govern Jewish practices in Israel such as weddings, divorces and burials.

The ultra-Orthodox religious establishment sees itself as responsible for maintaining traditions through centuries of persecution and assimilation, and it resists any inroads from liberals it often considers to be second-class Jews who ordain women and gay people and are overly inclusive toward converts and interfaith marriages.

Note 1: Saudi Kingdom cannot appreciate any Israeli policy Not satisfying gender discrimination and contemplate full support to Israel. Kushner demanded this restriction too.

Note 2: Erecting new settlements by American Jews are matters of doing business and illegal tax dodging on lands robbed from Palestinian owners

 

 Flechette shells? Modern antiquity tortures weapons targeting children and used by Israel on Gaza people

Israel using flechette shells in Gaza

The Israeli military is using flechette shells, which spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal metal darts, in its military operation in Gaza.

Six flechette shells were fired towards the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, on 17 July, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

Nahla Khalil Najjar, 37, suffered injuries to her chest, it said. PCHR provided a picture of flechettes taken by a fieldworker last week.

Palestinian human rights group accuses Israel military of using shells that spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal dart
Flechette shell darts

An image provided by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights of darts from a flechette shell it says the Israeli military fired in Gaza last week.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) did not deny using the shells in the conflict.

As a rule, the IDF only employs weapons that have been determined lawful under international law, and in a manner which fully conforms with the laws of armed conflict,” a spokesperson said in response to a request for specific comment on the deployment of flechettes.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, describes a flechette shell as “an anti-personnel weapon that is generally fired from a tank. The shell explodes in the air and releases thousands of metal darts 37.5mm in length, which disperse in a conical arch 300 metres long and about 90 metres wide”.

The munitions are not prohibited under international humanitarian law, but according to B’Tselem, “other rules of humanitarian law render their use in the Gaza Strip illegal. One of the most fundamental principles is the obligation to distinguish between those who are involved and those who are not involved in the fighting, and to avoid to the extent possible injury to those who are not involved. Deriving from this principle is the prohibition of the use of an imprecise weapon which is likely to result in civilian injuries.”

Flechette shell darts embedded in a wall in Gaza 

A image taken in 2009 of darts from a flechette shell embedded in a wall in Gaza. Photograph: Ben Curtis/APThe legality of flechette munitions was upheld by the Israeli supreme court in 2002, and according to an Israeli military source, they are particularly effective against enemy fighters operating in areas covered by vegetation. (What kinds of vegetation can you find in Gaza? Meant to be used in Vietnam?)

The source said a number of armies around the world deploy flechette shells, and that they were intended solely for use against legitimate military targets in accordance with international law.

The IDF has deployed flechette shells in Gaza and Lebanon before.

B’Tselem has documented the deaths of nine Palestinians in Gaza from flechettes in 2001 and 2002. Flechettes have also killed and wounded dozens of civilians, including women and children, in conflicts between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Israeli military deployed artillery shells containing white phosphorous in densely populated areas of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009, causing scores of deaths and extensive burns.

It initially issued a categorical denial of reports of the use of white phosphorous, but later admitted it, saying the weapon was only used to create smokescreens.

Human Rights Watch said its use of the munitions in Operation Cast Lead was indiscriminate and evidence of war crimes.

In response to a legal challenge, the IDF said last year it would “avoid the use in built-up areas of artillery shells containing white phosphorus, with two narrow exceptions.”

The exceptions were not disclosed.

“Goodbye Gaza. This vast Prison Camp for 1.7 million Palestinians”

Hazem Balousha was uncharacteristically despondent when he greeted me recently at the end of my long walk through the open-air caged passageway that separates the modern hi-tech state of Israel from the tiny, impoverished, overcrowded Gaza Strip.

After 3 years reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, our Middle East correspondent is coming home to the UK.
With heavy heart  pays a farewell visit to Gaza and pays tribute to the resilience, creativity and humour of its people
 published in The Observer this January 25, 2014

Goodbye Gaza: our correspondent reflects on her time in the Middle East

Hazem has been a colleague and a friend for three and a half years, a relationship built over more than 20 visits I’ve made to Gaza.

He arranges interviews and provides translation; but most importantly he helps me understand the people, the politics and the daily struggle of life in Gaza. We have talked for hours in his car, over coffee, at his home.

Hazem has accompanied me to grim refugee camps and upmarket restaurants; to the tunnels in the south and farms in the north; to schools and hospitals; to bomb sites and food markets; to the odd wedding party and rather more funerals. In the face of Gaza’s pressure-cooker atmosphere and bleak prospects, he – like so many I’ve met here – has always been remarkably good-humoured.

Palestinians enjoy the weather on the beach in Gaza City

The beach in Gaza City, ‘Gaza’s one magnificent natural asset’. Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuters

But not this time. As we waited for Hamas officials sporting black beards and bomber jackets to check my entry permit, I asked Hazem: “How’s it going?”

He shrugged, and began to tell me about the many phone calls he’d had to make to find a replacement cooking gas canister recently, and how his small sons whine when the electricity cuts out for hours each day, depriving them of their favourite TV shows.

gaza hazem baloushaHazem Balousha.

“This is what we have come to. We wake up in the night worrying about small things: cooking gas, the next power cut, how to find fuel for the car,” he said dejectedly. “We no longer care about the big things, the important things, the future – we just try to get through each day.” (Not much different from the poor in Lebanon who cannot afford private providers in electricity, potable water…)

The people of Gaza are reeling from a series of blows that have led some analysts to say that it is facing its worst crisis for more than six years, putting its 1.7 million inhabitants under intense material and psychological pressure.

Israel’s continued blockade has been exacerbated by mounting hostility to Gaza’s Hamas government from the military regime in Cairo, which sees it as an extension of Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood.

The Egyptians have virtually cut off access to and from Gaza, and as a result Hamas is facing crippling financial problems and a new political isolation.

Power cuts, fuel shortages, price rises, job losses, Israeli air strikes, untreated sewage in the streets and the sea, internal political repression, the near-impossibility of leaving, the lack of hope or horizon – these have chipped away at the resilience and fortitude of Gazans, crushing their spirit.

This was my last visit to Gaza before returning to London to live and work.

I moved to Jerusalem in May 2010, to report principally on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also social and cultural issues and the regional upheavals that erupted three years ago.

Since I first came here almost 10 years ago, I had been fascinated by the place, its people, its history and its compelling complexity.

I arrived eager to learn more about what is frequently called the world’s most intractable conflict, and to try to understand the powerful feelings of historical injustice on both sides.

I am leaving angry about an occupation that has lasted close to half a century, weary of Israel’s grinding oppression of the Palestinian people, cynical about the political leadership on both sides and in the international community, and pessimistic that a fair resolution will be reached.

Before heading home, I needed to say goodbye to Gaza, an extraordinary and unforgettable place.

David Cameron once described it as a prison camp, which is exactly how it feels, hemmed in by walls and fences on three sides. On the fourth side, the Mediterranean, Israeli war ships patrol the horizon; overhead, F16s roar and drones buzz around the clock.

“They are exercising their engines,” said Hazem with a wry smile, as a plane screeched over us. But they also unleash missiles on weapons stores, military training sites and militants’ homes in response to rockets launched at civilian targets in Israel.

Not many outsiders get to see Gaza.

As a foreign journalist, holding an Israeli-issued press card and a Hamas-issued Gaza residency permit, I can enter relatively easily.

Israeli journalists are banned by their own government, which means their readers are rarely exposed to first-hand reports.

Israel allows diplomats, UN staff and accredited aid workers to cross Erez, the border crossing at the northern tip of Gaza which it controls, and issues special permits to Palestinian officials and foreign delegations.

Pretty much everyone else is barred.

gaza; erez walkway

The caged walkway at the Erez border crossing between Israel and Gaza. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Consequently, the vast hangar-like terminal on the Israeli side echoes to the footsteps of these few, plus a tiny number of Palestinians, nearly all of whom are going to or returning from business trips or hospital visits.

Since a number of suicide bombings at Erez a decade ago, the Israeli border and military personnel remain in offices high above the ground level, watching through blast-proof glass and CCTV, and issuing instructions via speakers. It is an eerie and unsettling experience, however many times you do it.

Once you have passed through Israeli passport control, arrows direct you down a high-walled narrow corridor and through a series of turnstiles that take you to a remotely operated steel door in the vast concrete wall built along the border.

The other side of the wall is Gaza, but you are confined to a long caged corridor through the Israeli-designated “buffer zone”.

For the fit and healthy, it’s a 15-minute walk to the official Palestinian Authority office, where your passport is checked again.

Attesting to the bitter political divide between the Fatah-run PA and the Hamas government in Gaza, Hamas officials run a separate entry process in a handful of shabby Portakabins half a mile down the road.

Here you need to present your Hamas entry permit and have your bags checked for contraband, including alcohol. Booze-smuggling is not tolerated; if found, it is immediately poured into the ground.

Inside Gaza, there are few restrictions imposed on foreigners. I’ve often been asked if I have to wear a headscarf on Hamas-controlled territory.

Only once have I been asked to cover my hair, when visiting the Islamic university which operates a strict dress code for women students and staff – but I do have a “Gaza wardrobe” of trousers and long-sleeved, loose-fitting shirts.

The vast majority of women in Gaza wear the hijab, but not all; and among those who do, there is a cheering amount of fashionable creativity and individuality on display.

Another question I’m frequently asked is if I feel safe. The answer is yes and no.

I’ve never felt in danger from any Palestinians in Gaza, Hamas or otherwise, except from customary gunfire at funerals. But I’m constantly aware of the risk of being inadvertently caught in an Israeli airstrike.

During Operation Pillar of Defense, the 8-day war in November 2012, I lay awake at night listening to shells launched by Israeli warships whizz past my hotel window, the sound of overhead bombing, and the whoosh of Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets being fired out of Gaza. I was very frightened – and acutely aware that Palestinians faced a far bigger risk.

Fourteen months after that mini-war, on this last visit, Hazem and I talked of the hope – now long faded – that swept Gaza when the Israeli army and Jewish settlers pulled out in 2005.

The sense of liberation at the time, and the dream that Gazans might be free to determine their own future, and become a model of a future state of Palestine, was swiftly dashed on the rocks of Israel’s political actions and military operations, and the rise of Hamas.

Another brief moment of hope came in May 2010.

Under intense international pressure following the killing of 9 pro-Palestinian activists on board a flotilla of boats attempting to break the blockade of Gaza, Israel eased its draconian siege which had been in force since Hamas took control of the strip.

Then, I talked to factory owners who were desperate to begin importing raw material and exporting finished goods, fishermen impatient to take their boats beyond a 3-mile limit imposed by Israel; families who longed to visit relatives in the West Bank without having to travel through Jordan.

gaza tunnels

Palestinians clean up the tunnels destroyed by Egyptian forces, who flooded some of the tunnels with sewage. Photograph: Getty Images

But now, 8 and a half years and two wars since Israeli “disengagement”, Gaza is still blockaded and hope is rare. Israel controls most of its borders, deciding who and what can get in and out.

Almost all exports are still banned; fishermen are regularly shot at by the Israeli navy; families are still separated. And in recent months, Egypt has destroyed hundreds of tunnels which had been Gaza’s life support system, and has locked down the sole border crossing at the southern end of the strip, cutting Gazans off from the outside world.

Inevitably, the consequences of the policies of Israel and Egypt – plus the continued political enmity between Hamas and Fatah – have had their most acute impact on ordinary people.

In Gaza City, Hazem and I passed long queues of vehicles, whose drivers were waiting for hours to buy fuel. One, his face filmed with stress-induced sweat, suddenly leapt from behind the wheel of his yellow taxi to yell at another motorist.

Omar Arraqi had waited in line for two hours to partially fill his near-empty fuel tank, and there was no way he was going to allow the interloper to push in front.

Yelling and finger-jabbing have become routine at Gaza’s gas stations; sometimes punches are thrown. “People have fights all the time,” said Arraqi, whose income has dropped by 70% since Gaza’s fuel shortages took hold.

The government fixes rates for taxi journeys – the only form of public transport in Gaza – while the cost of fuel, when available, has rocketed. Arraqi said it was becoming increasingly hard to buy food as prices of basic provisions were also rising.

But he was most worried about the health of his 2-year-old daughter, who was born with hydrocephalus. After two failed operations in Gaza, she had surgery in Egypt – but since the Cairo regime closed the border crossing last summer she has had no further treatment. “Without help, she will be disabled,” said Arraqi, worry etched across his face.

His story was one of many accounts of daily small-scale struggles I heard during my last visit. The manager of a family-owned clothes shop told me he’d reduced his staff from 25 to 12, as well as cutting their wages by 10%.

Families whose breadwinners are among the tens of thousands who have lost their jobs, or whose pay has been cut, told me they have less money to spend in the markets, where prices have shot up as a result of higher transport costs and the absence of cheap Egyptian goods.

The price of a kilogram of tomatoes has quadrupled, along with steep hikes in the cost of essentials such as flour and sugar.

Electricity is rationed, currently 8 hours on followed by eight hours off. Some families are cooking indoors on open fires, at considerable risk of injury.

Children are forced to study by candlelight. People set alarms for the early hours in order to be able to take a shower or charge their phones or send an email. Mealtimes are now determined by power supply rather than tradition.

Gaza’s hospitals have to take into account the vagaries of the power supply when scheduling surgery; pharmacies are running low on medicines.

Roadworks and half-finished buildings – new homes, hospitals, schools – are abandoned as the lack of materials makes completion impossible.

Last month, a devastating storm swept through the Middle East bringing chaos and destruction to Gaza. At least 10,000 families were made homeless by flooding; children had to wade through rivers of rainwater mixed with raw sewage to reach school.

The storm wiped out fruit and vegetable crops. “After almost 7 years of siege, we were simply unable to cope,” a local aid worker told me.

An indication of personal desperation and social unravelling lies in an unprecedented rise in property crime, previously almost unheard of in Gaza. Domestic violence is also increasing.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, is feeding more than 800,000 Gazans – almost half the population, and a record number.

But UNRWA is also facing a catastrophic 20% drop in income while need is rising. “So much pressure has built up,” Robert Turner, UNRWA’s director of operations, told me. “How far can Gaza bend before it snaps?

Gaza has come close to breaking point before – especially during the brutal three-week war with Israel in 2008-9. But I’ve always been impressed by the resilience, creativity and humour of ordinary people, despite their adverse circumstances and repeated setbacks.

Memories of many individuals I met will stay with me for a long time.

In June 2012, I visited the artist Maha al-Daya at her home just after she returned from a four-month stint as artist-in-residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, leaving her 3 young children in the care of her husband amid some disapproval.

As Maha showed me her colourful seascapes and vivid abstracts, she laughed when I asked her how she found inspiration in the dust and destruction of Gaza. “This is what I see,” she said, adding that if I looked for colour and vibrancy against the grey backdrop of Gaza, I would also find it.

Long before he shot to global fame after winning Arab Idol last year, I met singer Mohammed Assaf at a wedding party at which he was performing. He told me he had been arrested more than 20 times by Hamas security forces, who demanded he stop singing in public.

He refused to be deterred: “My message as a Palestinian is that we not only speak or fight or shoot, but we also sing,” he said.

gaza  Izzeldin Abuelaish

Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish. Photograph: AP

I spent a glorious day on the beach – Gaza’s one magnificent natural asset – with 12-year-old Sabah Abu Ghanim, a passionate surfer who regularly hogged the single ancient board shared between friends and family and who studied surfing techniques on the internet.

Sabah told me she felt “freedom and happiness” in the waves that crash into Gaza’s coastline. Yet she accepted without resentment the conservative social mores that would require her to give up her beloved sport when she reached puberty.

I cooked maftoul, a type of couscous, and made cheese- and herb-filled pastries with the women of the Zeitun Kitchen, who run a successful collective business catering for weddings and parties from premises that regularly lack power. Along with a tightened waistband, they left me with an indelible memory of cheerful gossip and laughter as they worked in the gloom and stifling heat.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, a remarkable obstetrician whose 3 daughters were killed in an Israeli airstrike in January 2009. His anguished telephone call moments after their death to an Israeli television presenter and friend was broadcast live to shocked audiences.

His book, I Shall Not Hate, was a testimony to an extraordinary capacity to overcome. “Hate is a poison, a fire which burns you from the inside,” he told me at his family’s home, which then still bore the scars of the shelling, in Jabalia in northern Gaza. “It’s easy to destroy life but very difficult to build it.”

These and others belie the demonic image of Gazans, often promoted by Israel. Rather, they are overwhelmingly decent people who simply want food on the table, a better life for their children, dignity, respect and freedom.

But not all my encounters were positive.

I also met grieving mothers who expressed fervent hope that their infant sons would grow up to avenge their dead fathers or siblings by killing Jewish children, a profoundly depressing illustration of the cycle of violence here.

I listened to Hamas officials saying the bloodshed of their own civilian population was necessary in the fight to the death with the “Zionist entity”. I witnessed the funerals of children, saw the destruction of homes, felt growing despair and the near-extinguishing of hope.

And – despite’s Israel’s intentions when it tightened its siege following the Hamas takeover in Gaza in 2007 – I’ve seen the Islamic party’s power become more entrenched during my time here.

Hamas was elected on a wave of revulsion against the corrupt Fatah old guard and on a track record of providing practical support and services to the population, as well as a pledge to lead the resistance against the Israeli occupation.

Hamas has since suppressed political opposition, enforced an Islamic code of social conduct and, with its repeated rocket attacks, provided Israeli politicians with a useful justification for some of their more extreme right-wing policies.

Now, after the brutal crackdown on Hamas’s ideological parents, the Muslim Brotherhood, in next-door Egypt, the faction is facing a crisis. It is unable to ease the harsh living conditions of the people of Gaza, thanks to the calamitous loss of income and cash flow following the closure of the tunnels. It is now politically isolated in the region, and its unpopularity at home is growing. Yet its power is unchallenged.

“This is Hamas’s hardest moment, its worst crisis since it won the election in 2006,” Mkhaimer Abusada, professor of political science at Gaza’s Al Azhar university, told me over sweet mint tea. “But we are very afraid. Hamas does not allow any protests, any opposition. We’re sick and tired of Hamas, but we don’t have an alternative.” Gazans, he added, had become “hostages to Hamas and Fatah, Israel and Egypt – they are all gambling with our lives. I think the worst has not yet come. There will be more miserable days ahead.”

The UN recently warned that Gaza was rapidly becoming uninhabitable. But this is not as a result of a natural disaster – an earthquake, say, or a typhoon – but of destruction, de-development, suffocation and isolation caused by the deliberate policies of Israel and Egypt, with significant contributory factors from both Hamas and Fatah.

And the material and psychological siege of Gaza has profound consequences not just for the population, but also for regional security.

On my last morning in Gaza, the terrace restaurant of the beachfront hotel I have frequented over recent years was almost empty. Few journalists and diplomats come to Gaza these days, as attention – understandably – has swiveled to crises elsewhere in the region. “The world has forgotten us,” one Gazan told me.

After breakfast, Hazem drove me back to the Erez border crossing, through streets in which donkey-drawn carts are replacing fuel-thirsty vehicles, and men while away their lives sipping coffee on plastic chairs for the want of a decent day’s work.

I left a place that I have grown to care deeply about with a profound sense of gloom about its future. After Hamas officials gave me permission to go, Hazem and I risked a socially unacceptable parting hug and he wished me good luck.

But it’s he and the people of Gaza who need luck, and a lot of it.

New walls to divide who? Our walled world…

Almost a quarter of a century after the Iron Curtain came down, the walls are going up again. In steel and concrete, with watchtowers and barbed wire, mankind is building separation barriers at a rate perhaps unequalled in history – at least 6,000 miles in the last decade alone, according to a Guardian analysis.

Now, in a unique project, Guardian journalists have visited 10 of the most controversial, striking, contested and extraordinary walls, from the US-Mexican border to the West Bank, and from Europe’s eastern and southern frontiers to the divided cities of Homs and Belfast.

We have tried to establish why these new divisions are going up now, in an age when globalization was supposed to tear the barriers down – particularly when, as history shows, walls rarely did what they set out to do.

Using satellite imagery, users’ pictures, video and first-hand testimony, Guardian reporters across the world chart the new walls being built to divide people from their neighbors.
Jon Henley (an illusion of security from Berlin to the West Bank),  and Guardian correspondents published this November 19, 2013

Why are we building new walls to divide us?

Our walled world

The wild frontier

Location: US-Mexico border. First built 2006. Made of steel, concrete, wire mesh 345 miles. Jo Tuckman

Physical barriers along the huge US/Mexico border were few and far between and enforcement patchy until the Clinton administration began a crackdown around the main urban crossing points.

These started with the operations Hold the Line, between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez in 1993, and Gatekeeper, between San Diego and Tijuana, the following year.

A US border patrol agent stands near a section of the US-Mexico border fence
A US border patrol agent stands near a section of the US-Mexico border fence.
Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

The 9/11 attacks in 2001 brought fears that terrorists could slip into the US along with economic migrants, with attention turning to the more isolated parts of the frontier where most illegal crossing had moved. At the time net immigration into the US from Mexico hovered around 500,000 a year.

Measures approved during the Bush administration, and continued by Barack Obama, brought more and sturdier barriers with cameras and floodlights, as well as a duplication of border patrol agents.

A plan to develop a hi-tech virtual fence along irregular terrain proved a failure. With recession looming and drug war violence ballooning, the Republican right insisted on the need to seal the frontier altogether. At the time net migration from Mexico was trailing off to zero. Deportations reached record levels.

Frontera

Mexican film-maker Adriana Trujillo tells the story of Felix, a part-time actor who earns his money getting people across the walled and fenced frontier between Mexico and the United States. Video: Adriana Trujillo

Efforts to push through immigration reform at the start of the second Obama administration brought yet another drive to beef up barriers and enforcement.

A comprehensive bill passed by the Senate with bipartisan support in June conditions a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants on more fencing, more agents and more air and sea surveillance. The ball is now in the court of the House of Representatives.

José Martín Canales, 41, deported migrant

José Martín Canales, deported migrant
‘We are the ones who pay the price when all we want to do is work’. Photograph: Luis Perea for the Guardian

My story is a story of migration, for generations. My grandfather was from the state of Zacatecas and crossed the border to work after the revolution [in Mexico from 1910-20], but was forced back by the depression. My father brought us from Zacatecas to Juárez when I was a baby, and worked in El Paso. Back then it was like one city, there wasn’t even a fence. I would cross all the time over the river to see my aunt and my cousins. We crossed to eat their hamburgers.

I went as a migrant myself in 1994 just when things were getting tougher. Even then I got a plane from El Paso to Dallas and then to Anchorage, Alaska, with no trouble. I worked packing salmon there, but I’ve also worked in restaurants, car washes, construction and as a gardener.

The first time I was deported to Tijuana [in Mexico], I returned the next day. It was 1995. The second time I went back through a sewage tunnel into Arizona, but later they blocked that off. The third time I came back to Juárez and jumped the fence. It was 1998.

Not long after I was picked up and sent to prison for three years for illegal re-entry. They put wetbacks [illegal immigrants] in with hardened criminals and they like putting people in solitary for months. My girlfriend stopped visiting and I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t care either.

I was deported from prison in December 2002 when they were talking about stopping terrorists crossing. I know the score and won’t try again because I don’t want to be locked up in their jails again. I have some good memories of the US but we have started to hate them because they separated us when we were together. I think they are getting really tough now because of the mafias, but we are the ones who pay the price when all we want to do is work.

A US border patrol agent looks for footprints from illegal immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border
A border patrol agent looks for footprints from illegal immigrants near Nogales, Arizona. 9/11 raised fears that terrorists could cross isolated parts of the frontier. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

I was deported from prison in December 2002 when they were talking about stopping terrorists crossing. I know the score and won’t try again because I don’t want to be locked up in their jails again. I have some good memories of the US but we have started to hate them because they separated us when we were together. I think they are getting really tough now because of the mafias, but we are the ones who pay the price when all we want to do is work.

What few jobs there are pay almost nothing and the narcos feed on that. The corruption of the authorities makes it worse, and that is why there has been a war here in Juárez with 15,000 dead. When the soldiers came they picked on people like me because of the way we look. I am covered in scars from the beatings.

I don’t like my country now. I like theirs less

Pastor José Antonio Galván, 62

Pastor Galván is the founder of the Vision in Action shelter for mentally ill people, near Juarez.

I am proud to be Mexican. I grew up in Juárez and after I got married I migrated to California. Later I was in El Paso earning $500 a week, in the 1980s, but drugs burned my mind.

I got deported and wandered around Juárez like a madman for a year. My life changed when I beat up a guy in El Paso and he took my head in his hands and prayed for me, and that cured me. I got my family back and I became a pastor in El Paso.

I quit it all and came to Juárez after the Lord told me I needed to feed the crazy street people here. First I had a soup kitchen in the red light district of Juárez. I opened the shelter in 1998.

Every time I cross the frontier is a victory. Sometimes you wait three hours on the bridge in your car but I never get desperate. I got my green card seven years ago. This little piece of paper is power and I have it. It is a blessing. Thanks to this I can feed my guys.

And I have benefits in the US. I will get a pension every month when I’m 65, and my wife will too. Nobody gives you anything here. I had an operation on my heart for free. Milk or gasoline, everything is cheaper and better quality there. The culture in El Paso is very similar because there are so many Mexicans. The difference is economic.

María Guadalupe Guereca, 57

María Guadalupe Guereca
‘The frontier has treated me very badly and sometimes I want to go far away but what is left of my family is here’. Photograph: Luis Perea for the Guardian

María is the mother of Sergio Adrian Hernández who was shot dead aged 14 by a US border agent in 2010.

They are racist over there, and the worst are our own people who change when they go. The border agent who killed my son was a Mexican.

Sergio Adrian was the youngest of my six children. He was a sensitive boy. He started walking when he was one. I don’t even know what he was doing here down by the bridge with two other kids. They had gone to visit his brother, who works taking luggage out of buses for inspection when they cross.

They said that my boy was trying to cross when the agent shot him, but it is not true. They said he was throwing rocks but there aren’t any rocks here to throw. My son did not deserve to be killed like that. They killed him in Mexico and they say that makes it all right. I wanted the agent punished but we lost the case. The lawyer in Houston helping us said there is hope in the appeal, but I don’t have any.

I work in the municipal government building just over there and I used to come here to the river quite a lot. I’d stand by the column where he was killed, and I’d think and look at the graffiti for my son on both sides. About six months ago some US agents walked over the river to where we were and asked how long we were going to keep causing trouble. They laughed when I said I would never give up. It made me nervous to come back.

I have lived all my life in Juárez apart from two years in Los Angeles working in a restaurant. I worked as a maid in El Paso too, crossing every Monday and coming back on Saturday. We would pay one dollar to cross the river on a tyre. There was water in it then.

The frontier has treated me very badly and sometimes I want to go far away but what is left of my family is here. Sergio is dead and I have a daughter in the US. She has no papers. Another daughter left Juárez after her boyfriend was killed and she got threats. She left three children behind.

Manuel Guzmán (not his real name), 62, farm worker with US visa.

It used to be so nice here in the valley. There were football matches and lots of activity all the time. There were always narcos, but they didn’t go around killing people.

There was work in the fields too. The machines took many of those jobs, but the young people could still work in the clothing factories in Juárez until things got bad and the factory buses taking them to their shifts refused to come here.

This bakery behind us shut about two years ago because there was nobody to buy bread. The hitmen took over the ranches by the river. They took the cows and the harvests, and they told people to get out. Back then it seemed they were killing people for fun. Those with residency crossed the border. Those without just went. There is no illegal migration here either any more.

I love my country and I’m not going anywhere. I’ve worked on a nut ranch in the US since 1978, and I’ve got a visa and children over there, but my wife has diabetes and doesn’t have papers. One of my sons was killed when he crossed the border to visit his mother. They killed him in a gasoline station because he was dressed like somebody they were looking for.

I am pleased the army is here keeping the drug traffickers quiet, but they still kill people and they still move drugs over the border. I work next to the river and sometimes I watch them put up ladders and pass packages of drugs over the big new fence that just went up. They do it when the patrol changes shifts. It takes minutes.

I have mixed feelings about the other side. You can get work there and earn in an hour what you can earn in a day here, but the fence is humiliation for Mexico and it makes me sad. From their standpoint all the people in Mexico are mafiosos.

Paper crosses tied to the US-Mexico border fence representing migrants who died trying to cross the Arizona desert
Crosses tied to the US-Mexico border fence represent migrants who died crossing the desert.
Photograph: Alexandre Meneghini/AP
Photography © NASA

The divided desert

Location: Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. First built 1980. Made of mostly sand, also landmines and barbed wire
MOROCCO/WESTERN SAHARA/MAURITANIA◆ CANARY IS. 1700 miles

Marcello Di Cintio

The berm is built of sand and stone, but also of rumours, half-truths and bluster. It is the world’s longest and oldest functioning security barrier, and runs through disputed desert land between Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania.

Near Tindouf, in Algeria, lie several large refugee camps whose residents are Saharawis. They don’t belong there, at least not on that side of the berm. They come from a patch of sand called the Western Sahara on most world maps, its borders drawn with tentative dotted lines. The Spanish called it the Spanish Sahara.

The Moroccans call it their southern provinces. For centuries, Saharawi camel herders called it home. Now it is the “occupied zone”.

A woman flies the Saharawi flag in Western Sahara
A woman flies a Saharawi flag in front of the Berm in Western Sahara.
Photograph: Stefano Montesi/Demotix/Corbis

The Saharawis have been battling the Moroccans for the territory since the “Green March” of 1975, when King Hassan sent 350,000 volunteers into the Western Sahara and claimed the area for Morocco.

Though the region belonged to Spain at the time, dictator Francisco Franco was dying and had little energy to resist.

The UN insisted that the Saharawi people be allowed a referendum on sovereignty, but General Franco signed a secret document that divided the Spanish Sahara between Morocco and Mauritania.

The Sahawari resistance, known as the Polisario, declared war. They pushed the Mauritanians back to their border in the south. Then, although outgunned and vastly outnumbered, the Polisario troops circled and destroyed the Moroccan military units one by one in daring guerrilla operations.

The Moroccans changed their tactics. With the help of France, Israel and the United States, Morocco devised a strategy based on desert walls, or berms. Each time they gained a swath of territory on the eastern front, they built a wall to secure it and lined it with landmines. By the time the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991, six walls had been built. They extend eastward like ripples in a pond, and their combined length stretches to over 4,000 miles.

A Saharawi woman and child walk near a mine in the desert
A Saharawi woman and child walk near a mine in Western Sahara. Morocco has not signed the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty. Photograph: Minetularabas/GuardianWitness

The Saharawi refugee camps were established on land given by the Algerian government in a show of solidarity with the Saharawi cause and a thumbed nose at Morocco. The Saharawis are grateful, but the land itself is not much of an offering.

The few plants that survive on the Hamada du Drâa, a rocky limestone plateau, grow armed with thorns. Like most of the Sahara, this land is far from imagined desert scenes. There are no sudden green oases, no slow shift of curving dunes; only pallor and the whip of cold winter gales.

The oldest of the refugees arrived during the 1980s when the war with Morocco was at its peak. These old men and women sit cross-legged and talk about the French-built fighter jets that doused the fleeing refugees with napalm.

Moroccan soliders stand by a desert fortification in Western Sahara
Moroccan soldiers stand by a desert fortification in Western Sahara.
Photograph: Francois Mori/AP

A woman named Damaha tells a story about having to leave her toddler son behind and escape to the camps when Moroccan soldiers raided her town. Almost a year passed before she heard her son was alive and safe with his father – she still remembers the date, 14 October 14 – and 20 more years went by before she saw him again. They reunited in the camps in 2001.

Malainin fled to the camps with his brother and their friend in the summer of 2000. The three men, all activists, walked 60 miles through the scorch of the August desert. When they reached the minefield, the men unwrapped their turbans. Each man held on to an end of the cloth so they were a turban’s length apart — about three metres from end to end. If there was a problem, they could communicate by tugging on the fabric. And if one of them stepped on a mine, they reasoned, the other two would be far enough away to survive the blast. They made it safely over the minefield, then climbed the wall. Eventually they made it to the camps.

The Berm of Western Sahara
Sand, stone, rumours, half-truths and bluster – the Berm is the world’s longest and oldest functioning security barrier. Photograph: National Geographic/Alamy

Most of the refugees I met, however, were born in the camps. They have never been to the other side. The only home they have known are the camps’ tents and mud-brick shacks.

One afternoon, as I shared tea with a group of refugees, I asked a woman in her early 20s, Ama, about the homeland she had never seen on the other side of the wall. Ama flicked her teapot lid closed, smiled, and turned her eyes upwards. “It is very lovely,” she said. “There are real streets and buildings. Lots of cars. The ocean is nearby, and it is a huge distance filled with water. You can swim in it, and there are fish. And it can rain there for days.”

In the imagination of a refugee, any place on the other side of the wall, wherever it is, must be beautiful.

• Marcello Di Cintio’s Walls: Travels Along the Barricades is published by Union Books

Photography © NASA

The newest wall

Location
Homs, Syria
First built
2012
Made of
concrete
◆ BAB AMR◆ AL-ZAHRA◆ OLD CITY

3 miles

Mona Mahmood

Since the Syrian civil war broke out in earnest, Homs has become a city crisscrossed by walls, separating different neighbourhoods according to their ethnic makeup and loyalty or hostility towards the regime.

Bab Amr quarter, known for prolonged resistance to the army, is enclosed by a wall separating it from Al-Insha’at quarter, which is inhibited by a mixture of posh Sunni locals and Christians. The only way to get inside Bab Amru is to go through checkpoints guarded by the army. Only one car can cross at a time.

A wall built by the government to separate the al-Insha’at quarter from the Bab Amr district in Homs
A wall built by the government to separate the al-Insha’at quarter from the Bab Amr district in Homs. Photograph: Reuters

Snipers line the three-metre high wall, which was built a year ago from concrete.

Al-Zahra district, meanwhile, is loyal to the regime. RPG and gunfire never stops, so the regime built a six-metre wall around it.

Abu Ahmed, Farouq brigade commander in Homs

The regime used concrete walls to separate Alawite districts off from those inhabited by Sunnis. At the beginning the regime was looking for something like a buffer zone between loyal and disloyal districts to provide security, by which Alawite people can get into our districts but we can’t get out.

By the end of 2012, some fighters had infiltrated Bab Amru and tough battles broke out. The regime was afraid to lose Bab Amru again especially as it is adjacent to three Alawite districts.

In old Homs, a huge wall of concrete was built. If you go to the offices of the Political Security Branch in Homs, you will see something like a prison. The road is divided into two parts and there is a kilometre-long wall.

The regime now is more concerned about Alawite families than the army. No one can climb the wall, without coming under intense fire.

The regime is trying to provide as much security as it can to the Alawite population to make them feel that their districts are safe.

Captain Yazin Juma, Syrian army commander in Homs

I got an order to start digging a trench around Homs to stop rebel infiltration from the city centre to other areas. Within a few days, huge bulldozers arrived in Homs and the new plan was carried out immediately.

They also told us to build a high wall around Alawite districts in Homs, such as Al-Zahra, Akrama, Wadi Aldahab and Nuzha. The wall was to be made of concrete cement and provided with cameras.

The whole mission took Juma and his soldiers two months to accomplish.

Far away from Homs, on the Turkish border, the Syrian conflict has provoked a further spate of wall-building. Near Nusaybin, a town in south-eastern Turkey, the Turkish authorities have started construction of a wall along the border. In this part of the world, the populations are largely Kurdish on both the Turkish and Syrian sides of the line.

The barriers of Bengal

Location
India-Bangladesh border
First built
1986
Made of
barbed wire, concrete
BANGLADESHINDIA

2500 miles

Delwar Hussain

India is constructing a 2,500-mile barbed-wire fence around its neighbour Bangladesh. Though it is not fully completed, the twists and turns of the metal curtain already separates families and communities, with those who live on the border often finding their homes in one country and their paddy fields in the other. Watch towers, floodlights and armed border guards dot the landscape.

Members of the Indian Border Security Forces patrol along the fence separating India and Bangladesh on bicycles
Members of the Indian Border Security Forces use bicyles to patrol the barbed wire barrier separating India and Bangladesh. Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

Delhi argues that the fence is necessary to thwart an array of national anxieties from smuggling, illegal migration to terrorism. There are anything between 2 to 20 million undocumented Bangladeshis in India, many of them climate-change refugees. Dhaka says the rhetoric is based upon irrational fears and is an example of Indian bullying as it attempts to become the regional hegemon.

More than a 1,000 people have been killed alongside the border over the past 10 years, mostly by trigger-happy Indian Border Security Force (BSF) guards who operate under near impunity. Delhi has promised to switch to non-lethal weapons however fails to follow through on its pledges

Felani Khatun

In 2011, the death of Felani Khatun propelled the issue of the fence to the fore. Born in India, the 15-year-old was travelling with her father to their ancestral home on the Bangladeshi side in order to get married a week later. She was dressed in her finery and wore wedding jewellery. Being poor, marginal people who have little or no paperwork, there is no question of Felani or her father crossing legally. Her father managed to jump across the fence, but the hem of Felani’s trousers became tangled up in the barbed wire. She screamed, drawing the attention of a BSF guard who then shot her dead.

Felani’s body hung on the barrier for several hours in view of the villagers from Fel and Coochbehar on both sides of the border. Eventually it was dragged down by the BSF, her hands and feet tied to a bamboo pole and then carried away. A day later, Felani’s body was handed back to her family. Her jewellery was missing. Pictures of the teenager’s body dangling on the Bangladesh-India border became symbolic of wider issues of inequality and saw widespread condemnation of the BSF. As a result, last month a special court was set up for the first time to try the accused guard, however he was found not guilty of murder.

Lamin

Boropani
Boropani, a village divided by the India-Bangladesh border

Lamin is from the Indian side of the divided village of Boropani and works as a coal miner. The 30-year-old is part of the minority Garo community who are indigenous to this part of the borderlands. Lamin, like many Garos, has family on both sides and often crosses back and forth.

“There are some border guards that are reasonable and they will let you cross if you give them money, especially during Christmas or one of the other religious festivals,” he said. However Lamin’s usual experience is anything but convivial. “If the BSF (border security force) catch you crossing, they will first stamp on you with their boots, then beat you up and only then ask which country you are from. They get drunk and attack anyone. It doesn’t matter to them whether you may be Bengali or an Indian. The BSF don’t see anyone who lives in the border area as human.”

He adds “I do not have a problem with the Bengalis coming here to work and us going there to visit family or to shop in the bazaar. We are known to each other and have always done so. It is the border guards who create the problems, not the people.”

Photography © NASA

The rich-poor divide

Location
São Paulo, Brazil
First built
1978
Made of
concrete
◆ ALPHAVILLE◆ SÃO PAULO BELTWAYBRAZIL

40 miles

Jonathan Watts

Alphaville is one of Brazil’s oldest, biggest and best-known walled communities. Based outside São Paulo, it was established in 1978 for a metropolitan elite who wanted sanctuary from inner-city crime.

Since then – and with the extra incentive of low taxes – the gated community has steadily grown and spawned countless imitations. Alphaville now comprises 16 gated compounds, or condominiums, with dozens more on its periphery, plus a surrounding commercial and industrial district.

Sao Paulo's gated community of Alphaville bathed in cloud
Another pleasant valley Sunday: Alphaville’s 60,000-odd residents are separated from Sao Paulo’s social problems by 40 miles of walls and 960 guards.
Photograph: Diego Lezama Orezzoli/Corbis

The walls vary in size but a typical example is Alphaville 3, which has a 2.5 mile-long (4km-long), whitewashed concrete perimeter structure that rises to a height of 2.5 metres, on top of which sits an electrified and barbed 1.5 metre-high fence. In addition, the 4,000 residents of the Alphaville 3 compound are protected by CCTV and 60 security guards; they are unarmed but can call upon militarised police units stationed nearby.

A rough extrapolation suggests the 60,000-odd residents in the 16 Alphaville condominiums have a total of 40 miles of walls and 960 guards, as well as hefty police backup. Alphaville has now become a franchise, with similar gated communities in cities throughout Brazil, a reflection of a wider global trend that has seen thousands of miles of walls erected between rich and poor neighbourhoods around the world.

Clovis Leme, 60, fence contractor

Our fences drastically reduce the risk of an intrusion. They can’t be cut, they can’t be toppled and they can’t be scaled. It’s perfect,” he boasts. “And there is no risk to life from the shock. It’s just a deterrent.

It’s stressful in São Paulo. People worry about their children and move here so they can provide security for their families.

These walls have changed my life. If you put all of Alphaville together, it is definitely the biggest walled compound in Brazil.

When I was a child, society was more equal. There was no violence at all. We used to have milk bottles delivered outside our home and no one ever stole them. It was a freer, safer society.

Hagop Kassabian and Rita Figueiredo

Hagop and Rita are married business partners and Alphaville residents.

Rita:

I never lock my front door and I leave the car key on the dashboard. I have got so used to doing that, I sometimes forget when I am outside and do the same thing

It’s like living in the countryside. Everyone knows everyone. It’s a beautiful place and the education standards of the residents are higher than average.

In a perfect world, this would not be necessary. Walls add to social divisions, but I’m glad I’m on the right side of them

If I were to wake up one morning and find the wall was suddenly gone, my life would totally change. I’d be unhappy and worried because I’d lose the peace of mind that comes from knowing my children can come and go safely. I think I’d look for another compound.

Hagop:

We wanted to live in a simple and safe community. That’s why we moved here. Alphaville has met our expectations.

When I look at the walls, I don’t like the fact that I need so much protection. But I’m glad they are there. In Brazil, there are too many people who live on the street and carry out robberies. I’m glad I don’t face those risks, and that my children can run around without worrying.”

Tower blocks in Alphaville in Sao Paulo
‘They don’t come here; we don’t go there. We’re just neighbours. That’s all.’
Photograph: Gavin Mather/Alamy

Douglas Cunha

Douglas works as a gardner in Alphaville but lives outside the compound in the poor Imperial district.

Alphaville is over there; Alfavela is over here. The rich are inside; the poor are outside. It’s a problem. It’s complicated.

I like the condominiums. They’re beautiful. The people I work for are not very friendly.

Others in his community express similarly mixed feelings. Because of its high density of rich residents, Alphaville has some of the highest tax revenues in the country, which means local public schools and hospitals are better funded than most.

“We’ve got a new road now and tapped water, thank God,” says his elderly neighbour, Zenalea Rosa, who has lived in Imperial for 21 years.

But the trickle-down benefits are uneven, and inequality is glaring. Brazil has made great strides to alleviate poverty over the past decade but there is a long way to go. Cunha says he earns only 400 reais (£108) a month. About half the population of Brazil live on an income below this level, although the minimum wage is supposed to be 674 reais. Crime levels, education standards and health indices are all far lower in communities such as Imperial than in places such as Alphaville. This is one reason for the wave of protests that swept Brazil in June.

Some residents sing the lyrics of a rap song by O Rappa that captures the unease: “The walls of the condominium are supposed to bring protection, but ask yourself whether you are in prison.”

Tower blocks and other dwellings in Alphaville in Sao Paulo
‘It’s a place that distances residents from reality. My own parents call the place the Truman Show.’ Photograph: Carlos Cazalis/Corbis

Antônio De Oliveira, 21, resident

There’s a prejudice against poor people in the way the residents are separated from the workers. When the workers come here, they have to come through security, like at an airport. It reminds me of apartheid. That’s not an exaggeration – though in this case it’s not by race but by social class.”

When I lived in the city for a few months, I felt liberated because its not natural to live in a condo where you have to drive kilometres to get to the closest store.

The first thing these walls say is: the government failed to provide security for all of society, so a small percentage provide security for themselves, because violence is one of the major problems in Brazil. Secondly, they remind us of income inequality. This is a horrible legacy of Brazil in the 20th century and earlier.”

It’s a place that distances residents from reality. My own parents call the place the Truman Show.

Photography © NASA

Strait are the gates

Location
Israel and the West Bank
First built
2002
Made of
concrete, steel, razor wire
ISRAELWEST BANK◆ JERUSALEM

310 miles

Harriet Sherwood

Israel started building the West Bank wall in 2002. It said the barrier was designed to prevent the incursion of Palestinian militants. Palestinians say the purpose is to grab land and impose a de facto border. The barrier takes 9.4% of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and “no-man’s land” onto the Israeli side; about 85% of Israeli settlers live between the Green Line and the barrier.

Abd al-Fatah

A 51-year-old Palestinian who lives on land he owns in contested territory to assert his ownership. Video: Guardian and B’Tselem

Omar Hajajla, 47

Omar Hajajla
‘The only thing I want is my house and my land, nothing more, nothing less’.
Photograph: Harriet Sherwood

Hajajla is a construction worker from al-Walaja, a village surrounded by the barrier.

In 2008, we were surprised to be told by the occupation authorities that this house would be the only one in the village outside the wall. They told us this would create a lot of trouble for us, and they offered us money and land to move. My answer was that the only thing I want is my house and my land, nothing more, nothing less. Then they threatened me, but I said I am supported by someone even stronger than the state of Israel – God.

They suspended my permit to work in Jerusalem. They used dynamite close to the house in the hope it would be destroyed. They harassed us every day. But we refused to leave.

Now the tunnel is the only way to connect the house to the village. My children go to school two minutes away, but now it takes 45 minutes to go round the barrier.

The truth is, the psychology of my children has changed. Their friends don’t come to visit them; people are scared because we live in a military zone, they can be stopped and asked for IDs. The children feel like they are living in a jail.

When the barrier is finished, the whole of al-Walaja will be surrounded, with only one gate. People will be suffocated inside a cocoon.

Israel says the wall is for security, but the real reason is to confiscate as much Palestinian land as they can, and to isolate us in the hope that we go away.

Claire Anastas, 42

Claire Anastas
‘We need a permit just to go on our own roof, for “security reasons”, they tell us.’
Photograph: Harriet Sherwood

Anastas is a Bethlehem souvenir-shop owner, whose home is surrounded on three sides.

I’ve lived in this house since I got married in 1988. During the second intifada [Palestinian uprising], the soldiers used to come to our house to shoot from the roof. It was very frightening, they would wake up the children and threaten us with guns, and cage us in a corner. We lived in the middle of fear.

In 2003, they built the wall around the house in one day. They blocked the entrance to our shop. They wanted us to leave, but we refused.

This used to be a lively area, on what was the main road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Our customers were mostly [Christian] pilgrims, but also Jews. Since the wall came, we lost millions. Local people were afraid to send their children to play or come to a birthday party. We are on the front line.

My daughter left to live in England because she couldn’t stand it. There are 14 in this house, including nine children. We need a permit just to go on our own roof, for “security reasons”, they tell us.

We are buried alive in a big tomb. It’s inhuman. But we hope the wall will come down one day. Nothing is impossible.

The crossing

At the end of 2007, Israel closed two crossings that connected it with the southern West Bank, leaving Palestinians only three crossings to use. Since then, thousands of Palestinian laborers are forced to spend most of the night waiting in long lines to enter Israel. Video: B’Tselem

Saaed Amireh, 22

Saaed Amireh
‘The Israelis find it difficult to deal with peaceful protests’. Photograph: Harriet Sherwood

Amireh is unemployed, from Ni’lin village.

The village land used to be 5,800 hectares (14,300 acres). Now, after the barrier and five settlements, we have 800 hectares left (1,980 acres).

When we started our protests, we walked with our hands in the air, saying: ‘Just leave our land alone.’ But they shot at us with rubber bullets, teargas, stun grenades. They thought they would frighten us and we’d stop. But we are under occupation, we have to fight back.

Five people from our village have died, and hundreds have been arrested, including many children. There are 34 people from Ni’lin still in jail.

Now the barrier is complete, but we are still trying to break through it every Friday, although the numbers are fewer. The area between the village and the fence is a closed military zone. We have prayers there on Fridays, under the olive trees, to show our steadfastness.

My family lost all its land, we have eight dunams (8,000 sq m) left out of 240. My father lost his permit to work in Israel because he was active in the protests and went to prison. My sister was shot in the hand at the age of 13; two of my brothers have been arrested. Eight women in the village miscarried after inhaling tear gas.

The Israelis find it difficult to deal with peaceful protests. We practice unarmed resistance, but we believe it is our right to resist the occupation by all means. We’re proud of our resistance against a strong military power. If you bring a stone, they bring an F16. It is not an equal fight.

If you are unarmed, it doesn’t mean you’re weak. It takes more courage to stand with a bare chest against an army.

Yousef Selmi, 25

Yousef Selmi
‘The wall even took our view, and stopped the breeze coming from the sea’.
Photograph: Harriet Sherwood

Selmi is a farmer in Qalqilya, a West Bank city enclosed by the wall, apart from one road and a tunnel to a neighbouring village.

Our family has farmed this land for 45 years. Before the wall, Israeli-Arabs and Jews used to stop on the main road to buy from us. But everything is different since the wall came. Now Qalqilya is isolated. We live in a bottle. Sometimes they take off the lid, then they put it back on again.

When they built the wall, they destroyed our land and everything on it. The wall devoured five or six dunams (5-6,000 sq metres).

Even the local market is affected. People can’t work inside Israel now, so they can’t afford to buy fruit and vegetables. Some families don’t even have five shekels (90p) to buy bread. A lot of people don’t have work.

The soldiers have a road next to the wall; they come every few days. Sometimes they give us a hard time, put us against the wall and interrogate us. We are always afraid.

The wall even took our view, and stopped the breeze coming from the sea. The wall suffocates us. When I was younger, we used to go to the sea every week. Since they built the wall, I’ve not been even once. You need a permit.

There’s not even one in a thousand chances that the wall will ever come down. I have no hope. Yesterday was better than today, and today is better than tomorrow.

Al Jib

The dividing wall built by Israel near the Palestinian area of Al Jib. Video: B’Tselem
Photography © NASA

Europe’s new border

Location
Greek-Turkish border near the Evros river
First built
2012
Made of
barbed wire
◆ EDIRNETURKEYGREECE◆ NEA VYSSA

6 miles

Helena Smith

The Evros wall was built by the Greek government last year to stop “third world” migrants breaching the land border Greece shares with Turkey. It runs the length of the 10,600-metre long frontier, widely considered the EU’s most vulnerable front and, until the erection of the wall, the easiest “back-door” entrance to the west. It cost €3.2m (£2.7m) to build.

Apostolos Handirides

Apostolos Handirides in Orestiada
‘For the first time, there’s a real sense of security’. Photograph: Helena Smith for the Guardian

Handirides, who is 60, lives in the village of Nea Vyssa, a 20-minute drive under police and military escort to the barbed wire barrier, and sees himself as a “frontier guard”.

At least twice a month, he makes the 10-minute trip to the town he still calls Adrianoupolis (known as Edirne to the Turks) where his grandmother grew up.

The barrier brought us great peace of mind. You’d wake up and see these poor, wretched beings walking by, and sometimes they would cause trouble. Now we don’t have to look over our shoulders at all. For the first time, there’s a real sense of security.

My grandmother, Anna, came in 1923 and I remember her regaling us with stories about all the good and bad things of life over there.

The fence, of course, hasn’t stopped us crossing the border. I don’t speak Turkish but they speak very good Greek over there. Often I’ll drive over [via the nearby frontier crossing] to have a meal or coffee with friends.

Frosso Petriziki

Petriziki, who is 42, who works in a pharmacy in the Greek village of Nea Vyssa, often takes the bus over the border for a shopping spree in Edirne. Along with other locals, she comes back with fresh produce, clothes and appliances, which are cheaper in Turkey.

They say we shouldn’t support Turkey and, deep down we know we shouldn’t. But what to do when things are so difficult, when there’s so little work and so little money?

It’s very good that the barrier is there. Before, it was just so frightening. My kids would be out playing at night in the square and there would be all these immigrants just hovering around and they’d be scared to come home.

Some days I’d open my door in the morning and see 20 people, even women carrying babies, all covered in mud and washing their feet and clothes with the garden hose.

I’d try to help but then I’d get to the pharmacy and there would be more sitting outside.

Nikos Dollis

Dollis, the owner of the Utopia coffee shop in Nea Vyssa, fears the border barrier has helped the business of people smuggling with traffickers now focusing on delivering their human cargo via the river Evros.

In practice it’s been a huge boost for traffickers. People smugglers from both sides are collaborating even more. A lot of dinghies are being sold in Turkey for next to nothing, we hear, so that traffickers can ferry migrants across the river.

Before they were mostly economic migrants and were actually very calm. Our big worry is that the ones who are now fleeing war won’t be as peaceful.

Anti-migrant barbed wire fence in Evros, Greece
Greece’s border fence has closed routes used by migrants to cross the frontier with Turkey, leading some to attempt more hazardous crossings of the river Evros. Photograph: Pallister Wilkins/GuardianWitness
Photography © NASA

Ninety-nine walls

Location
Belfast and Derry
First built
1969
Made of
concrete, barbed wire, iron and steel
BELFAST

30 miles

Henry McDonald

There are now 99 separate walls in Belfast dividing working class Protestant and Catholic communities. The net cost to the economy: a £1bn a year.

Some are as high as 18ft. The largest, which cuts off the loyalist/Protestant Springmartin estate from the nationalist/Catholic Springfield Park was made of 1m bricks.

The walls crisscross the border lands between loyalist and nationalist communities in Belfast, the streets that were once known as the “Murder Mile” during a period when north Belfast witnessed a quarter of all the deaths in the Troubles.

A graffiti-covered peace wall in Belfast
Graffiti covers one of Belfast’s peace walls, some of which are as high as 18ft. Photograph: Alamy

Nearly a quarter of a century after a reinforced concrete and steel 12ft wall was erected separating the two communities of Clifton Park Avenue and nearby Manor Street, the barrier is now part of residents’ normality. On dead ground on either side of the wall there is even a project to grow food on allotments and build “men’s sheds” for the adult males of each district to seek some shelter from the pressures of everyday life. One community worker, Paul Little, said the allotments and the sheds would help “slightly humanise” the area around it.

Joe Finn, 47

A peace wall divides communities in Belfast
‘I have never seen any of my Protestant neighbours over there’. Communities divided in Belfast. Photograph: Vehbi Koca/Alamy

Finn lives within 100 yards of the wall in Clifton Park Avenue.

Will this wall come down? No, definitely not in my life time. I think it will still be up here in this street when I am in my 60s or even 70s. It makes us all feel a bit safer. When there was open access to this street and others in the area there was a real sense of threat.

Before ‘the Wall’ I remember waiting for a taxi to take me to work one morning, to my cleaning job at the Royal Victoria Hospital in west Belfast. While I was standing in the street, I saw this black cab coming up from Manor Street on the loyalist side and driving around and around the district. I was so frightened about being bundled into it, kidnapped and killed that I went back into the house and arranged for the taxi to pick me up in a safer part of the area. Looking back to that morning makes me shiver, I really think it was a close call.

I can also recall a young child having glass shoved into his mouth by loyalists on the other side. Before the barrier was reinforced at its base, there was a gap at the bottom of it. The kid was playing on the dead ground by the Wall and he was spotted then trailed underneath the fencing to the other side.

I have never seen any of my Protestant neighbours over there. The first houses on their side of the Wall are at very least 20 yards away from it. They have created their own buffer zone as well. If they took an opinion poll of people just in this area alone the vast majority would vote to keep it up.

Ray Grant, 32

Grant is a year-old community worker in Lower Cliftonville.

I was four or five when the first barrier went up although until we had the ceasefires and the erection of the bigger wall, there were riots in these three streets every single night. I remember being about seven when I made my first paint bomb to throw at the loyalists on the other side. This area, these streets were a battleground for years. The Shankill Butchers gang used to kidnap Catholics, kill them and then dump their bodies not far by during the 1970s. It was a crazy, scary place growing up but to be honest it was also exciting.

Do I think ‘the Wall’ will come down? I’m not sure. Working in this community you find attitudes differ depending on the age group. Older people who lived through the Troubles say never bring them down or at least they don’t think they will come down in their lifetime. I’m sceptical they will too but it’s funny working with kids in their early teens.

A huge pile of wood destined to become a 12th July bonfire
A huge pile of wood destined to become a 12th July bonfire overshadows a peace line. Grafitti on the Catholic side warns residents when the fire will be lit.
Photograph: brawford/GuardianWitness

I now do a lot of cross community work with kids from our area and kids from the Lower Oldpark and the Shankill. They are more critical about the Wall being up and say they would like to see it down one day. But the strange thing is they would never dream of going on their own across any of the streets leading to the Lower Oldpark elsewhere. They will come across with us on cross community projects. And they do breach the Wall in their own way. They are in constant touch with Protestant friends they have met over there via Facebook and Twitter.

One hundred kilometres further west is Derry, Northern Ireland’s second city, where the Fountain estate is the last Protestant enclave on the west bank of the river Foyle. Many Protestants have long since left, but a few remain, trying to make the most of their isolation.

Jeanette Warke, 74

Jeanette Warke on the Derry Walls, Northern Ireland
‘They cannot take down any of the barriers or gates around us without the consent of the people who live here’. Photograph: Paul McErlane for the Guardian

Warke is a long-term resident of the Fountain estate.

We have an allotment going here near the New Gate of the old walls and some of the produce we are growing will be sold at an open air market later in September. We would also like some of this empty green space to be turned into a memorial garden to remember the fallen soldiers and others who have died in other conflicts.

If there were no attacks, no threat, this would be one of the best places to live anywhere. We are in a great location being right beside the old walls in a unique tourist attraction. We have the beautiful St Columb’s Cathedral on our door step.

The population of the Fountain is actually going up again and there are some young families moving in. There is a widely held view that this is part of our heritage, our religion, our culture but the Northern Ireland Office, the first minister, the justice minister can say all they like. They cannot and should not take down any of the barriers or gates down around us without the consent of the people who live here. Only they should be allowed to decide if and when they come down.

Photography © Google

The 38th parallel

Location
North Korea-South Korea border
First built
1953
Made of
wire fence, barbed wire
NORTH KOREASOUTH KOREA

155 miles

Justin McCurry

The demilitarised zone, or DMZ, stretches for 155 miles from east to west and is lined on its northern and southern perimeters with fences topped with barbed wire to prevent invasions and defections. It first went up in 1953 after the armistice agreement detailed the exact distance both sides were required to withdraw from the frontline.

The fence is regularly patrolled by troops who wear special markings to indicate to the enemy that their intentions aren’t hostile. Soldiers from both sides may patrol inside the DMZ, but they are prohibited from crossing the military demarcation line that splits the zone into two strips just over a mile wide.

South Korean soldiers patrol inside the demilitatrised zone
South Korean soldiers patrol inside the 155 mile-wide demilitatrised zone which separates two nations still technically at war. Photograph: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The border is lined by observation posts and, concealed in the nearby hills and mountains, almost two million troops, including about 640,000 from South Korea and 28,000 from the US. Experts believe about 60% of North Korea’s military assets, including 600,000 troops, are positioned on or near the DMZ.

Hundreds of South Koreans, at least 50 Americans and countless North Koreans have been killed during skirmishes over the past 60 years.

Although North Korean attempts to tunnel beneath the DMZ have proved unsuccessful – four incursion tunnels were discovered before they were completed – the North’s artillery units are within easy range of the South Korean capital, Seoul, just 37 miles away.

A tourist in South Korea touches ribbons tied to the fence marking the border with North Korea
Colourful paper messages supporting reunification of the two Koreas adorn a fence near the DMZ. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

Lee Jae-geun, farmer Tongil village, demilitarised zone

To get to the plot of land where he grows sweet potatoes and soya beans, Lee Jae-geun must pass through a military checkpoint manned by soldiers toting assault rifles. Lee farms in Tongil Village, the only populated area of the demilitarised zone that separates South and North Korea.

“There are threats all the time,” he says. “It doesn’t bother us. If all of a sudden there were no threats and everything was totally peaceful, that would be strange.”

While North Korea’s sabre-rattling doesn’t scare Lee much, the political theatre on the peninsula does have real effects on life in Tongil Village. Earlier this year, when inter-Korean tensions spiked and North Korea cut off access to the jointly operated Kaesong industrial complex, Lee was locked out of his land for three days. In 2010, after an artillery exchange on Yeonpyeong island left four South Koreans dead, Lee was denied entrance for 15 days. All his dogs and chickens starved to death in that time.

While there is some apprehension over the possibility of conflict, Tongil Village also has unique benefits. Unlike almost everywhere else in South Korea, there is no industry here and few cars. Strict rules mean there has been only minimal development; the land is mostly untouched and the air is clean. Villagers drink untreated water, which they draw from aquifers, and gleaming white cranes gather at every body of water.

Lee sometimes wishes he could sell his land and farm somewhere more predictable. But with poor inter-Korean relations, the possibility of conflict scares away potential buyers and pushes down land values, so he knows he would not get much if he did sell his land. “It’s my responsibility to maintain this so I don’t have much choice,” says Lee, crouched down while pulling weeds. “I just hope the politics can stay calm so we can keep up with our work.”

• Steven Borowiec, Seoul

North Koreans work in a field near the border with China
North Koreans work in a field near the Chinese border over which most defections from the hermit kingdom take place. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP

Oh Sehyek, North Korean emigré from Haeju

Oh Sehyek was born in Haeju, a North Korean city close to the border. For all its proximity, however, Oh had no contact with the forbidden south. The separation was policed more through fear than physical barriers. He remembers a story his father told when he was young:

“Once, when he was a soldier, my father crossed the border by mistake. He was fishing in the Rimjingang and became so engrossed that he actually went a few metres into South Korea.”

The Rimjingang is a river that traverses the demilitarised zone, flowing into South Korea from the north. Oh’s father noticed that he had strayed too far and immediately turned round, terrified that he would be caught.

Oh’s first contact with the south was also unintended.

“I was tuning the television and I found a programme from Seoul by accident. I watched it a few times, with the sound turned very low,” he says.

He didn’t know at the time that the punishment could be fatal if he was reported. But he knew to tell no one – not even his family. Something about the show intrigued Oh and set in motion his decision to defect.

“I had to go,” he says. “I hoped my sister would come with me but I was scared to talk about it.

Once I said, ‘Sister, should we try to go to China?’ But her answer was, ‘Are you crazy? How dare you think of it?’ So I had to go alone.”

Rather than making the short journey south across the demilitarised zone, Oh had to travel all the way to the north, to the border with China. He sold his father’s army uniform to make money for the journey.

“That was 10 years ago, and I made it out, but I haven’t seen my family since,” says Oh, who now lives in Seoul. Recently he tried to contact his sister through a broker who takes messages from defectors in South Korea to their relatives in the north.

“It took a while,” he says, “and when I finally heard back I was thrilled, but I was also suspicious that she might be in the hands of the security police.

“The broker said her message was: ‘Please come back here so we can live together. The government would forgive you everything.’ But I could not trust what she said.”

• Daily NK reporter, Seoul

Photography © NASA

The edge of Africa

Location
Melilla and Ceuta, separate towns in north Africa
First built
1993
Made of
barbed wire, motion sensors
MELILLAMOROCCO

7 miles

Paul Hamilos in Melilla. Additional reporting by Jesús Avellaneda

In the words of the writer Lorenzo Silva, the barrier that carves its way between Morocco and Spain’s north African exclave Melilla, is “a symbol of the failure of Europe, and of the human race in general … a fence that separates two worlds”. Looming large over the Spanish territory and the border towns of Morocco, the barrier is in fact a fence in three parts, whose purpose is to prevent illegal immigration, and smuggling.

Spanish soldiers patrol along the barrier which separates Spain's North African enclave of Melilla from Morocco
The borders of Ceuta and Melilla were barely fortified until the 1990s.
Photograph: Reuters

Until the 1990s, the border between Morocco and Melilla was barely noticeable, with few physical barriers and an easy flow of people and goods back and forth. It was common for both Moroccan and Spaniards to cross and return to their respective homes, making it hard to tell exactly where one country ended and the other began.

But, as mass immigration from west Africa into Europe took off, calls for a more permanent physical barrier led to the development of the fence that today stands more than six metres tall, with hi-tech sensors, razor wire and 24-hour armed patrol guards. The same situation applies in Spain’s other north African exclave, Ceuta. This is where Fortress Europe meets north Africa.

Sara Mohamed Shaib, 29

Sara Mohamed Shaib from Melilla
‘We often hear the screams and shouts of people as they are attacked by the police when they try to climb over at night.’
Photograph: Jesús Blasco Avellaneda for the Guardian

Sara lives in a house in Melilla that backs on to the fence.

It makes me sad to think what that fence has done to Melilla, not just because it is so ugly, but because it is the only thing people know about the city when they come here. When people visit, they always ask to be taken to see it, but it’s not a tourist attraction. “Where’s the fence,” they ask. “La valla [the fence]” is now part of our vocabulary, which is a terrible thing.

In our house, because the border is so close, we often hear the screams and shouts of people as they are attacked by the police when they try to climb over at night. And we often find people hiding in our garden. When I was younger I used to get very scared, but now I realise that most of the time, they are much more scared than you are. We have a well, and I have found young men down there too, but when you talk to them they don’t want help at first, because they are so terrified.

Everyone has their own story. One time I met a young woman, which is rare, and she told me she did not know what had happened to her baby. I didn’t want to judge her, but I wondered what kind of a mother would make such a dangerous journey with a baby. But I learned that she had been raped on her journey from her home to Spain, resulting in the baby.

My mother and I try to help as often as we can, giving them clothes, and taking them to the police station, where they register themselves for expulsion. One of the ironies for the sub-Saharan Africans is that in order to stay, they have to register themselves for expulsion, so they can start the paperwork. So we put them in the boot of the car, cover them up, and take them there.

The border has also had an effect on my family. My sister and my nephews live in Rabat in Morocco, which means I hardly ever get to see them. They need a visa to get over here, but because my nephews are minors, that’s not so easy. And the last time I went to Morocco, I got caught up in a huge avalanche of people at the border, and the police started hitting me. I asked them to stop, but they carried on hitting me like everyone else. So now I don’t go – they’re only 12km [7.5 miles] away, but they might as well be on a different continent.

I would love to be the kind of aunt who is always around, but I won’t get to see them grow up.

Suha Abongwa, 23, from Cameroon

Suha Abongwa, 23, Gurugu mountains, on the border between Morocco and Melilla
‘Some people wait here in the mountains for weeks, months, years’.
Photograph: Jesús Blasco Avellaneda for the Guardian

Suha was interviewed hiding in the Gurugu mountains, on the border between Morocco and Melilla.

I have been hiding in these mountains for the past two months, and I dream about crossing the border every night. It weighs on my mind. I am from Cameroon, and my plan was to get to Morocco, climb over the fence, and then from Spain to get to Germany, where I want to study. I want to get a white-collar job and use the knowledge I learn to take back to Cameroon, so I can improve my country economically, socially and politically. There is no work there, but in Europe I am sure I will find work. I left without telling my parents, and hope to be very successful one day.

We all know about the Gurugu mountains; it is where you come to meet with other Africans who want to cross the border into Spain. We are all brothers here, we don’t care what country you come from. We all have the same goal. My plan is to wait here, until there are enough of us, and then we will go over the border. Some people wait here in the mountains for weeks, months, years. We find whatever food we can, or go and take the leftover meat from restaurants, which we make into a soup or cook with a small fire. Some of the Moroccans treat us like animals, throwing stones at us, and reporting us to the police. Many of us get sick with stomach complaints, because often we only have sugary water to drink, which makes us ill, but we don’t have any medication.

Every day, when the police come to look for us, we hide in terrible places, under rocks, because there is nothing worse than being caught by the Moroccan police. When they catch you they drive you back to the desert, but that won’t stop us.

But the torment here in the mountains is much worse than my fear of getting over the wall. This is no way to live. I would rather try my luck getting over the wall and then get to Europe. I cannot go back now. By God’s grace I will get there.

José Palazón, 58

José Palazón, human rights worker, Melilla
‘You may have lived here all your life, but if you don’t have the right paperwork, you’re not recognised as a citizen’.
Photograph: Jesús Blasco Avellaneda for the Guardian

José is a human rights worker in Melilla.

With each centimetre that the fence grows, so the violence and the marginalisation increases. Many have been left with no regular supply of water, gas, or other basic amenities. The situation on the border now is almost one of war, with armed officers standing guard, often attacking people as they cross. I hate the fence for what it has done to us, not just because it has divided the two countries, but because of the paranoia it has brought to Melilla, and the way that it differentiates between those who live here with and without documentation.

The border’s tentacles reach all across the city, into its cafes and bars, ending up on the desks of the civil servants who run Melilla. You may have lived here all your life, but if you don’t have the right paperwork, you’re not recognised as a citizen. You are a ghost. And so many people here don’t even know about the border, and the damage it does. People refuse to even talk about this, yet often have Moroccan-born women cleaning their houses, earning €400 a month, who can’t even send their children to school. They choose not to think about that, because if they did, they would have to come to terms with the world that has been created around them.

People act as if the biggest problem for this city is the few hundred Africans who cross over the wall each year, when living among us are tens of thousands of Moroccans without any paperwork or any rights.

Abdel Ghani, 38

Abdel Ghani from Beni Mellal, Morocco, living rough in Melilla
‘Even though there are fewer jobs in Spain now, it is still better than nothing’. Photograph: Jesús Blasco Avellaneda for the Guardian

Abdel is from Beni Mellal, Morocco and is currently living rough in Melilla.

I first came to Spain back in 2000, from Morocco, landing in Tarifa, Andalusia, and working my way up the country, doing whatever jobs I could, in construction and agriculture. I worked in Almería, and Madrid and ended up in Guadalajara. I got my official papers to allow me to stay in 2005, and I thought I would stay forever. I have many Spanish friends; they liked me, and I was a really hard worker. Sometimes we used to go out to dinner with the family of mye Spanish boss. He treated me like any friend.

But then in 2009, I was expelled back to Morocco; I still don’t know exactly why. In Morocco I tried to find work, but there is nothing for me there; they pay €6 a day for working in fields, and construction work isn’t much better, but the cost of meat is more expensive than in Spain.

I got back over the border into Melilla three weeks ago, and have been sleeping in the streets since then. I will go back to mainland Spain however I can, even though now I don’t have the paperwork. I don’t know how long I will be here, or how long it will take, but I will do it. Even though there are fewer jobs in Spain now, it is still better than nothing. I think I will probably go in a boat, but I will have to return to Spain. There is nothing left for me here.

A mural based on the EU flag adorns a wall in Melilla
A mural in Melilla comments on the situation facing migrants trying to reach mainland Europe. Photograph: Mustafa Berkane/GuardianWitness

Fadma Mizian, 65

Fadma is an unemployed mother of six from Nador, Morocco.

I am a widow and have six children, four girls and two boys, and 13 grandchildren and I have lived all of my life between Morocco and Melilla. During the day I used to go to Melilla to look for work, and when the sun went down, I would come back home to look after my family, make food and try to relax a little in order to prepare myself to return to the fight the following day.

In the past, there was no difference between Melilla and Beni Enzar: it was all one place, more or less. I used to be able to go into into the Spanish part without any problems, where I worked as a domestic help, cleaning houses, cooking and looking after children. Sometimes I also smuggled stuff across the border to earn a little extra money. My husband and I would buy food and other goods in Melilla, and then cross back into Morocco to sell to shops and businesses.

Now, the fence stops me from even seeing Melilla, and the border has become more dangerous. It’s much more difficult to enter Melilla, I need to take my passport with me, and there are often huge queues and gatherings of people at the border crossings. Sometimes they don’t let me in, and occasionally the police have hit me because there were too many people, or they wanted to close the border.

I don’t know what the future has in store but I am very worried that things are only going to get worse. I get scared when the helicopters fly over us, and when we hear commotion and noise at the border and lots of police cars turn up. All I can do is pray to God that he helps us and that one day things at the border will improve.

A security guard stands on the other side of a barbed wire fence from migrants in Ceuta
A security guard stands on the other side of a barbed wire fence from migrants in Ceuta. Photograph: Patrick Robert/Corbis
Photography © NASA

End notes

Jon Henley

So-called multi-celluar defence barriers in Kabul, Afghanistan
One of many so-called multi-celluar defence barriers contributing to the militarised atmosphere in Kabul. Photograph: ID3713576/GuardianWitness

The walled world is proliferating, fracturing. We’ve focused on 10 examples all of which seem to represent something unique. But it is by no means an exhaustive list. The Afghan and Iraq wars left behind them capitals dotted with security walls, and the Arab spring has thrown up new urban barriers – in Cairo and Aleppo for example.

The urban wall is something that Nicosia has had to live with for four decades. And even though travel restrictions in the Cypriot capital have been partly lifted, getting from A to B is not always possible.

Barrels painted in the blue and white of the Greek flag form a barrier in the divided Cypriot capital of Nicosia
Blue and white barrels form a barricade in south Nicosia, part of Cyprus. On the other side, controlled by Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, red and white barrels do the same job. Photograph: Nikolas Kyriakou/GuardianWitness

Israel and India are not the only country walling themselves in: the Saudis have embarked on a similar idea, reinforcing in particular the border with Yemen.

Uzbekistan has fenced itself off from most of its neighbours for ‘anti-terror’ reasons, enhancing the sense of isolation that comes with being the world’s only landlocked country entirely surrounded by other landlocked countries.

Other border barriers separate Botswana and Zimbabwe, Iraq and Kuwait, South Africa and Mozambique, and China and North Korea.

Wall blocking a road into Tahrir square, Cairo
An illusion of security? A wall blocks a road into Tahrir square, Cairo.
Photograph: haroldmoan/GuardianWitness

In the short term, walls may appear worthwhile investments. But they never address the underlying causes of the conflicts they seek to mitigate. At best, walls create an illusion of security – because those on the “wrong” side will always be working out how to get around them.

At worst, they are counter-productive: a people that believes it has solved its problems by isolating itself physically from whatever threatens it – broadly, inequality – can put off asking itself the bigger questions.

They might, just possibly, do better to recall Frost’s words.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.

• Jon Henley on how walls create an illusion of security

Credits

Editors: Mark Rice-Oxley, Paul Torpey, Seán Clarke, Ranjit Dhaliwal

Interactive design and development: Andrew Mason, Daan Louter, Chris Cross, Alex Purcell

Additional research: Mona Chalabi and Matthias Stoltz

Commissioning editor: Jamie Wilson

Satellite imagery: NASA, except Belfast: Google Earth

Stephen Hawking boycott conference in Israel, and hosted by Israel 90 year-old president Shimon Peres. In protest at treatment of Palestinians

I consider Professor Stephen Hawking the ultimate mental achievement of mankind. A total paraplegic who managed to communicate his complex ideas and theories by very convoluted and hard time consuming language methods. That is the spirit of determined persons. And Hawkins never forget that racism and discrimination should be banished from civilization.

Professor Stephen Hawking is backing the academic boycott of Israel by pulling out of a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Stephen Hawking fine tuned the theory of the Big Bang and developed the notion of the Black Holes…

Hawking, 71, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual president’s conference, Facing Tomorrow, in June, which features major international personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will celebrate Peres’s 90th birthday.

and Matthew Kalman published  in The Guardian this May, 8, 2013

Stephen Hawking

A statement published with Stephen Hawking’s approval said his withdrawal was based on advice from academic contacts in Palestine.  Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Hawking is in very poor health. Last week, he wrote a brief letter to the Israeli president to say he had changed his mind. He has not announced his decision publicly, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking’s approval described it as “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”.

Hawking’s decision marks another victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions.

In April, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland became the first lecturers’ association in Europe to call for an academic boycott of Israel, and in the United States members of the Association for Asian American Studies voted to support a boycott, the first national academic group to do so.

In the four weeks since Hawking’s participation in the Jerusalem event was announced, he has been bombarded with messages from Britain and abroad as part of an intense campaign by boycott supporters trying to persuade him to change his mind.

In the end, Hawking told friends, he decided to follow the advice of Palestinian colleagues who unanimously agreed that he should not attend.

Hawking’s decision met with abusive responses on Facebook, with many commentators focusing on his physical condition, and some accusing him of antisemitism.

By participating in the boycott, Hawking joins a small but growing list of British personalities who have turned down invitations to visit Israel, including Elvis Costello, Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Annie Lennox and Mike Leigh.

Israeli occupation forces has detained around 9,500 Palestinian minors since 2000.
Israeli occupation forces has detained around 9,500 Palestinian minors since 2000.

Many artists, writers and academics have defied and even denounced the boycott, calling it ineffective and selective. Ian McEwan, who was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 2011, responded to critics by saying: “If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed … It’s not great if everyone stops talking.” (What if Israel refuses to talk peace with Palestinians?)

Noam Chomsky, a prominent supporter of the Palestinian cause, has said that he supports the “boycott and divestment of firms that are carrying out operations in the occupied territories” but that a general boycott of Israel is “a gift to Israeli hardliners and their American supporters”.

Hawking has visited Israel four times in the past.

In 2006, he delivered public lectures at Israeli and Palestinian universities as the guest of the British embassy in Tel Aviv. At the time, he said he was “looking forward to coming out to Israel and the Palestinian territories and excited about meeting both Israeli and Palestinian scientists”.

Since then, his attitude to Israel appears to have hardened.

In 2009, Hawking denounced Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza, telling Riz Khan on Al-Jazeera that Israel’s response to rocket fire from Gaza was “plain out of proportion … The situation is like that of South Africa before 1990 and cannot continue.”

Israel Maimon, chairman of the presidential conference said: “This decision is outrageous and wrong.

“The use of an academic boycott against Israel is outrageous and improper, particularly for those to whom the spirit of liberty is the basis of the human and academic mission. Israel is a democracy in which everyone can express their opinion, whatever it may be. A boycott decision is incompatible with open democratic discourse.”

In 2011, the Israeli parliament passed a law making a boycott call by an individual or organisation a civil offence which can result in compensation liable to be paid regardless of actual damage caused.

The law defined a boycott as “deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage”.

• This article was amended on 8 May 2013. The original described Hawking as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. He stepped down in 2009.

Palestinian youth shot from behind: What Israeli forces are doing in village of Budrus?

A teenage boy was killed by Israeli soldiers on the separation barrier close to the West Bank village of Budrus yesterday, shot from behind as he was running away, according to Palestinian accounts.

Samir Awad, 17, was among a group of boys who had just completed an exam on the last day of school before a midterm break when they approached the barrier, reports said. The Israeli Defense Forces said the youths were “attempting to infiltrate into Israel“, and its soldiers “responded immediately”. It confirmed live fire was used.

in Budrus posted in guardian.co.uk onJan. 15, 2013 under: “Israeli forces shot youth in the back as he ran away, say Palestinians”

Relatives of Samir Awad

Relatives of Samir Awad 17 mourn his death at a hospital in Ramallah, to where his body was taken after the shooting. Photograph: Issam Rimawi/Zuma Press/Corbis

“According to villagers, Samir was grabbed by soldiers who were concealed in a trench. He broke free and was running away when a soldier or soldiers opened fire. He was hit by three or four bullets, in his head, torso and leg.

Ayed Morrar, a member of the village popular resistance committee, said: “They shot him in cold blood, they shot him in the back. He wasn’t threatening them.” He said there had been no stone-throwing at the time of the shooting.

Samir, one of 15 siblings, was buried in the village cemetery overlooking the separation barrier on Tuesday afternoon. A large group of men and boys, some carrying Fatah and Hamas flags, accompanied his shrouded body to the grave.

His brother Jibril, 23, wearing a blood-soaked T-shirt, said he had rushed to help Samir as soon as he heard about the shooting.

Jibril said: “The soldiers prevented me from getting near him at first. There was a soldier on top of him.”

He said his family had lost more than five acres of land and 3,000 olive trees when the separation barrier was constructed on Budrus land. His mother had been injured in protests against the route of the barrier, and he had been jailed three times for taking part in popular resistance actions. “All our family has suffered from the wall,” he said.

Budrus was the first West Bank village to organize regular weekly protests against the barrier and eventually succeeded in getting its route changed. An eponymous documentary film about the village’s struggle was released in 2009. (See note)

After Samir’s funeral, soldiers fired teargas at village youths who gathered near the barrier.

Mouin Awad said Samir’s death could trigger further confrontations between villagers and the IDF. “We will throw rocks and protest. What else can we do?”

The IDF said an investigation into “reports regarding a wounded Palestinian” was under way.

On Monday a 21-year-old Gaza man died after being shot in the head by Israeli forces, according to Palestinian officials. The IDF denied being involved.

On Saturday a 21-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops while trying to cross the barrier near the southern West Bank town of Dura.

On Friday a 22-year-old man was killed and another injured by Israeli forces in northern Gaza, according to reports.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said it had discovered a shaft leading to a tunnel dug from Gaza.

The opening was around 100 metres inside Israeli territory and was intended “to execute terror attacks against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers on Israeli territory”, the IDF said.

Note:

Julia Basha is Brazilian or Lebanese descent who directed and produced the award-winning movie “Budrus” (2009).

This movie is a narrative of the community of Budrus in the West Bank who united to peacefully demonstrate against the Wall of Shame planned to cut the village.  All the political factions of Fateh, Hamas…and families joined forces and were supported by Israeli and foreign activists:  They marched every day to the construction site and girls stood in front of bulldozers that were rooting out olive trees…

Finally, the Israeli authority gave up on the project for the Wall of separation to pass by the village.

Julia explained the cognitive dissonance of why foreign media refused to cover this wonderfully achievement.  It seems that the media professionals had their mental model or coherent story concerning the conflict and this new aspect of peaceful Palestinian cohesion didn’t match the model.  Thus, Julia said that narrative stories are the most effective medium to changing perspectives on a story.

The film was shown to a group of Tea Party sympathizers who believe that private property is the cornerstone for independence of State government plans.  A large man asked Julia: “Didn’t the Israeli government pay for the proprietors of the land?

Israel don’t pay for anything owned by Palestinian, but Julia replied:  “A few accepted to sell but most of them refused.  They believed that if the Israeli government got its way once, it will repeat its nasty behavior.” 

The man beamed:  this story didn’t contradict his mental model.

Julia Basha co-wrote and edited “Control Room” (2004),  and co-directed “Encounter Point” (2006)


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