Do fences make good neighbors? Depends on the context, I suppose. Anyway, whoever did invent fences may not have had any idea as to how far this invention would go. From fences around houses, to walls to keep jailbirds in, to the Great Wall of China, there have been many variations to this invention. Needless to say, the one that became a symbol for segregation in the 20th century was the Berlin Wall. With its departure, one more is there to take its place in the present century in the form of the barrier that Israel has been surreptitiously putting up in the past few years. As of now, the barrier has no name and it is to be hoped that it will not be around long enough for it to gain one and become another symbol of man's inhumanity towards man.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in The Hague last week that the barrier that Israel is putting up, parts of which encroach on occupied territory, is illegal and cannot justify security concerns. The decision has been hailed by Arab nations, many of whom have requested the UN to ensure that this illegal barrier be brought down. There is a possibility of them pushing for a resolution in the matter and the General Assembly may be expected to meet soon in this regard. But there is a big question mark as to how the ruling will be implemented. Israel and Ariel Sharon are defiant, stating that the ICJ's ruling is not binding on them, as the barrier is needed to maintain the security of the Israelis, whilst the Palestinians say that it is nothing but a land-grabbing measure.
Last year, a BBC documentary revealed how the barrier has made the life of the ordinary Palestinian absolutely unbearable. Families are being forced to take circumlocutory routes, for what were distances that could earlier be traversed by foot. To make matter worse, the longer routes often end up at Israeli checkpoints that block both exit and entry. Many extended families have been driven apart on account of this barrier. The barriers have also infringed Palestinians' access to schools, workplaces and hospitals, and ordinary citizens have been put to untold hardship and inconvenience.
It is hard to believe that the Israelis, despite being the products of historical discrimination, show no qualms about discriminating against their neighbors and original occupants of the land. For a race that remained largely homeless till they came and settled in what they believed to be the Promised Land, it was the British who first encouraged them in their claims via the Balfour Declaration made during World War I. Britain was then fighting to win control of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire, and it hoped that by making the promise of a homeland, it would be able to able to garner the support of the Jewish leaders in the United Kingdom and America in their war efforts. At the same time, in an all is fair in war attitude, the British promised independence to many Arab groups in the Middle East, with the intention of gaining their support also against the Ottomans. The promises were left vague but the Arab leaders assumed that it would include an independent state of Palestine. But eventually, it turned out to be the case of a broken promise and the Jews and Palestinians found themselves clashing continuously over the land. Finally, the UN passed a resolution in1947 that divided the country into Jewish and Palestinian land and the state of Israel came into being on 14th May 1948. This raised the hackles of the surrounding Arab states, which refused to accept the formation of Israel leading to the first of many Arab-Israeli conflicts. Since then, it has been an uneasy state of affairs, and the last few years have seen the worst kind of conflicts between the two warring groups.
In the midst of all this is the blind support that Israel has received from America. The US has already spoken out against the ICJ ruling and it is unlikely that the matter of the dismantling of the barrier will even come up at the Security Council, since it is expected that the US will use its power of veto to block this resolution, as much as it has done so for earlier anti-Israeli ones.
So, do good fences make good neighbors? In this case, it certainly doesn't seem so. Wonder how many lives will have be snuffed out and tragedies befall, before both peoples come to the conclusion that peaceful co-existence can be the only answer, if future generations have to live to tell the tale.