Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Writing on the walls
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip may just feel a little less isolated today. Israel is bowing to international pressure and rejigging its embargo on the enclave in the wake of the bloodshed 3 weeks ago when it enforced a longstanding maritime blockade.
But earlier this month, taking my leave at the end of a 3-year assignment, I reflected while walking the half-mile (700-metre) cage (picture, right) that separates Gaza from Israel on how the barriers that surround and divide this region have, if anything, grown higher, deepening the isolation of the rival parties. That may make any kind of reconciliation more difficult as time goes on. I wrote about this earlier today.
Since Israel pulled out troops from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas took control in 2007, the 1.5 million people in the 40-km (25-mile) sliver of Mediterranean coast, have been cut off. But they’re not the only ones. Israel is itself a virtual island in the Arab world. Though it has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, contact with them seems if anything to be retreating. Relations look little more vigorous at times than they are across the frontlines with Lebanon and Syria. Israeli dreams, backed by some serious cash lately, of re-establishing a regional rail transport hub, seem far-fetched.
The frontier lines weave their way around and among Israeli and Palestinian populations that live lives in parallel but now rarely meet after a decade in which peace hopes faded amid bloodshed. New divisions among Palestinians, between Hamas and Fatah, have left Gaza virtually at war with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Israelis, too, have seen sharper confrontations within their nation, notably between secular and religious Jews. Inside the West Bank and across Jerusalem, I’ve also watched new physical barriers going up and the battle for territory has heated up. Today’s revival of Israeli building plans in the annexed Arab east of the city is the latest development to stir angry passions.
In three years based in Jerusalem, I’ve been impressed by examples of Israelis and Palestinians who do reach over these rising barriers — not least my colleagues in Reuters . But it does seem to be getting harder for most ordinary folk to cross those lines without risking a backlash from their own community. So although the embargo on goods reaching Gaza looks set to ease, the long divide between the peoples on either side of the wall is unlikely to diminish any time soon.