Geography Compass

Crossing points for some, barriers to life for others

By William Hasty

For many observers, the defining feature of contemporary globalisation has been the decreasing significance of ‘borders’. However, while some undoubtedly enjoy the privileges of a world without borders, others find themselves very much ‘hemmed-in’ by material boundaries. For, while the border represents nothing more than the point of crossing for some, it can, for others, signify a barrier to movement, and, in the most distressing cases, an impediment to life itself.

The people of Gaza are in such a position. Subject to a concerted blockade by Israel and Egypt, Gaza has been effectively cut off from vital connections with the rest of the world since 2007, and it is, unsurprisingly, beginning to seriously affect the health of the population, as a recent report authored by, among others, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations indicates. The report, featured in The Guardian newspaper (20/01/10), tells of the “ongoing deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health” being caused by the blockade, which, it is calculated, is “risking the health of 1.4 million people”. This closed-border policy is seriously “hampering the provision of medical supplies and the training of health staff, and it is preventing patients with serious medical conditions from getting timely specialised treatment”.

In a separate article featured just the week previous (11/01/10), the Israeli defence secretary, Ehud Barak, commenting on the proposal to extend the fence along the Gaza-Egypt border, claimed that “We need a fence, as I said 10 years ago, with all our neighbours”. What is being demarked and protected by these borders is “Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.” Clearly, the notion of a borderless world falls quite a way short of the lived reality for people in Israel and Palestine. For the sick and the hungry in Gaza, the border is a very real impediment to movement, and from the rhetoric of Israel’s policy makers it appears that this border is only going to become more fixed and surveilled in the future.

In Theorizing Borders in a ‘Borderless World’: Globalisation, Territory and Identity, a recent paper published in Geography Compass, Diener and Hagen (2009) argue that “Although declarations or predictions of a borderless world have become somewhat ubiquitous over the last twenty years, state borders remain one of the most basic and visible features of the international system.” The example of Gaza, highlighted above, supports their insistence on the “continuing power of borders in our supposedly borderless world.” Their paper is an insightful interjection in the literature, the importance of which is reinforced by the unfolding and tragic events in Gaza – a place where the border is more than a boundary, it is all too often a genuine barrier to life.

Read Gaurdian news story on Gaza blockade

Read Guardian news story on Israel- Egypt border fence

Read Diener and Hagen (2009) Theorizing Borders in a ‘Borderless World’: Globalisation, Territory and Identity, Geography Compass

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