Witness - Writing on the walls in the Holy Land

Mon Jun 21, 2010 12:48pm GMT

Alastair Macdonald has been Reuters Bureau Chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories for the past three years. As a foreign correspondent over the past 20, he has previously been based in London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin and Baghdad.

As he ends his assignment in Jerusalem, he reflects in the following story on how he has watched people in the region build an array of barriers, both physical and emotional, to cut themselves off from each other.

By Alastair Macdonald

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - With one last exit stamp in my passport, I end a three-year reporting assignment in the Holy Land that has been marked by images of frontiers, by a sense of walls going up and fewer and fewer people finding a way through.

From the minefields of Israel's frontlines with Syria and Lebanon to the fortified fences around the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- much in this month's headlines -- to the walls, old and new, of Jerusalem, physical barriers shape the lives of the 12 million people cut off here in what was once called Palestine.

But those lives, and millions more touched by events that reach far beyond these borders, are marked, too, by less visible internal frontiers -- religious, cultural, ethnic, political.

What has struck me is seeing people locked in, and locked out, by a spreading labyrinth of boundaries and parallel worlds, all in an area just a third the size of my native Scotland.

As a Reuters correspondent, I'm used to explaining what I see to people living a world away. In Israel and the Palestinian territories, I'm as often asked to describe lives being led only a few miles down the road, to neighbours who no longer meet.

"Is it true their women can't go out in public now?" an Israeli soldier asked me over cappuccino at a shopping mall just outside the Gaza Strip after Hamas Islamists seized the enclave.   Continued...

<p>A nun walks in Jerusalem's Old City near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre March 31, 2010. REUTERS/Ammar Awad</p>
Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.