Symposium on Borders and Crossings

‘Pax Americana’ Seen as Aiding Strategic Ports

A “Pax Americana” will alter the nature of ports and their hinterlands in the Middle East and in other former war-torn areas, such as Bosnia, according to Prof. Arnon Soffer, Professor of Geographer and an authority on political geography.

Speaking at a symposium on Border Passages and Border Crossings in the Mediterranean Basin, Soffer referred to detailed CIA maps of the Middle East, Balkans, and Aegean that he was given. As he studied them, he said, he realized they showed overland routes, not blocked by topography, from small ports in these areas deep into the Middle East and Europe. The routes, however, were blocked by the currently prevailing security situation in each region. These ports, in his view, had an unrealized potential. A “Pax Americana,” as he called it, in those areas would free up these ports, which could then exploit their vital access—and, therefore, strategic—advantage. The geographer holds the Feldman Chair in Geo-strategic and Security Studies at Haifa University.

The symposium itself was an event in the Mediterranean Civilizations Project that the University initiated three years ago, to further both regional studies in general and research of the Mediterranean area in particular. Toward this end, the University has conducted joint activities with universities in several countries round the Basin, such as Ankara in Turkey and Barcelona in Spain. According to Prof. Joseph Chetrit, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, there are some 50 researchers on the faculty who are involved in some aspect of researching the Mediterranean whether part or full time.

Dr. Devorah Kalekin-Fishman of the Dept. of Education, whose specialty is education for democracy and who organized the symposium, outlined a broad definition of “borders” in setting the tone for the four sessions of discussions. In addition to the obvious demarcations between countries, she stressed unseen borders, such as that which still exists between East and West Germany. There was a border between rich and poor countries. A border within the workforce of a society was that between those who might be classified as laborers and those who worked in a profession. Also on the societal level, there was a fence between those who were “in” and those who were “out.” Within the individual psyche, too, there was a border between the rational and the emotional. Finally the word border itself and its synonyms usually implied preserving a defined area, but they could also refer to delineating new entities.

Peace and stability in the Balkans and Middle East will lead, the geographer Soffer believes, to the flourishing of now secondary ports, such as the coastal cities of the former Yugoslavia, and the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun in Turkey. Haifa in Israel will provide a gateway to Syria and up to Iraq, just as the British had planned for it in the days of the British Mandate.

Dr. Michael Yizhar of the Dept. of Political Science described Egypt as a symbol of a landbridge , first between the French and English, later between the United States and the Soviet Union, and more recently between the Arab world and Israel, but also between Africa and the Arab world. He warned that Israel was paying insufficient attention to this last development.

The leisure culture also has its boundaries and bridges. Dr. Ron Lidor of the Dept. of Education talked about sports psychology and physical education as a tool for removing boundaries. There is evidence that the Islamic world was more accepting, even for its women, of the concept of physical and psychological rehabilitation through sports. In Israel, universities have begun to look at sports in a new academic light. He pointed to Haifa’s M.A. in physical education as a leader in this area.

The subject of “transborder peace parks” has occupied Prof. Nurit Kliot of the Dept. of Geography. These may be nature preserves straddling two borders, and they may or may not allow visitors. There were some 60 of them around the globe. Admitting that it was difficult to have a nature preserve in a war zone, she said that such parks have been carved out in Central America precisely to stop hostilities.

She reminded the audience that Article 47 of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty calls for a park between the two countries, but Jordan fears too large an influx of Israeli tourists and is also concerned whether Israelis have been taught to leave animals alone in protected parks. Panels on each side have been meeting to deal with mutual fears.

The Palestinian Authority, she said, has the potential for developing transborder parks. She doesn’t expect the free passage of the two peoples in or through them for some time even if established, but believes “peace parks” offer at least an artificial feeling of cooperation on which to build trust.

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