World court tells Israel to
tear down illegal wall
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
The Guardian - UK - 10 July: The
world court yesterday branded Israel's vast concrete and steel barrier
through the West Bank a political not a security measure, and a de
facto land grab. The judges told Israel to tear it down and compensate
International Court of Justice at The Hague said signatories to the
Geneva convention, such as Britain and the US, are obliged to ensure
Israel upholds the ruling.
condemned what it described as the widespread confiscation and
destruction of Palestinian property, and the disruption of the lives of
thousands of protected civilians, caused by construction of what Israel
calls the "anti-terror fence". It also called on the UN to consider
measures against Israel. Sanctions appear unlikely in the face of US
opposition, but Palestinians hailed the ruling as a landmark judgment
that could mobilise international opinion.
is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law;
it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction
of the wall being built in the occupied Palestinian territory,
including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the
structure therein situated," the court ruled.
decision, endorsed by all but the American judge on the 15-person
bench, is non-binding. But the Palestinian leadership said it would use
the ruling to seek UN action against Israel.
is an excellent decision," said the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.
"This is a victory for the Palestinian people and for all the free
peoples of the world."
Israel rejected the ruling as politicised and one-sided, saying that it
failed to address "the very reason for building the fence - Palestinian
Gissin, the Israeli prime minister's spokesman, said: "I believe that
after all the rancour dies, this resolution will find its place in the
garbage can of history. The court has made an unjust ruling denying
Israel its right of self-defence."
US said the issue of the barrier should be resolved through the peace
process not in court. The European commission said the ruling
reinforced the EU's call for Israel to remove the fence and wall.
The court's damning judgment will be a severe public relations blow to Israel.
court said that Israel had a duty to protect the lives of its citizens
from "numerous indiscriminate and deadly acts of violence", but that
did not permit it to flout international law.
court found that construction of the first 125 miles of what is planned
as a 435-mile barrier "has involved the confiscation and destruction of
Palestinian land and resources, the disruption of the lives of
thousands of protected civilians and the de facto annexation of large
areas of territory".
said the land seizures further entrenched illegally built Jewish
settlements in the West Bank. In doing so, Israel was responsible for
illegal destruction of homes and the forced removal of Palestinians
from their villages, which is changing the demographic face of the West
court concluded that the wall and fence severely impedes the
Palestinian right of self-determination in breach of the Geneva
convention and international humanitarian law.
says the barrier - a series of fences and 8m (26ft) high walls with
barbed wire, trenches and electronic motion detectors - has greatly
reduced the number of suicide bombings. The Palestinians argue that the
same result could have been achieved by building it along the 1967
border without cutting off people from land, work or schools.
world court agreed. "The court considers that the construction of the
wall and its associated regime create a fait accompli on the ground
that could well become permanent, in which case, and notwithstanding
the formal characterisation of the wall by Israel, it would be
tantamount to de facto annexation," it said.
which refused to put its case to the court because it said the ICJ had
no jurisdiction, has previously argued that the fourth Geneva
convention governing the treatment of civilians in occupied
territories, and various elements of international humanitarian law,
are not applicable in the West Bank.
court said otherwise and called on other signatories to the Geneva
convention to ensure they are upheld. It also referred its ruling back
to the UN.
court is of the view that the United Nations, and especially the
general assembly and the security council, should consider what further
action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting
from the construction of the wall and the associated regime," it said.
justice minister, Yosef Lapid, said hat whatever the UN general
assembly may decide, his government would only recognise decisions by
Israel's own courts.
week the high court in Jerusalem ordered that the route of part of the
barrier be changed because of its impact on Palestinians but said
construction was legal as a security measure.
Barrier ruling shifts the debate
Palestinian groups want ruling to increase
international pressure on Israel
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
The Guardian - UK - 10 July:
the Palestinians have their way, historians will look back on
yesterday's court ruling against the vast West Bank barrier as the
decision that mobilised the world to end Israeli occupation.
ruling by the international court of justice in The Hague is
non-binding, and has already been rejected by Israel as politicised and
Palestinian lawyers heralded yesterday's victory as a milestone. They
have in mind the path trod three decades ago, after the same court
ruled that South Africa was illegally occupying Namibia. That set in
motion votes in the UN general assembly and security council that
established international sanctions against the apartheid regime, which
evolved into a popular global boycott of South African goods and sport,
contributing to the long-term collapse of white rule.
the world court called on the UN general assembly and security council
to press Israel to comply with the ruling, and on signatories to the
Geneva conventions, including the US and Britain, to meet their legal
requirement to ensure the Jewish state respects international law.
are looking to Namibia 1971 as a precedent," said Anwar Darkazally, a
legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organisation who worked on
the case. "Namibia is not perfect as a precedent because it was 17
years before South Africa ended its involvement and obviously we don't
want this conflict to go on that long. But I think this is a milestone;
the symbolism of non-violent legal action against Israel we can use to
is likely to be overwhelming backing for the world court ruling in the
UN general assembly, but the security council is a different matter.
Israel expects Washington to veto any security council resolution in
support of enforcing the world court's decision. Jonathon Peled, a
foreign ministry official, said Israel was also pressing other
countries to block support for the ruling.
has a very close dialogue with the American administration and our
European friends to discuss the implications of this advisory opinion
and to enlist their assistance and their cooperation in preventing the
Palestinians from exploiting United Nations and international bodies
for their political gain," he said.
believes it can count on British support. The UK has criticised the
barrier but opposed the world court hearing the case on jurisdictional
Darkazally says the Palestinians may not press it all the way to the
security council. "It would highlight America's role as a friend of
Israel and I'm not sure the Palestinians actually want to isolate the
he believes that the world court ruling could be the launch pad for
other forms of international pressure such as popular boycotts of
Israeli goods in some European countries.
think this is a chance for those campaigns to get many more people
behind them on the basis that Israel will be branded a pariah state, a
state that does not comply with international law and a state that
cannot really hold its head up and claim it's the only democracy in the
Middle East," he said.
would hope the knock-on effects of that would be the boycott of Israeli
goods in shops, the boycott of holidays in Israel and really trying to
employ the sort of popular economic pressure that was very successful
against South Africa."
Palestinians say they will also look to some European countries to
exert pressure through Israel's trade agreement with the EU, which
includes a clause requiring the Jewish state to adhere to certain human
Israelis dismiss any possibility of the Palestinians mobilising an
international boycott, in part because they are offended by comparisons
with the apartheid regime and also because they believe that many will
not take a strong stand so long as suicide bombers keep killing.
Meir, a senior foreign ministry official, says that events on the
ground, led by Ariel Sharon's plan to pull all the Jewish settlers out
of Gaza, will overtake attempts to whip up international action.
won't happen because it's a different situation [to South Africa]. We
have a rightwing government already committed to a two-state solution,"
he said. "But let's assume the Palestinians score political points in
public opinion, does this bring them close to a Palestinian state?"
is also the question posed by Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas,
who ask what the point is in fighting legal battles when Israel and the
US are so ready to reject court rulings they do not like.
Jews tell us we are outlaws but look what happens when Palestinians win
in court," said Sami Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman in Gaza. "We
already know what international law says: that we have the right of
armed resistance against the occupation."