Saeb Erekat, International Herald Tribune, A Wall that Cages Justice

February 23, 2004

By Saeb Erekat

RAMALLAH, West Bank The International Court of Justice will hear arguments on Monday on the legal consequences of Israel's wall - a barrier of concrete blocks, sniper towers, electric fences, razor wire and trenches surrounding Palestinian towns and villages in occupied Palestinian territory.

The Israeli government justifies the wall as a security measure. Yet, if the wall were truly about Israel's security, it would have been built on the Green Line - the border between Israel and the Palestinian territory that Israel has occupied since 1967. A wall on the Green Line would have been shorter, less expensive, more easily patrolled and, most important, legal.

But the wall is not about Israel's security - it is about taking as much Palestinian land as possible while caging in as many Palestinians as possible. This is why the wall is being built well within occupied Palestinian territory and in such a way as to divide Palestinian population centers not only from each other, but also from adjacent agricultural and water resources.

The northern West Bank village of Qalqilya is surrounded by a concrete wall eight meters, or 26 feet, high - cutting off the town's hospitals and schools from nearby villages. In occupied East Jerusalem, slabs of concrete were erected in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods, dividing grandparents from their grandchildren, children from the schools, and workers from their offices.

Unsurprisingly, not only will approximately 92 percent of the nearly 400,000 Israeli settlers illegally living in Occupied Palestinian Territory remain, but the wall ensures that they will have more Palestinian land into which to expand their settlements.

The wall results not only in the de facto annexation of Palestinian land, but also in the coerced migration and displacement of more than 13,000 of the Palestinians living in what Israel calls the "closed zone" - the portion of the occupied West Bank between the wall and the Green Line. Recent military orders require Palestinians living in the closed zone to obtain permission from the Israeli occupation army in order to stay in their homes. Nothing guarantees that such permits will be issued or that they will be honored or renewed.

By contrast, Israeli settlers living in the closed zone in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention need no such permits. Indeed, the Israeli military orders permit any Israeli to settle in occupied Palestinian territory while the resident Palestinians require Israeli permission to live on and farm their own land.

Israel's strategy of stealing Palestinian land while denying rights to the Palestinian people is nothing new. What is new is that the International Court of Justice hearing represents the first time in recent history that Israel's violations of international law are subject to the scrutiny and rulings of an independent judicial body.

Israel is not accustomed to playing by the rules. Indeed, it denies that any rules apply to it. Since its creation in 1948, Israel has relied on its military, economic and diplomatic power to disregard international laws, more than 40 United Nations Security Council resolutions, its own signed agreements, and, most recently, the U.S.-backed peace plan known as the road map.

In Israel's view, its occupation of Palestine and its violation of Palestinian human rights are not subject to any law but are simply matters to be "negotiated" between the Israelis and Palestinians - as if the conflict were between two equal parties with equal negotiating leverage. An Israeli call for "negotiations," while denying the applicability of international laws and treaties, is a not-so-subtle strategy for allowing Israel, as the powerful occupier, to impose its will on the powerless occupied. We have all witnessed where such a strategy leads.

The opinion of the International Court of Justice will provide an opportunity to correct the imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinian people in the land Israel occupies. By providing a rare, detached analysis of Israel's actions and reaffirming the laws applicable to a military occupation, the court will offer a legal framework - and not a power dynamic - for evaluating Israel's wall.

The court's ruling should serve to guide the international community's efforts at structuring new peace initiatives based on applying the law, not circumventing it.

By contrast, a failure by the international community to respect the court's opinion would reinforce the message to Palestinians - often lectured to abandon violence and pursue peaceful diplomatic action - that a nonviolent legal means of addressing their grievances is not an option available to them. Extremists would argue that such a failure left no option but violence - and the cycle of occupation and the violent resistance that occupation breeds would undoubtedly continue.


The writer is the Palestinian Authority's minister of negotiations.


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