Apartheid five years on
The World Court ruled Israel's annexation wall in the West Bank illegal in 2004, but with no pressure coming from the international community it has not been dismantled, writes Khaled Amayreh in the occupied Palestinian territories
This week marked the passage of five years since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague issued its landmark ruling deeming the gigantic apartheid wall Israel has been building in the West Bank illegal under international law.
Though not complete, the bulk of the barrier has already been constructed. In addition to the massive eight-metre high concrete wall now meandering like a snake through the West Bank, the barrier also consists of a vast network of multi-layered fences with vehicle-stopping trenches.
The barrier is mostly located inside the West Bank, partly along the former 1949 Armistice line, and is largely built on confiscated Palestinian land. As of April 2006, the length of the barrier as approved by the Israeli government was 703 kilometres (436 miles).
On 9 July 2004, the ICJ ruled that the barrier violated international law. While acknowledging Israel's right to protect its citizens, the World Court said the Jewish state ought to do so within the law and should compensate Palestinians for property lost or damaged by the building of the wall.
The ICJ urged the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly to consider further action to end the illegal Israeli activity.
Israel completely ignored the ICJ ruling, claiming the international court had no jurisdiction over the occupied Palestinian territories. Some Israeli officials tacitly accused ICJ judges of harbouring "anti-Semitism".
Since then, the Israeli military occupation authorities continued to seize large swathes of mostly private Palestinian land for building the wall and creating "safe zones" around it, especially on the Palestinian side of the barrier.
It is widely believed that tens of thousands of acres of fertile Palestinian land have been formally or effectively confiscated as the barrier has been built. Some experts estimate that up to 10- 15 per cent of the West Bank area has been effectively annexed to Israel under the pretext of building the wall.
And when Palestinian farmers and peasants protest, even peacefully and non-violently, as in Nilin and Bilin in the central West Bank, the Israeli army routinely resorts to harsh tactics, including opening fire on protesters. Several Palestinians have been killed while demonstrating against the seizure of their lands and olive groves by the Israeli army. A number of foreign peace activists protesting have also been injured by Israeli fire.
Facing mounting international criticism over the construction of the barrier, Israeli officials often resorted to prevarication and outright lies, claiming that the barrier was merely a security measure designed to prevent potential Palestinian guerrillas from infiltrating into Israel and that it in no way constituted a political border. However, whenever Palestinian landowners petitioned Israeli courts challenging the legality of the land seizure, the Israeli government representative shamelessly argued that the wall was indeed a de facto border.
This deceptive tactic continues to be widely adopted in Israeli courts dealing with the wall and its ramifications, especially relating to Palestinians demanding access to their land on the "Israeli" side of the barrier.
More to the point, it has been clear during recent "peace" talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that Israeli leaders treat the barrier as constituting the ultimate western borders of a future Palestinian state. For example, Israel refuses to discuss the removal of any Jewish settlements located west of the annexation wall on the grounds that these colonies would eventually be annexed to the Jewish state.
Today, more than 60,000 Israeli settlers live in settlements located east of the apartheid wall and who demand the construction of periphery barriers around their colonies. However, under pressure from the US, Israel has effectively halted work on the so-called "finger enclaves" which extend deep into the Palestinian hinterland in the northern West Bank, especially in the Salfit region where some of the biggest settlements are located.
Last week, the UN urged Israel to "dismantle" the barrier and "make reparations for all damage suffered by all persons affected by the wall's construction". The call was made by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay and came on the fifth anniversary of the ICJ ruling.
Both UN agencies and non-governmental organisations dealing with the Palestinian issue have used the anniversary to bring attention to the massive losses Palestinians have suffered as a result of the barrier. Earlier this month, another UN official reiterated the international organisation's "non-objection to the wall per se when it sticks to the Green Line," the erstwhile 1967 armistice line between Israel and the West Bank.
The official spoke of the barrier's "devastating humanitarian impact" on the Palestinian community, saying that up to 85 per cent of the structure was built inside the West Bank. As many as 40,000 Palestinians have found themselves living in "closed areas" that require Israeli permission to travel out of or to have friends or family enter. Another 200,000 Palestinians are surrounded on either three or four sides by the barrier; resulting in what Palestinian spokesman Mustafa Al-Barghouti called "nightmarish claustrophobia".
According to one UN official, the wall constitutes an "interruption of Palestinian life in all aspects", impacting both economic and social wellbeing. For many Palestinians affected by the barrier it has meant the imposition of a complex permit system to allow them to travel, restricting access to education, medical care and employment opportunities. The wall, they complain, cuts off neighbour from neighbour, children from their schools and kindergartens, patients from hospitals and farmers from their farms and fields.
For its part, Israel has been generally nonchalant with regards to the immense suffering and harm inflicted on the Palestinians as a result of the barrier. The Israeli propaganda machine often caricatures the gigantic structure as a mere "fence" between neighbours, ignoring the huge theft of Palestinian land carried out under the rubric of building the barrier. The Palestinians argue forthrightly that the "apartheid wall" is first and foremost an annexation barrier that is meant to steal Palestinian land under the pretext of security considerations.
This week, the PA marked the fifth anniversary of the ICJ ruling by calling on the international community, particularly the US and EU, to pressure Israel to dismantle the barrier. "This ugly barrier is devouring our land, disrupting the daily life of our people and making the attainment of the goal of creating a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital impossible," read a PA statement.