Palestinians press for UN action on wall

Palestinians are calling for swift action by the United Nations to enforce the July 9 ruling by the World Court that Israel’s apartheid-like “separation wall” along the West Bank is illegal and should be torn down. The UN General Assembly’s overwhelming vote in support of the court’s decision July 20 has only strengthened the Palestinians’ resolve.

Citing relevant international and human rights law – including the Right to Self Determination, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – the International Court of Justice voted 14-1 that “construction of the wall and its associated regime are contrary to international law.”

The court said Israel should immediately cease all construction on the concrete and barbed-wire wall and dismantle segments already built. It further called on Israel to pay reparations for the damage done to Palestinians who have been displaced or harmed by its construction. The only dissenting vote was from U.S. judge Thomas Buergenthal, Reuters reported.

The verdict was hailed by a wide spectrum of Palestinian leaders and civic groups, and by Israeli peace forces. Ahmed Qurei, the Palestinian prime minister, called the decision historic, and Saeb Erekat, minister for negotiations, urged swift UN action to implement the non-binding advisory decision.

The Israeli government of Ariel Sharon said it would disregard the ruling, saying the court had no jurisdiction or authority to rule on the question. In contrast, the Jewish peace group Gush Shalom placed newspaper ads that said, “Three cheers for the judges.” It hailed both the Word Court decision and the earlier decision by Israel’s Supreme Court that the wall, at least in some places, violates the law and imposes unnecessary suffering on the Palestinian people.

The Communist Party of Israel said the World Court’s recommendations “are an important contribution to the public struggle against the construction of the wall and the continuing occupation, and for the achievement of a just and stable peace which is the real guarantee of security.” It said that the true purpose of the wall was not to enhance Israel’s security, but to continue the occupation of Palestinian land, to perpetuate the settlements in the West Bank, and to prevent a viable Palestinian state.

Responding to the Israeli government’s “arrogant dismissal” of the UN court’s findings, the CPI said such a stance may lead to the international isolation of Israel and to the imposition of sanctions such as those imposed on South Africa during the apartheid regime. It called for the immediate dismantling of the wall and of all settlements in the occupied territories.

Many Palestinians remain skeptical of the ruling’s impact. “I will not believe the ICJ’s ruling unless I get my land back and be able to cultivate it once again,” Umm Rabhia, who lost approximately 4,900 acres to the wall, told a reporter from Turks.us. She said she feared the ruling would remain merely ink on paper.

The U.S. government has consistently vetoed UN Security Council resolutions critical of the Israeli government’s violation of Palestinian rights, including one last October condemning the wall.

Meanwhile, as Palestinians sought to enforce the verdict against the apartheid wall, a serious political crisis erupted within the Palestinian Authority (PA). In the wake of a series of kidnappings, including of several Palestinian security officials and four French citizens in Gaza (later released), Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat declared a state of emergency in Gaza.

Prime Minister Qurei submitted his resignation, citing the lawlessness and saying he had insufficient authority to implement reforms, as did a number of other prominent officials. As of July 20, Qurei was persuaded to stay on. Arafat’s appointment of his nephew, Mousa Arafat, to a top security post was met with fierce opposition by resistance groups, including his own Fatah faction. He ultimately stepped back from the appointment by placing another official above him The persistent suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza – stemming from Israeli border closings, massive unemployment, and constant raids by Israeli occupation forces – has torn at the very fabric of civil society and worked to undermine Palestinian institutions, including the PA.

Danny Rubinstein, a columnist for the Israeli paper Haaretz, said, “Israel has done everything to bring about the collapse of the PA.” He said the Israelis have also “cultivated Palestinian corruption,” rewarding corrupt senior Palestinian officials while simultaneously creating severe hardship among the general Palestinian public.

Such moves have undermined Palestinian rule and ushered in a period of chaos, the outcome of which remains unpredictable, he said.

The author can be reached at malmberg@pww.org.