Palestinian demonstrators gather at the apartheid wall during a protest marking the fourth anniversary since the International Court of Justice called for partial demolition of the wall in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanin
On 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ruled as illegal the so- called “separation wall” — the gigantic barrier Israel had been building in the West Bank.
The wall has not yet been completed, mainly due to procedural and financial problems. But when completed, it would devour nearly 46 per cent of the West Bank, 10 per cent of which would be isolated on the “Israeli” side of the barrier. This almost certainly means annexation.
This is added to East Jerusalem and surrounding Arab villages, which constitutes four per cent of the occupied West Bank. Israel has already cordoned East Jerusalem, with its estimated quarter of a million Palestinians, with an eight- metre high barrier, cutting them off from the rest of the West Bank.
The landmark ruling by the ICJ stated that the gigantic barrier, built mostly on confiscated Arab land occupied by Israel in 1967, was in violation of international law and should be torn down. The ruling also reaffirmed that all Jewish colonies built in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip since 1967 were likewise illegal under international law and ought to be dismantled.
Palestinians suffering losses as a result of the wall, the ICJ ruled, would have to be compensated by Israel. Israel, emboldened by its guardian-ally, the United States, rejected the ruling defiantly, arguing that its viewpoint was not taken into consideration by ICJ judges.
In fact, far from paying the slightest attention to the ICJ ruling, Israel actually accelerated its seizing of Palestinian land, with the Israeli High Court of Justice acting as a rubber stamp in the hands of the Israeli occupation army to give the huge land-grab a façade of legality it cannot have.
Palestinians in general viewed the ruling as an important victory for their cause. However, few Palestinians had any illusions as to the realistic prospects of getting the US-dominated “international community” to ensure implementation of the ICJ ruling on the ground. After all, numerous other resolutions by the UN and its Security Council declaring Israeli actions illegal and null and void remained mere “ink on paper”.
In recent days, Palestinians all over the West Bank have been marking the fourth anniversary of the ICJ ruling with renewed determination to end the 41-year-old Israeli occupation of their homeland. Indeed, the construction of the ugly barrier, which many also call “the wall of shame” is but a symptom of the Israeli occupation, just as is the proliferation of Jewish-only colonies and Jewish-only roads throughout the occupied territories.
Last week, eight protests were held in the West Bank, from Jenin in the north to Bethlehem in the south. The protesters, who also included foreign peace activists, carried aloft Palestinian flags as well as signs calling for the demolition of the wall.
In Deir Al-Ghusun near Tulkarem (in the northern West Bank), protesters marched to the wall that isolated their orchards and farms. One protester called the seizure of his land by the Israeli army “an act of rape”. He accused Israel of “deceiving and lying to the world”.
“First they said the wall was a security structure, not a political border. However, we have seen that all Israeli policies and actions indicate that Israel deals with the wall as constituting political boundaries,” said the middle-aged man.
Soon, however, the protest was suppressed by Israeli occupation troops invading the village via military gates built into the wall. The purpose of these gates is to allow the Israeli army easy access to adjacent Palestinian villages, thus facilitating control over the local populace.
On 11 July, Palestinian villagers and foreign peace activists marched to the wall at the villages of Jayyous, Niilin, Billin and Al-Khadr where they clashed with Israeli troops defending the wall. Villagers spoke bitterly of Israeli military bulldozers decimating and pulverising their centuries-old olive groves and ancestral farms, upon which much of their livelihood depends.
For their part, Israeli occupation soldiers were in no mood to allow the victims of Israeli apartheid policy and ethnic cleansing to even peacefully communicate their grievances to the outside world. Even before protesters arrived at the site of the decimated groves, occupation soldiers showered them with rubber-coated bullets, sound bombs and tear gas. One villager was seriously injured, and as many as 50 olive trees were set on fire by exploding bombs and tear gas shells.
Undoubtedly, the wall has inflicted incalculable losses of national proportions on Palestinians in the West Bank, covering all aspects of their existence and survival. According to Abdul-Hadi Hantash, a cartographer and expert on Jewish settlements, the wall has a length of 786 kilometres and is built along the main water reservoir basins in the West Bank, which produce 460 million cubic metres of mostly fresh water per year. Of this amount, around five per cent goes to the Palestinians while Israel grabs the rest.
Hantash said the wall had already isolated more than 70 Palestinian villages and hamlets with a total population of 223,000 people. It also resulted in the uprooting or destruction of 108,000 full-grown trees, including 84,000 olive trees.
Hantash said the Palestinian Authority (PA) should not take the wall as a separate issue. “This sinister wall is an integral part of the Jewish settlement policy. It is a symptom of the occupation, and as we all know symptoms can’t be eradicated without treating the root cause first.”
Hantash was speaking on 11 July during a symposium held in Dura, near Hebron, marking the passage of four years since the adoption by the ICJ of the landmark ruling against the wall.
Talab Al-Sanie, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, who also took part in the symposium, pointed out that the construction of the wall was motivated by an overwhelming Israeli desire to unilaterally impose political boundaries between Israel and a prospective Palestinian state.
Al-Sanie, however, argued that the ICJ ruling proved that the wall was “an illegitimate phenomenon stemming from another equally illegitimate phenomenon, namely the Israeli occupation of Arab land”. He pointed out that Israel was simply trying to resolve its demographic problems and fears at the expense of the Palestinian people.
“Jews ought to realise that this hateful military occupation will not give them security. They should also understand that their enemy is not the Palestinian people, but the occupation, the termination of which would put an end to the conflict in the region.”
To his chagrin, most Israelis, especially their government and the military establishment, denounce Al-Sanie’s views, explaining the continued expansion of Jewish settlements all over the West Bank and on both sides of the “separation” wall.