Emma Thomasson and Paul Gallagher / Reuters – 2004-07-12 21:33:59
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (Jul 9, 2004) — The World Court strongly condemned Israel’s West Bank barrier Friday, saying it had illegally imposed hardship on thousands of Palestinians and should be torn down.
The court said in a nonbinding ruling hailed by Palestinians and rejected by Israel that the barrier violated international humanitarian law. It called on the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly to stop its construction.
But the United States, which has vetoed Security Council resolutions against the Jewish state in the past, dismissed the court’s intervention and an American judge on the 15-member panel did not back the ruling.
Israel was forthright in its rejection of the ruling, saying not one Palestinian suicide bomber had managed to slip into the Jewish state wherever the barrier had already been constructed. “They can say the earth is flat. It won’t make it legal, it won’t make it true and it won’t make it just,” Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Britain’s Sky television.
The court’s head judge, Shi Jiuyong of China, said in the ruling: “The wall … cannot be justified by military exigencies or by the requirements of national security or public order. The construction … constitutes breaches by Israel of its obligations under applicable international humanitarian law. Israel is under an obligation … to dismantle forthwith the structure,” he said.
ISRAEL SAYS BARRIER VITAL
Israel says the barrier is vital to protect its citizens from Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen. Palestinians call the barrier, which curves around Jewish settlements, a land grab that robs them of territory they want for a state.
The court acknowledged Israel’s duty to protect its citizens but said it must do so within the law and should compensate Palestinians for homes and land lost or damaged by the building of the 100-yard wide strip of walls, ditches and fences.
The ruling said the route of the planned 370-mile barrier, which is about a third built, “severely impeded” Palestinian rights to self-rule.
“The court considers that the construction of the wall and its associate regime creates a ‘fait accompli’ on the ground that could well become permanent, in which case … it would be tantamount to de facto annexation,” said the court, the U.N.’s top legal body. “The 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.”
A senior adviser to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat said “as of today Israel should be viewed as an outlaw state. The next step is to approach the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council to adopt resolutions that will isolate and punish Israel,” said Nabil Abu Rdainah.
Twists and turns of the barrier deviating from the Israel-West Bank boundary have trapped thousands of Palestinians in enclaves cut off from olive and citrus groves, schools, markets, public services and West Bank cities.
WASHINGTON DISMISSES RULING
A spokesman for President Bush brushed aside the ruling, saying the World Court — formally the International Court of Justice — was not the right place to settle the issue.
“This is an issue that should be resolved through the process that has been put in place, specifically the road map,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, referring to a stalled U.S.-backed peace plan to end the Middle East conflict. Palestinians tend to enjoy considerable support at the U.N.
Israel looks to a U.S. veto in the Security Council to block any bid to punish it in the way that apartheid South Africa was after the World Court ruled its occupation of South West Africa, now Namibia, was illegal in 1971.
The U.N. General Assembly requested an opinion on the barrier in December and the World Court held hearings in February overshadowed by public lobbying from both sides.
The case attested to paralysis in Middle East peacemaking after years of violence. Israel says the barrier has already prevented dozens of suicide bomb attacks. Suicide bombers have killed hundreds of Israelis. Last week, Israel’s top court ordered one segment of the barrier rerouted to avoid cutting off Palestinian villagers from farms, jobs, public services and cities but ruled Israel had a right to build it in the West Bank on security grounds.
“We will abide by the ruling of our own High Court and not the panel in The Hague with judges from the European Union who are not suspected of being particularly disposed toward Israel,” Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said earlier Friday. Five of the 15 judges were from the European Union.
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