World Court holds hearings on Israeli wall

Opening the oral hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legal consequences of the Israeli government’s separation wall, Palestinian UN representative Nasser Kidwa said that the wall will render a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict practically impossible.

“The wall is not about security. It is about entrenching the occupation and the de facto annexation of large areas of Palestinian land,” Kidwa said. “This wall, if completed, will leave the Palestinian people with only half of the West Bank within isolated, non-contiguous, walled enclaves,” he told the 15 judges sitting at the Peace Palace in The Hague. Kidwa said he hoped the non-binding ruling of the ICJ could pave the way for international sanctions against Israel.

After Kidwa, presentations of facts about the construction of the wall were made by a distinguished group of lawyers and academics, who addressed the question of the application of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the occupied Palestinian territories, the right of self-determination, and on the legal consequences of the wall. Referred to some as a “dream team,” the legal experts for the Palestinian delegation are among the best international lawyers in the world.

The Palestinian delegation was given three hours to speak. Other participants in the oral proceedings were given a maximum of 45 minutes each. The court had decided that the written statements submitted in the current advisory proceedings are to be made accessible to the public.

Following the opening legal arguments, Aziz Pahad, the deputy foreign minister of South Africa, called on the International Court to rule that the wall is illegal, just as the same court ruled in 1971 that apartheid South Africa’s occupation of Namibia was illegal. Pahad told the court that the 1971 ruling, which led to international sanctions against South Africa, contributed to the end of apartheid in 1994. He said, “The separation wall is anathema to the peace process as envisaged in the road map as it eliminates the prospect of a two-state solution. This court could play a fundamental role in contributing meaningfully to sustainable peace and security in the Middle East and indeed the whole world.”

In the afternoon, the court also heard arguments from representatives of Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Bangladesh.

Israel, the United States and the European Union did not attend the oral hearings. They believe that the court should not rule on an issue that they believe should be discussed at negotiations between the two sides.

Human Rights Watch published a briefing paper Feb. 23 on the legal consequences of the wall, in which it concluded that the wall entails serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The watchdog group stated that Israel’s concerns for security must be addressed in a manner that is proportionate to the threat and that does not amount to indiscriminate and collective punishment of entire communities. The wall, Human Rights Watch stated, “imposes long-term and severe restrictions on freedom of movement, causing extensive and disproportionate harm to Palestinians and worsening conditions of access to the essentials of civilian life.”

The ICJ’s action follows a request from the UN General Assembly on Dec. 8. During an emergency session on Palestine, the Assembly adopted a resolution asking for an urgently rendered opinion on “the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem.”

Oral submissions are expected from Bangladesh, Belize, Cuba, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia and Senegal, Sudan, the League of Arab States, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Reprinted from The Electronic Intifada, www.electronicintifada.net.