A stinging indictment

Published : Aug 13, 2004 00:00 IST

The International Court of Justice's judgment declaring the Israeli "apartheid wall" illegal is welcomed by the Palestinians and the international community barring the United States.

THE ruling given by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on July 9 that the "security wall" being built by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is "illegal" is viewed as yet another significant setback for Israel and its main backer, the United States (U.S.). The judgment was hailed by Palestinians and the international community.

The United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly had adopted a resolution on December 8, 2003, asking the ICJ, the U.N.'s highest legal body, for a legal opinion on the 673-km-long barrier that Israel seems determined to complete. The "apartheid wall" encroaches on large tracts of Palestinian land in the West Bank. The wall, the work on which is going on at a frenetic pace, is at present 185 km long. Its construction has separated thousands of Palestinians from their lands, schools or medical services. The well-known Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery wrote: "The wall crushes them [Palestinians] as a man steps on an ant. Farmers are cut off from their fields, workers from the workplaces, pupils from their schools, sick people from their hospitals, the bereaved from the graves of their beloved ones."

Although the Israelis claim that the purpose of the wall is only to stop terrorist activity, it is clear that the grand strategy is to cantonise the West Bank further so as to prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Even the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in the last week of June that a part of the wall would have to be rerouted as it "injures" the Palestinians living in the locality in a "severe way". However, the Israeli court upheld the government's claim that the wall was being built to enhance the security of Israel.

The ICJ was under no such illusions. The court, after five months of deliberations, called on the General Assembly and the Security Council to see to it that the construction of the wall was halted. The ICJ also said that Israel should pay compensation to the thousands of Palestinians affected by its construction. "Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law," the ruling observed. The President of the Court, Shi Jiuyong of China, said that the continued construction of the wall "would be tantamount to de facto annexation" and would severely impede "the exercise by the Palestinian people of their right to self-determination". In the 15-member Bench, only the U.S. judge Thomas Buergenthal dissented from the majority opinion. But he too concurred with the majority view that the ICJ had a right to give an advisory opinion on the issue.

Significantly, the court also ruled: "Israel cannot rely on a right of self-defence or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall. The court accordingly finds that the construction of the wall and its associated regime are contrary to international law." The court also ruled separately that countries "should not render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created" by the wall. Judge Buergenthal again dissented from the majority judgment on this point. This time he was joined by the Dutch judge Pieter H. Kooijmans.

PALESTINIAN and Arab diplomats have interpreted the ruling as a call for international sanctions against Israel. The court's ruling, though non-binding, carries immense political and moral weight. The rulings of the court in 1971 against the South African occupation of Namibia had led to a sustained international boycott of the apartheid state.

Israeli and U.S. officials were quick to criticise the ruling. Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon said that he wanted "to make clear, the state of Israel absolutely rejects the ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague". He went on to link a suicide attack in Tel Aviv on July 11 to the judgment, saying that the bombing was carried out "under the auspices of the ruling". The White House was also equally critical of the judgment. The White House spokesman said that the court was not the "appropriate forum" to decide on the legality of the wall. This being election year in the U.S., the Democrats also joined in the litany of criticism aimed at the court. Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry and party leaders such as Senator Hillary Clinton supported the hard-line stance of the Israeli government.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat described the ICJ's decision as "a pronunciation from the world that it is standing beside the Palestinian people against the apartheid wall". Palestinian Prime Minster Ahmed Qureia expressed the hope that the Americans would "not sabotage" the efforts of the international community to make Israel dismantle the "apartheid wall", after the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to condemn Israel on the issue in the last week of July. The matter will be taken to the Security Council where, as expected, the U.S. will use its veto power to protect its client state. Washington has already rejected the idea that there should be "further action" by the U.N. in the wake of the ruling.

The calls for international sanctions against the Zionist state are getting louder by the day. It was the sanctions imposed by former U.S. President George Bush, the present incumbent's father, that forced a former Israeli Likud Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir, to attend the peace talks in Madrid in 1991. The signing of the Oslo Accords between the Israelis and the Palestinians gave the Israeli government the widespread international legitimacy it so desperately craved for. Israel soon found a market for its high-tech defence and electronic goods in the lucrative Asian market. Today, Israel is the second biggest supplier of defence equipment to India and China. Israel sells more than $1.5 billion worth of military equipment to India. If the present Indian government continues with the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's policies, Israel could be giving Russia a close run for its money. Currently, Russia is the biggest arms seller to both India and China.

The Israeli government has made a mockery of the Oslo Accords. Many human rights organisations in Europe and elsewhere are urging their governments to impose economic sanctions on Israel. The group War on Want noted: "A trade policy could provide a key mechanism for exerting pressure on Israel. A full economic embargo would be in line with Article 2 of the E.U.-Israeli association agreement, which states that trade restrictions can be enforced in deference to a country's poor human rights record." The human rights record of Israel under the stewardship of Ariel Sharon has touched an appalling low. The rulings of the Israeli Supreme Court and the ICJ are sufficient basis for the international community to impose an embargo on the Zionist state.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government seems intent on further consolidating the strong relations the NDA government cemented with Israel. The Common Minimum Programme agreed on by the UPA and its supporting parties specifically called for the strengthening of relations with the Arab and the Muslim world in general and the Palestinians in particular. Instead, the UPA government has sent top Army and Navy officials to Tel Aviv with a new shopping list for military hardware. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that the "defence cooperation" between the two countries would continue. His pronouncement comes at a time when leading politicians in Europe are demanding that pressure be applied on their governments to impose an arms embargo on Israel. The U.S. is the principal arms supplier to Israel.

Gerald Kaufman, a Labour Party Member of the British Parliament, wrote: "That a task is difficult does not mean that that it should not be attempted. There is no point in seeking to change Israeli policy by appealing to its government's better nature, since such a nature does not exist. Sanctions and an arms ban must be our objective. Even a determined campaign may itself help to shift the Sharon government's policies and bring about a peace settlement to end the plight of Palestinian and Israelis alike." The huge profits being earned by the Israeli arms industry will no doubt be used to grease the repressive machinery of the Zionist state.

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