By Jeff Halper
The Israeli reaction to the International Court of Justice's advisory opinion regarding the legality of the Wall (or "Separation Barrier") was as predictable as the verdict: absolute denial of both the saliency of the judgment itself and of the ICJ's fundamental authority to even pronounce an opinion at all. The verdict was so damaging to Israel not because it fears UN sanctions the US, for one, would never permit that but because it directly challenges Israel's PR line, that the problem is Palestinian terrorism and not its own increasingly brutal 37 year military occupation of Palestinian lands. For years Israel has presented itself as "the only democracy in the Middle East," a small peaceful country fallen victim to an intractable Palestinian aggressor, a normal place, like Manhattan, smitten
for no fathomable reason by terrorism.
In one fell swoop the ICJ, and through it the international community, destroyed that carefully cultivated image. No, it declared in a loud and clear voice, you are not an innocent victim. You are a powerful country with overwhelming military force that is holding almost four million Palestinians in bondage with no regardwhatsoever for their fundamental human rights. The Wall you are building deep in the Occupied West Bank constitutes a grave violation of international law, and you must be held accountable. It is not a security barrier as you would have us believe, but a political border concealing a massive land grab, effectively alienating thousands of farmer from their fields, imprisoning tens of thousands of Palestinians in walled enclaves. True, you have a right to security, but
you also have a solemn obligation under the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure the well-being of the civilian population under your control. The route of the Wall is so invasive of Palestinian territory, so far from the 1967 border that constitutes your security line, so disproportionate in the balance between security for your people and repression of an entire Palestinian population that it simply cannot be justified in either security or legal terms.
In particular, the ICJ ruling challenged Israel's presentation of itself as an innocent victim merely protecting itself. This has always been Israel's most disingenuous way of avoiding accountability for its actions. For a victim has no responsibility, cannot be held accountable. Thus Israel is the world's fourth largest nuclear power yet still retains the image of the poor little kid in what Netanyahu used to call as "neighborhood of bullies." Israel produces 10% of the world's arms and is a main conduit for the arms its strategic ally, the US, disseminates to malevolent regimes around the globe, yet it is the weak party, the victim, in its conflict with the Palestinians. Israel is an occupying power that has demolished 11,000 Palestinian homes since 1967, that has expropriated hundreds of thousands of acres of Palestinian land for its own settlements, has attacked densely populated civilian centers in cities such as Rafah, Ramallah, Jenin, Bethlehem, Nablus and Hebron with tanks, bombs, artillery, laser-guided missiles and snipers, yet evades accountability for state terrorism. Israel has an economy three times larger than Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon put together, yet has created a situation where some 70% of the Palestinians live on less than $2 a day yet avoids its responsibility towards the innocent population it rules.
One word characterizes the Israeli response to both Palestinian suffering and to attempts, such as those of the UN and the ICJ, to hold Israel accountable under international law: impunity. This is easy to understand. Almost coincident with the ICJ ruling, the American Congress voted almost unanimously (407-12) to endorse the radical change in US policy induced by Bush at Sharon's behest. Henceforth Israel will not be required to withdraw from all the territories it conquered in 1967 nor from its major settlement blocs. Against the entire corpus of international law and with absolute impunity towards Palestinian human rights, the US Congress effectively recognized a new apartheid situation of Israel over Palestine.
One can say the same to both Israel and the US when they complain of terrorism and a lack of security. It's the Occupation, Stupid! Our only chance of bringing peace, justice, prosperity and progress to this battered world of ours is through a truly New World Order based on international law and human rights. Occupation and repression are the infrastructure of terror. This is the message of the ICJ, and we ignore it at our peril.