12 July 2008

Putting Up The Barriers -- The Israeli Wall

The "wall" is a barrier whose basic premise is to protect Israel from suicide bombers and terrorism. The wall is 723 kilometres long and is a breach of Israel's international law obligations. At least 87% of the wall is built inside the green line (the agreed border between Israel and Palestine) this means that the wall is built on Palestinian territory and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) handed down an Advisory Opinion that clearly stated that Israel was in breach of international law.

The ICJ included in this decision a non-binding order that would require Israel to dismantle the parts of the wall that is built on Palestinian territory. However, Israel has ignored the order and continues construction on the parts of the wall yet to be completed. The wall has so far cost the Israeli's some USD 4.1 billion.

Israel undoubtedly has a right to defend itself against terrorism and to defend itself against suicide bombers. It does not have a right though to do this by building the wall on the territory of Palestine, at least under international law. The wall, once completed, will occupy and isolate more than 9% of the West Bank from the Palestinians while protecting some 420,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank.

The wall divides towns such as Ar Ram and Abu Dis meaning that once where people were freely able to travel between various points in these towns to Jerusalem can no longer do so. This has had severe impact on not only travel but business and the ability for people to work.

Yasser Arafat chose Abu Dis as the capital city of Palestine for its proximity to Jerusalem. However, most of Abu Dis is now behind the wall. Simply, it has been annexed.

The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Human Affairs has issued a report that calls the impact of the wall "devastating" to Palestinian villages, towns, and cities by isolating communities and separating these communities from services, land, and livelihoods.

The Report goes on to say that, "The barrier compounds the fragmentation of the West Bank by creating non-contiguous enclaves of Palestinian communities and territory, which are isolated from each other and from the remainder of the West Bank."

Furthermore, "Movement and access for Palestinians is controlled by permits and gates, or channelled through 'fabric of life' routes, that is, secondary roads, tunnels and underpasses created or upgraded by the Israeli authorities to restore transportation contiguity between disconnected Palestinian localities. These physical and bureaucratic measures add to the closure regime of checkpoints and roadblocks, preventing and delaying Palestinians from accessing essential services and workplaces."

It must be noted that there is little public support within Israel to see the wall come down. It would seem that the Israelis are hedging their bets, if there is not going to be any resolution to the Israeli - Palestinian conflict in the foreseeable future then the best bet is to makes sure that the two sides are separated and that its citizens are protected.

Going forward it is clear that the order from the ICJ is non-binding and as such there is no incentive for Israel to comply. Furthermore, there has been no mention of trying to force Israel's hand by threatening sanctions or the like.

Nevertheless, life goes on for both the Israelis and the Palestinians in spite of the barrier between them.

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