Opening the oral hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legal consequences of the wall, Palestinian UN representative, Nasser Kidwa, said that the wall will render a two-state solution 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 fifteen judges sitting at the Peace Palace in The Hague. He said that he hoped the non-binding ruling of the ICJ could pave the way for international sanctions. The ruling of the ICJ’s 1971 opinion that South Africa’s occupation of Namibia was illegal triggered UN sanctions against apartheid.
After Kidwa, presentations were made of various facts linked to the construction of the wall by attorney Stephanie Khouri, Professor James Crawford, chairman of the Faculty of Law at Cambridge University, who addressed the question of admissibility of the request, followed by Professor Georges Abi-Saab, who addressed the question of the application of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the occupied Palestinian territories, Professor Vaughan Lowe of Oxford University, who spoke on the violations of those laws, and Professor Jean Salmon, who spoke on the relation between the Road Map and the right of self-determination and on the legal consequences of the Wall.
Referred to some as a “dream team”, the legal experts of the Palestinian delegation are one the best international lawyers in the world. Legal journals have described Professor Crawford as a “leading silk” in public international law and “one of the most creative public international law lawyers around”. Crawford is a strong proponent of the International Criminal Court, he told an Israeli daily newspaper. The Palestinian delegation consisted further of international legal experts such as Peter Bekker, Anis Kassim, Raja Shehadeh, and Jarat Chopra.
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 with effect from the opening of the hearings.
Following the opening legal arguments, 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. Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad told the Court that the ruling, which led to international sanctions against South Africa, contributed to the end of apartheid in 1994. Pahad 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.” He continued: “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. These countries believe that the court does not have the authority to rule on the legal consequences of the wall. They believe that the Court should not rule on an issue that they believe should be tabled at negotiations between the two parties.
Human Rights Watch published a briefing paper today on the legal consequences of the wall, in which the human rights group concluded that the wall entails serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The watchdog 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 8 December last year. 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 an around East Jerusalem.”
Oral submissions are expected tomorrow from Bangladesh, Belize, Cuba, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia and Senegal. The ICJ is scheduled to hear from Sudan, the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference on Wednesday morning.