The Apartheid Wall, which began being built in the Occupied West Bank in June 2002, is nearly one third complete. It snakes its way deep inside the West Bank, devouring fertile land into de facto Israeli controlled areas, encircling residential areas, ghettoizing and imprisoning the Palestinian population.
That the Wall is a violation of international law is not new. Countless reports have come out from Palestinian and international sources discussing the extent to which the Wall is illegal, and the way in which such a crime manifests itself in the daily violation of individual and collective rights. The UN has stated clearly, in the General Assembly and in various reports of its related agencies, that the Wall is illegal and should be stopped and dismantled.
But, no report is needed to highlight the atrocity that is taking place in the occupied territory. The 90,000 people that are already directly affected by the Wall’s 140 km “first phase” are well aware that their entire lives have been shattered, that their incomes, dignity, children’s future, and heritage were uprooted in a matter of weeks or months as bulldozers leveled their lands in order to confiscate and isolate them.
The current focal point in lobbying around the issue of the Wall’s illegality is the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague and its upcoming Advisory Opinion on the Wall. It is, for certain, a significant event in that it further places international attention on what is taking place in Palestine, highlights the significance of the Wall in the fate of Palestine, and emphasizes that the overwhelming majority of the world, reflected by the UN vote to take Israel to court, is against the Wall.
But the fact that the Court’s decision is non-binding is what should be the central issue in current discussions around the ICJ Hearing and the Wall, in that so much energy is being placed on a framework that does not guarantee results. Though Palestinian movements and organizations are seeking ways in which to translate the decision into an actual tool that will bring about the end to the Wall, ultimately the shortcomings of the international system is a reminder to Palestinians of all that has and continues to fail them in their quest for justice.
What seems more overpowering is the present backlash, spearheaded by Israel, within the international arena marked by a barrage of public relations and actual measures to ensure that the Wall continues unhindered. The list is overwhelming, cynical and tragic: pressure in the UN vote, questioning the jurisdiction of the Court, trying to expel one of the judges, rallying the US and the EU to demand the Court not hear the case, just to name a few.And Israel has taken another simultaneous step, announcing its latest plans to “shift” the Wall’s path, as if, as some media absurdly claim, Israel just discovered that the Wall is negatively affecting Palestinians. Any changes in the Wall will be cosmetic, including plans to paint the Wall, and will not make it any less illegal or less devastating to Palestinians. The ways in which Israel will continue to build the Wall as planned, but package it to the media and international community so they can swallow it more easily, should be detested by all.
In the end, there is a need for a decision by the Court that makes clear the Wall’s illegality in hopes that it will spark greater international outrage that can translate into real pressure on Israel. But, there is legitimate concern that a decision by the non-binding Court will face global apathy, or amidst Israel’s continued public relations and media game the Court itself turns irrelevant.
The Wall is a noose around the necks of tens of thousands, soon to be hundreds of thousands, and is what Palestinians see clearly as the final stage in the sealing of their fate into lifeless reservations. As the Wall slices the entire West Bank it facilitates Israeli control of some 50% of the occupied area and has already brought about the expulsion of close to 15% of the population of the city of Qalqiliya, the first to be targeted by the Wall. Here lies the fate of countless other communities if the Wall remains.
One thing is clear to us here in Palestine, as the bulldozers devastate our lands and lives on a daily basis for the building of the Wall, Israel has no intention of stopping. Israel has declared that the Wall will be completed in just one year from now. It goes without saying that time is running out.
Jamal Juma’ is Coordinator of the Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network (PENGON) which is heading the Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign, the only coordinated Palestinian NGO and grassroots effort against the Wall, which began in October 2002 just three month’s after the Wall’s commencement. PENGON/the Campaign is leading a weekend of activities Feb 21-23 in The Hague, Palestine, and worldwide to bring greater attention to the Wall’s illegality. For more on the Palestinian Campaign against the Wall, see www.stopthewall.org