THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CNN, July 9, 2004) -- The International Court of Justice has said the barrier Israel is building to seal off the West Bank violates international law because it infringes on the rights of Palestinians.
In an advisory opinion issued Friday in The Hague, the U.N. court urged the Israelis to remove it from occupied land.
The non-binding opinion also found that Israel was obligated to return confiscated land or make reparations for any destruction or damage to homes, businesses and farms caused by the barrier's construction.
The court noted that Israel has argued that the barrier is "temporary" and its "sole purpose is to enable it effectively to combat terrorist attacks launched from the West Bank."
In June 2002, the Israeli Cabinet decided to erect a physical barrier separating Israel and the West Bank with the declared objective of regulating the entry of Palestinians from the West Bank into Israel. This barrier is variously known as the 'Separation Fence/Wall' (Israeli), the 'Apartheid Wall' (Arabic), or internationally most frequently simply as the 'Wall'.
Some sections, particularly in urban areas, this barrier comprises of a concrete wall six to eight meters high, whilst in others there is an electronic fence flanked by paved pathways, barbed-wire fences, and trenches.
The full route of the Wall – the portions already built, those under construction, and those not yet implemented – is 709–kilometers long, twice as long as the Green Line. Eighty-five percent of the route is within the West Bank itself, not along the Green Line. In areas where the Wall has already been built, extensive violations of human rights of Palestinians living nearby are evident; further construction leads to further violations of the human rights of hundreds of thousands of local Palestinians.
The Wall has severely restricted movement for Palestinians. Thousands have difficulty reaching their fields and marketing their produce to other areas of the West Bank. The areas west of the Wall are among the most fertile in the West Bank. According to the World Bank, the agriculture there generated 8% overall Palestinian agricultural production. The damage to the agricultural sector means that Palestinian farmers cannot get supplementary income or increase the number of workers in what is the primary sector of Palestinian economy.
The restrictions on freedom of movement also limit the access of Palestinian villagers to hospitals in nearby towns, and the educational system suffers because many schools, primarily village schools, depend on teachers who live outside the community and must commute to the school; also family ties and social connections are adversely affected.
In setting the Wall's route, Israeli officials have almost entirely disregarded the severe infringement of Palestinian human rights. The route was based on irrelevant considerations completely unrelated to the security of Israeli civilians. A major aim in planning the route was de facto annexation of part of the West Bank: when the Wall is completed, 9.5 percent of the West Bank, containing 60 settlements, will be situated on its western “Israeli” side. Israeli politicians already consider the Wall’s route as Israel’s future border.
In the southern West Bank the Wall encircles Bethlehem by continuing south of East Jerusalem in both the east and west. With the land isolated by the Wall, annexed for settlements, and closed under various pretexts, only 13% of the Bethlehem district is available for Palestinian use. In Bethlehem the Wall encompasses one of the main holy sites, Rachel’s Tomb, which is now inaccessible to Palestinians and effectively annexed by Israel.
The impact of the Wall on Bethlehem is illustrated, in part, our presentations: