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2004-07-09

World Court to Israel: Tear Down This Wall

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The International Court of Justice is set to rule today that Israel has violated international law by building a 425-mile wall through the West Bank. According to Ha’aretz, the U.S. representative is the only judge on the 15-person panel backing Israel. We go to outside the court in the Hague to speak with Mustafa Barghouti, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative. [includes rush transcript]

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz is reporting the International Court of Justice will rule today that Israel must tear down the 425-mile wall that stretches through much of the West Bank. According to documents obtained by the paper, the court will also rule Israel must pay compensation to Palestinians who have lost land because of the construction of the wall.

Fourteen out of 15 judges voted against the security wall. The sole backer of the wall was U.S. Judge Thomas Buerghenthal.

The court wrote in its majority opinion: "The wall, along the route chosen, and its associated regime, gravely infringe a number of rights of Palestinians residing in the territory occupied by Israel, and the infringements resulting from that route cannot be justified by military exigencies or by the requirements of national security or public order."

The International Court in The Hague, was asked to rule on the legality of the separation wall by the United Nations General Assembly last December.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not recognize the court’s ruling. Ha’aretz is reporting the United States is expected to help block the United Nations Security Council from making any move to enforce the decision.

Both President Bush and Senator John Kerry have backed Israel’s right to construct the wall through the West Bank. In a new policy paper, Kerry wrote: " The security fence is a legitimate act of self defense erected in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israeli citizens... the security fence is not a matter for the International Court of Justice."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we go now to the Hague, to the International Court of Justice. We’re joined now by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative and President of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee. Welcome to Democracy Now!

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: It’s nice to be with you again. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us, as we broadcast this, the Court has not actually handed down the ruling, though we have the report of what the ruling is. You’re about to go into the Court. Your reaction, Dr. Barghouti.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, my reaction is that, of course, we have to wait one hour more or one and a half hour to have the real decision, the actual decision declared officially. But if what was stated already by you is correct, then this is a great victory and wonderful day for the rule of law and the rule of international law and this is a moment that Palestinians need so much, where the international community is showing that there is justice in this world and that justice can prevail. It would be a good and wonderful day for all Palestinians and Israelis who believe in peace, coexistence and justice, and it would be a declaration that illegal acts like building this wall, which is three times as long and twice as high as the Berlin Wall used to be, and which is transforming the occupied territories into clusters of ghettos and bantustans like those in the South African apartheid system, cannot survive, and it should be ended. And I think this is a great precedent in affirming international law and it is a big challenge not only to the Israeli policy, but also to the United States’ official policy, which must say whether it respects international law and International Court of Justice and the rule of law as much.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Barghouti, can you describe the wall for people who are not familiar with it?

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: This is a wall that extends for about 752 kilometers, about three times as long, as I said, and twice as high as the Berlin Wall used to be. In many places, it’s a concrete wall, which is nine meters high. In many places, it is a wall that cuts, that extends for a width of 104 meters, destroying and damaging agricultural areas, uprooting hundreds of thousands of olive trees, as has already happened. It is a wall that transforms at least 78 communities in the West Bank into ghetto-like entities. The best description of that is the City of Qalqilya, which has 46,000 people and which is surrounded by the wall completely from all directions, now leaving only one entry which is a route that is eight meters width with a gate and the gate has a key and the Israeli soldiers hold the key and they shut off the city every evening at 6:00 p.m. and open it in the morning and sometimes they don’t open it in the morning. There are 52 gates in that area. Only 11 of them are functioning. Most of those are open for 15 minutes, three times a day only. So, people are enclaved behind this wall, in something that can only be described as ghetto-like structures. It is destroying the whole humanitarian situation. We are unable to transfer patients from one area to the other. The health system is destroyed. Agriculture is destroyed. The normal economy and trade is destroyed, and many students cannot go to their educational facilities. So, practically it paralyzes and destroys the economy, health, and normal life of people. That’s why we lost already 90 people who died because they could not cross the checkpoints or the wall gates to get to medical treatment, and that’s why as much as 55 Palestinian women had to give birth at checkpoints. One third of them lost their babies. This is not a wall that is built on the borders between the West Bank and Israel as some people might think and then say this is needed for security. No. It is a wall that goes as deep as 25 kilometers, 11 miles or more, inside the West Bank and it is inside the Occupied Territories, the territories that are considered by international law as occupied territories that cannot be violated by Israel. It is also a wall that is destroying the whole fabric, the social fabric of Jerusalem. It has already separated 271,000 people from the area of Jerusalem from the city of Jerusalem, preventing them from getting to their hospitals, schools, and economic facilities.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking —

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, who is Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative. He is speaking with us from the International Court of Justice at the Hague where, at the time of this broadcast, the decision will soon be handed down, though the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz is reporting the decision of 14 of 15 judges is that the wall should be taken down. What Palestinians and many of their supporters call the apartheid wall, what the Israeli government calls the security wall. Now Dr. Barghouti, this decision follows the decision of the Israeli High Court. Could you explain what that was?

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: The Israeli High Court, I think, made a very interesting decision, just a few days before the Court of Justice, the International Court of Justice. I think in an effort to pre-empt the value and effect of the Court of Justice, they said they will — they asked the Israeli army to reroute the passage of the wall, but they didn’t say that the wall cannot be built inside the occupied territories. So, in my opinion, what the Israeli court decision relates to is only 30 kilometers out of 752 kilometers, very little piece, and they are trying to use it as a pre-emptive strike to prevent international condemnation of this wall. Mr. Sharon also came out with a statement just an hour ago in which he said he would be ready to negotiate the passage of the law. You cannot negotiate law; you cannot negotiate the application of the law because law is law and there is either a rule of law or there is no rule of law and what Sharon is trying to do is to pre-empt what could become a very major international effect of this decision, very much similar to the decision of the high courts of justice in relationship to South Africa, which led to sanctions in South Africa as long as it sustained apartheid. And I think this could be the case here if Israel continues to negate international law, hurting the interest of both Palestinians and Israelis and the interest of coexistence and peaceful resolution. Israel could also encounter the possibly of sanctions on this unacceptable policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Barghouti, finally, it is not only George Bush who has supported Israel’s right to construct the wall through the West Bank. But in a new policy paper, Senator John Kerry has said the security fence is a legitimate act of self-defense, erected in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israeli citizens. He says the security fence is not a matter for the International Court of Justice. Your response.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Well, the International Court of Justice is a court that takes decision about international law and nobody can take that legitimacy from it. But let me say that 900 Israelis have already died and about 3200 Palestinians as well. More than 4,000 victims during the last three and a half years. All these people should not have died. They were all the victims of the policy of occupation and the policy of supporting occupation and supporting their feeling of impunity in Israel to international law. I think it is not in the interest of the American people or the American public or those who are going to vote in elections, to continue to support policies of Israel that are outside the ranks of international law. I think Mr. Kerry had a brave position about the war in Vietnam and if he applies the same principles to the Palestinian-Israeli cause, he would support the decision of court of removing this wall that is illegal and unacceptable. You cannot apply a double standard. And time has come for the American people and policymakers, including Mr. Bush, to look in the mirror and see whether what they are doing in relationship to Israel and Palestinians is really in the interest of the American people and the principles of freedom and rule of law that America supports widely.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative and President of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee. He’s speaking to us from the Hague from the International Court of Justice, just about at this broadcast to hand down its ruling on the separation wall that’s going through the West Bank. All reports are that the 14 of 15 judges, except the U.S. judge, have ruled for the taking down of that wall. When we come back, could there be a July Surprise? Stay with us.

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