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At the Hague, the Palestinians Argue Against Israel’s Security Fence

February 24, 2004
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All eyes were on The Hague this week as the International Court of Justice opened its hearings on Israel’s West Bank security barrier.

But Israel, the United States and at least 30 other nations were boycotting the hearings.

That didn’t stop the Palestinians and their allies — who had sent the issue to the international court in a December vote at the U.N. General Assembly — from making their case against the security fence

In an opening three-hour session Monday, the Palestinian delegation presented its case before the 15-judge panel. Unlike in other courts, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, the panel of judges did not interrupt the members of the Palestinian delegation during their presentations, nor did they ask any questions or clarifications afterward.

The Palestinian representative to the United Nations, Nasser Al-Kidwa, said Israel is violating international and humanitarian law by building the fence.

Professor James Crawford, a Cambridge University expert on international law, then explained why the court has the right to hear the case.

“Israel says that the court has no jurisdiction,” Crawford said, “but this is not true. It says the court only has jurisdiction when it concerns two sovereign states who have both requested the court’s opinion, and who have both consented to the court hearing. But this is not true.”

In an attempt to persuade the court that there existed legal precedent for considering the fence despite Israel’s opposition, Crawford cited several examples of cases in which a party involved in a case before the international court had not consented to the court’s authority.

Israeli officials have said that the court has no jurisdiction in the matter, that a legal forum is not the place to resolve political conflicts and that Israel’s building of the fence is part of the country’s national right of self-defense.

The second part of the Palestinian presentation was devoted to specifics of the Palestinian case against the fence, including its repercussions for daily Palestinian life.

South Africa’s deputy foreign minister and representatives from Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh also spoke against Israel’s fence.

Almost no reference was made to the reason Israel says it has built the barrier: to thwart Palestinian terrorists seeking to perpetrate attacks against Israeli civilians. Most Palestinian attackers have come from the West Bank, which, unlike Gaza, is not yet fenced in.

Palestinians say Israel is using the security fence as an excuse for a land grab, and that the barrier is separating Palestinians from each other, their property, their schools and their livelihoods.

Israeli officials say the fence — which along most of its route is comprised of a sophisticated network of wire mesh fences built with electronic sensors, patrol roads, ditches, cameras and watchtowers — is the best solution to stopping suicide bombers from entering Israel via the West Bank. Those attacks have left more than 1,000 Israelis dead and thousands more injured.

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