Israeli West Bank barrier

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality.
This article has been tagged since October 2005.
See Wikipedia:How to edit a page and Category:Wikipedia help for help, or this article's talk page.
The barrier route as of May 2005
The barrier route as of May 2005

The Israeli West Bank barrier (commonly referred to as a "fence" by its supporters and a "wall" by its opponents) is a physical barrier consisting of a network of fences, walls, and trenches, which is being constructed by Israel.

The barrier is a very controversial project, with little common ground between supporters and opponents. Supporters regard it as a necessary tool protecting Israeli civilians from terrorist attacks that have plagued the country since the start the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000.[1][2] Opponents claim that it violates international humanitarian and human rights law, and regard it as an attempt to annex land occupied by illegal settlements, and to pre-empt final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Opposition to the barrier is focused on the route of the barrier and its impact on the Palestinians who live nearby, particularly on their ability to travel freely within the West Bank and to get access to work in Israel. In some sections the constructed and approved extents of the barrier follow the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli armistice line, also known as the "Green Line". In other sections the route of the barrier diverges from the "Green Line" by anywhere from 200 meters to as much as 20 kilometers, with the result that many Israeli settlements in the West Bank remain on the Israeli side of the barrier, and some Palestinian towns are nearly encircled by it. On two occasions the Israeli government has been instructed by the Supreme Court of Israel to alter the route of the barrier to ensure that negative impacts on Palestinians would be minimized and proportional [3] [4]. In some West Bank areas where the barrier has been operational there has been a reduction in Israeli military presence inside Palestinian towns and removal of checkpoints.

On February 18, 2005 the Israeli cabinet approved a new route for the barrier which would leave approximately seven percent of the West Bank and 10,000 Palestinians on the Israeli side. Map: [5] Before that time, the exact route of the barrier had not been finalized, and it had been alleged by opponents that the barrier route would encircle the West Bank, separating it from the Jordan valley [6]. However, there is no indication in government plans or work on the ground that support such allegations.

A similar barrier, the Israeli Gaza Strip barrier, was constructed parallel to the Gaza Strip portion of the 1949 armistice line in 1996. This barrier did not stray significantly from the armistice line, and it has not been as controversial as the West Bank barrier has been.


History and purpose

Since its inception, Israel has erected physical barriers as a means of protection against fedayeen and guerilla attacks.

The barrier near Jenin, northern West Bank, July 2003
The barrier near Jenin, northern West Bank, July 2003

The idea of creating a physical barrier between the Israeli and Palestinian populations was first proposed by Yitzhak Rabin in 1992, following the murder of an Israeli teenage girl in Jerusalem. Rabin said that Israel must "take Gaza out of Tel Aviv", in order to minimize friction between the peoples. Following an outbreak of violent incidents in Gaza in October 1994, Rabin announced his stance that "we have to decide on separation as a philosophy. There has to be a clear border. Without demarcating the lines, whoever wants to swallow 1.8 million Arabs will just bring greater support for Hamas." [1, p52]

To this end, the government of Yitzhak Rabin built the Israeli Gaza Strip barrier in 1994. Following an attack on Bet Lid, near the city of Netanya, Rabin made his goals more specific:

This path must lead to a separation, though not according to the borders prior to 1967. We want to reach a separation between us and them. We do not want a majority of the Jewish residents of the state of Israel, 98% of whom live within the borders of sovereign Israel, including a united Jerusalem, to be subject to terrorism.

In early 1995, the Shahal commission was established by Yitzhak Rabin to discuss how to implement a barrier separating Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, prior to the Camp David 2000 Summit with Yasser Arafat, vowed to build a separation barrier, stating that it is "essential to the Palestinian nation in order to foster its national identity and independence without being dependent on the State of Israel". [1, p54]

In a September 2005 decision [7], the Israeli Supreme Court made reference to the conditions and history that led to the building of the barrier. It described the history of violence against Israeli citizens since the breakout of Al-Aqsa Intifada and the loss of life that ensued on the Israeli side. The court ruling also cited the attempts Israel had made to defend its citizens, including "military operations" carried out against "terrorist acts", and stated that these actions...

...did not provide a sufficient answer to the immediate need to stop the severe acts of terrorism. . . . Despite all these measures, the terror did not come to an end. The attacks did not cease. Innocent people paid with both life and limb. This is the background behind the decision to construct the separation fence (Id., at p. 815)

Although at the beginning the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was hesitant to construct the barrier, it finally embraced the plan. The stated purpose of the barrier is to prevent terrorists from entering Israeli cities, a problem which has plagued Israel since the start of the Second Intifada. A secondary purpose of the barrier is to prevent illegal infiltrations by Palestinians, mainly illegal immigrants and car thieves. The Israeli government says that the high concrete portions are to protect cars and people on the Israeli side from gunfire. Many Israelis note the danger of terrorist incursions from the area, such as waves of suicide bombings in early 2002. (See Passover massacre).

For more on the considerations about the barrier route, see The 1949 Cease-fire line vs. the permanent border.

Although the Israeli government has said that the purpose of the barrier is to prevent attacks and that any hardship to Palestinians is an unfortunate side effect made necessary by terrorism, the barrier's opponents say the barrier is the de facto future border of the State of Israel. The route of the barrier diverge from the Green Line to include on the Israeli side of the barrier several of the highly populated areas of Jewish settlements in the West Bank such as: East Jerusalem, Ariel, Gush Etzion, Emmanuel, Karnei Shomron, Givat Ze'ev, Oranit, and Maale Adumim.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, has said that the barrier has "unilaterally helped to demarcate the route for future Israeli control over huge West Bank settlement blocs and large swathes of West Bank land". [8] According to B'Tselem, "the overall features of the separation barrier and the considerations that led to determination of the route give the impression that Israel is relying on security arguments to unilaterally establish facts on the ground ..." [9] On August 17, 2005, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz commented: "Sharon has tried in vain to describe it as 'only another counterterrorism measure.' Nevertheless, it looks like a border and behaves like one, with barbed wire, electronic devices, concrete walls, watchtowers and checkpoints. Its creation set a crucial precedent in the unilateral division of the land, which came to fit Sharon perfectly." [10]

Addressing the issue of the barrier as a future border, President George W. Bush said in April 2004 that it "should be a security rather than political barrier, should be temporary rather than permanent and therefore not prejudice any final status issues including final borders, and its route should take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities." [11] President Bush reiterated this position during a May 26, 2005 joint press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Rose Garden. [12] For additional detail on Bush's statements regarding final borders, see Road map for peace.

Structure and timeline

The barrier at Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem, June 2004
The barrier at Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem, June 2004

Most of the barrier consists of a wire fence with an exclusion area on each side, often including an anti-vehicle trench. The total width of the barrier will average 60 meters, though in certain cases the barrier will reach a width of one hundred meters due to topographic conditions.[13] Some sections, under five percent of the total length, consist of a concrete wall up to 8 m (25 ft.) high, such as near Qalqiliya and Jerusalem. In all cases there are regular observation posts, automated sensing devices and other apparatus. There are gates at various places which are controlled by Israeli soldiers when they are not closed. The total length as officially authorized by the end of 2003 will be 650 km (403 miles).

As of November 2003, the barrier extends inside most of the northwestern and western edges of the West Bank, sometimes close to the Green Line, and sometimes running further east. In some places there are also secondary barriers, creating a number of completely enclosed enclaves. It is not known whether a decision has been made to build a barrier on the eastern side of the main regions of Palestinian Arab population. Depending mostly on this decision, somewhere between 6% and 45% of the West Bank will eventually be outside the barrier.

In October 2003, the region between the barrier and the Green Line was declared a special military area. Although all Israelis and all Jews regardless of nationality can enter the region freely, Palestinians can enter only with special permits even if they are residents of one of the dozen or so Arab villages in the region. Many who tried to obtain permits were refused them.

In February 2004, Israel said it would review the route of the barrier in response to U.S. and Palestinian concerns. In particular, Israeli cabinet members said modifications would be made to reduce the number of checkpoints Palestinians had to cross, and especially to reduce Palestinian hardship in areas such as Qalqilya where the barrier goes very near, and in some cases nearly encircles, populated areas.

On June 30, 2004, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that a portion of the barrier near Jerusalem violates the rights of Palestinians, and ordered 30 km of existing and planned barrier to be rerouted. However, it did rule that the barrier is legal in essence and accepted the Israeli government's claim that it is a security measure. On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion that it is a violation of international law. At the beginning of September 2004, Israel started the southern part of the barrier.

Effects on Israeli security

A section of the Israeli West Bank barrier between Qalqiliyia and the nearby Israeli highway. This section of the barrier is on the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli armistice line.
A section of the Israeli West Bank barrier between Qalqiliyia and the nearby Israeli highway. This section of the barrier is on the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli armistice line.

Israeli statistics indicate that the barrier has drastically reduced the number of Palestinian infiltrations and suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians in Israel and in Israeli settlements, and Israeli officials assert that completion of the barrier will make it even more effective in stopping these attacks [14] since "An absolute halt in terrorist activities has been noticed in the West Bank areas where the fence has been constructed". [15]

Israeli officers, including the head of the Shin Bet, quoted in the newspaper Maariv, have claimed that in the areas where the barrier was complete, the number of hostile infiltrations has decreased to almost zero. Maariv also stated that Palestinian militants, including a senior member of Islamic Jihad, had confirmed that the barrier made it much harder to conduct attacks inside Israel. Since the completion of the fence in the area of Tulkarem and Qalqiliya in June 2003, there have been no successful attacks from those areas, all attacks have been intercepted or the suicide bombers have detonated prematurely. [1, p56]

In the Gaza Strip, which is surrounded completely by a fence, there have been almost no infiltrations of suicide bombers into the nearby cities Ashkelon and Sderot or into the Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Palestinian suicide bomb attacks are now being directed at checkpoints in the fence that provide access to Israel and the Erez Industrial Zone. This change of focus of the attacks is presumably because other potential targets cannot be reached because of the barrier.

In an interview on the PBS program The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Lt. Col. Dotan Razili of the Israeli Defense Forces said that "since 1996 if I'm not mistaken, no suicide bombers went out of the Gaza because we have fenced it." [16]

During the twelve month period from August 2003 to July 2004 three suicide bombers launched attacks from areas where the fence has been completed which resulted in no deaths or injuries. In contrast during the preceding twelve months, from September 2002 to August 2003, 73 attacks were successfully carried out from these areas, in which 293 Israelis were killed and 1,950 were wounded. The decrease in casualties was not due to a decrease in attempted terrorist attacks; from August 2003 to July 2004 Israeli security forces prevented dozens of planned attacks in the final stages of their implementation and uncovered 24 explosive belts and charges intended to be used for these attacks. From July 2004 to October 2004 only one suicide bombing has resulted in casualties in areas where the barrier has been built. [17]

Opponents of the barrier claim that the barrier will not improve Israeli security in the long run. They argue that, while it may temporarily reduce the number of attacks, in the longer term it will create more Palestinian hostility towards Israel which will lead to more suicide bombings. The Palestinian NGO MIFTA writes: "although the wall may give some immediate relief from the relentless series of terrorist attacks inflicted on the state and people of Israel, building the fence on Palestinian territory will inflame tensions in the region and do nothing to solve the crisis. ... it will give only an illusion of security to the people of Israel in the longer term." [18]

Effects on Palestinians

The barrier hugging built-up Palestinian areas
The barrier hugging built-up Palestinian areas

The barrier generally runs along the Green Line[19] on a complex path which dips into the west bank to include some Jewish settlement [20]. [21] Parts of the barrier are built on land confiscated from Palestinians. [22] [23]

An often-quoted example of the effects of the barrier is the the Palestinian town of Qalqilya, a city of around 45,000, where an 8 meter-high concrete section (referred to as a "sniper wall" designed to prevent gun attacks against Israeli motorists on the nearby Trans-Israel Highway and the Israeli town of Kfar Saba) [24] runs for more than 3 kilometers to the west of the city along the Green Line. The barrier, in the form of a series of razor wires and trenches, also dips beyond the Green Line to encircle Qalqilya from northern side and southern sides [25] [26][27]. The city is accessed through a main road from the east, and an underground tunnel built by Israel in September 2004 on the south side connects Qalqilya with the adjacent village of Habla which has been cut off by segment of barrier. According to the Palestinian Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD) and other sources, 45% of Palestinian farmland (including some of the most fertile) [28][29], and one-third of the city's water wells, now lie outside the barrier, and farmers require permits from Israeli authorities to access their lands that are on the opposite side. (Of note, the Israeli supreme court notes the government's statement that rejects accusations of a de facto annexation of these wells, stating that "the construction of the fence does not affect the implementation of the water agreements determined in the (interim) agreement" (Section 67d). There are three gates in the barrier for the purpose of admitting farmers with permits to their fields that are open 3 times a day for a total of 50 minutes [30], although according to the NAD they have often been arbitrarily closed for extended periods leading to loss of crops at times of security alerts, one of these gates has been closed since August 2004 due to a suicide attack that took place near the gate. Recently, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the government to change the route of the barrier in this area to ease movement of Palestinians between Qalqilya and 5 surrounding villages. In the same ruling, the court rejected the arguments that the fence must be built only on the Green Line. The ruling cited the topography of the terrain, security considerations, and sections 43 and 52 of The Hague Regulations 1907 and Article 53 of the 4th Geneva Convention (see section 16 in [31]) as reasons for this rejection.

A recent UN report (August 2005) observed that the existence of the barrier "replaced the need for closures: movement within the northern West Bank, for example, is less restrictive where the Barrier has been constructed. Physical obstacles have also been removed in Ramallah and Jerusalem governorates where the Barrier is under construction." [32]. Such an easing in restrictions is felt in the Palestinian city of Jenin, located in the northern part of the west bank where the barrier has been completed already. Local Palestinian population describe the resumption of traditional life and surge in local commerce since the completion of the barrier. The recovery is attributed in part to the "controversial security fence that Israel credits with stopping Palestinian terrorism in its tracks... the security fence relieves the army of the necessity to regularly patrol the city."[33]. Across the green-line Palestinians (who are Israeli citizens) living in the Israeli Arab town of Umm El-Fahm (pop. 42,000) near Jenin, say that the barrier has "significantly improved their lives" because, on one hand, it prevents would be thieves or terrorists from coming to their town and, on the other hand, has increased the flow of customers from other parts of Israel who would normally have gone to the West Bank, resulting in an economic boon. The report states that the downsides are that the barrier has divided families in half and "damaged Israeli Arabs' solidarity with the Palestinians living on the other side of the Green Line" [34].

In early October 2003, the OC Central Command declared the area between the separation barrier in the northern section of the West Bank (Stage 1) and the Green Line a closed military area for an indefinite period of time. New directives stated that every Palestinian over the age of twelve living in the enclaves created in the closed area have to obtain a “permanent resident permit” from the Civil Administration to enable them to continue to live in their homes. Other residents of the West Bank have to obtain special permits to enter the area.[35]

As of May 2004, the fence construction had already uprooted an estimated 102,320 Palestinian olive and citrus trees, demolished 75 acres (304,000 m²) of greenhouses and 23 miles (37&npsp;km) of irrigation pipes. At that point, it rested on 15,000 dunums (3,705 acres or 15 km²) of confiscated land, only meters away from a number of small villages, or hamlets. In early 2003, in order to move a section of the barrier closer to the Green Line, a ramshackle mall of 63 shops was demolished by the IDF in the village of Nazlat Issa [36][[37][38]. In August of that year, an additional 115 shops/stalls (an important source of income for several communities) and five to seven homes were also demolished there [39][40]. The United Nations has established a register to register claims of property damage caused by the separation barrier. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the UN, said, "...we are establishing that register to be able in time to help those with claims." [41] The Israeli Government has promised that trees affected by the construction will be replanted [42]. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), 15 communities were to be directly affected, numbering approximately 138,593 Palestinians, including 13,450 refugee families, or 67,250 individuals.

In June 2004, the Washington Times[43] reported that the reduced need for Israeli military incursions in Jenin have prompted efforts to rebuild damaged streets and buildings and a gradual return to a semblance of normalcy, and in a letter [44] dated October 25, 2004, from the Israeli mission to Kofi Annan, Israel's government pointed out that a number of restrictions east of the barrier have been lifted as a result of the barrier, including a reduction in checkpoints from 71 to 47 and roadblocks from 197 to 111.

A report issued by the UN Office for the Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (after the publication of the latest barrier route in February 2005) states that the previous Barrier route had approximately 93,200 West Bank Palestinians living between the Green Line and Barrier. The report claims that about 10.1% of West Bank and East Jerusalem land will lie between the Barrier and the Green Line. The report also claims that the barrier will affect those people living east of it who may need to cross it to get to their farms, jobs and services [45]. Another report (August 2005) by the UN observed that the existence of the barrier "replaced the need for closures: movement within the northern West Bank, for example, is less restrictive where the Barrier has been constructed. Physical obstacles have also been removed in Ramallah and Jerusalem governorates where the Barrier is under construction." [46].

International law and human rights

In October 2003, the United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution, which stated:

The construction by Israel, the occupying power, of a wall in the Occupied Territories departing from the armistice line of 1949 is illegal under relevant provisions of international law and must be ceased and reversed.

The United Kingdom, Germany, Bulgaria, and Cameroon abstained from the vote. The justification given by the U.S. for the veto was that the resolution did not condemn terrorist attacks made by Palestinian groups. The United States, however, has been widely condemned around the world for its support of the barrier.

One week later, on October 21, a similar (though non-binding) resolution (ES-10/13) was passed by the UN General Assembly 144-4 with 12 abstentions. The resolution said the barrier was "in contradiction to international law", and demanded that Israel "stop and reverse" its construction. Israel called the resolution a "farce".

The proponents of the barrier claim that its route is not set in stone, as it was challenged in court and changed several times. They note that the cease-fire line of 1949 was negotiated "without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines" (Art. VI.9) [47]. Security experts argue that the topography does not permit putting the barrier along the Green Line in some places, because hills or tall buildings on the Palestinian side would make the barrier ineffective against terrorism. [48]. The International Court of Justice has countered that in such cases it is only legal to compensate by delving into Israeli territory, not Palestinian.

Israeli Supreme Court decisions

Decision of 2004

In February 2004, Israel's High Court of Justice began hearing petitions from two Israeli human rights organizations, the Hamoked Centre for the Defense of the Individual and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, against the building of the barrier, referring to the distress it will cause to Palestinians in the area. The Israeli High Court of Justice has heard several petitions related to the barrier, sometimes issuing temporary injunctions or setting limits on related Israeli activities.

The most important case was a petition brought in February 2004 by Beit Sourik Village Council, and responded to by the Government of Israel and the Commander of the IDF Forces in the West Bank, concerning a 40 km stretch of existing and planned barrier north of Jerusalem. Several other persons and organizations also made submissions. After a number of hearings, judgment was made on June 30. The court noted that both the petitioners and the respondents accepted that the West Bank was held by Israel in a state of "belligerent occupation" and from this the court inferred that, in addition to Israeli administrative law, related International Law including the Hague Conventions and the Fourth Geneva Convention applied.

The first claim made by the petitioners was that construction of the barrier was itself illegal. The court ruled that construction of the barrier for security reasons would be legal even though it would be illegal for political, economic, or social purposes. Since the court accepted the respondent's argument that the part of the barrier under discussion was designed for security purposes, this claim of the petitioners was lost.

The petitioners "by pointing to the route of the Fence, attempt to prove that the construction of the Fence is not motivated by security considerations, but by political ones" argued that if the Fence was primarily motivated by security considerations, it would be constructed on the Green Line. The court rejected their claims, stating: "We cannot accept this argument. The opposite is the case: it is the security perspective – and not the political one – which must examine a route based on its security merits alone, without regard for the location of the Green Line" (Article 30) and noted that "The commander of the area detailed his considerations for the choice of the route. He noted the necessity that the Fence pass through territory that topographically controls its surroundings, that, in order to allow surveillance of it, its route be as flat as possible, and that a 'security zone' be established which will delay infiltration into Israel. These are security considerations par excellence. ... We have no reason not to give this testimony less than full weight, and we have no reason not to believe the sincerity of the military commander." (Article 29)

The second claim made by the petitioners was that the route of the barrier in the region covered by the petition "illegally infringed on the rights of the Palestinian inhabitants". In this case the court ruled that the existing and planned route failed the principle of "proportionality" in both Israeli and international law: that harm caused to an "occupied population must be in proportion to the security benefits". On the contrary, the court listed ways in which the barrier route "injures the local inhabitants in a severe and acute way, while violating their rights under humanitarian international law". Accordingly the court ordered that a 30 km portion of the existing and planned barrier must be rerouted.

Although many in the Israeli government and security establishment reacted with anger to the court's ruling, the public reaction of the government was one of satisfaction that the court had considered the barrier legal in principle. Prime Minister Sharon promised that the court's order would be followed.

Decision of 2005

The Supreme Court (seating as "High Court of Justice") in the case of Palestinian petitioners against the Government of Israel determined that the government must find an alternative route to lessen the impact on the rights of the resident Palestinian civilians. The petition to the court was submitted on behalf of five villages that are currently trapped in an enclave created by the existing route of the barrier. The court also ruled that the Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in The Hague (which relates to the legal status of the barrier) is not legally binding in Israel. The ruling is the second principled ruling regarding the route of the separation barrier (the first was a ruling on the case of Beit Sourik). The petition which was deliberated on by an expanded panel of nine judges, headed by the President of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, was directed against the route of the barrier in the area of the Alfei Menashe enclave, to the south and east of Qalqilya. The court conducted a review of accounts by the IDF, Israelis architects, Palestinian petitioners, military experts and the International Court of Justice, and ruled that the Government of Israel must find an alternative route to lessen the impact on the rights of the resident Palestinian civilians:

Therefore, we turn the order nisi into an order absolute in the following way: (respondents) must, within a reasonable period, reconsider the various alternatives for the separation fence route at Alfei Menashe, while examining security alternatives which injure the fabric of life of the residents of the villages of the enclave to a lesser extent. In this context, the alternative by which the enclave will contain only Alfei Menashe and a connecting road to Israel, while moving the existing road connecting Alfei Menashe to Israel to another location in the south of the enclave, should be examined.

For the first time, the court expressed skepticism regarding the security considerations that guided the state in determining the route.

Based on the factual infrastructure presented to us, the existing route of the separation fence raises questions (...) We were completely unconvinced that there is a decisive military-security reason for placing the route of the fence where it currently runs (...) There is, admittedly, a plan in the initial stage [of the approval process] to expand Alfei Menashe's development toward the southwest portion of the enclave (...) This is not a factor that should be taken into consideration.

The court took upon itself the job of examining the fence section by section, even in places where it has already been completed. The International Court of Justice in The Hague determined that all parts of the barrier not on the green line violates international law because it has been built in occupied territory, the Supreme Court determined that the state is entitled to defend itself and its citizens, even in terrotories defind as "under belligerent occupation" according to the 4th Geneva convention - but it cannot build a fence in order to annex land.

The court conclusion is different from that of the ICJ. According to the Supreme Court:

The main difference between the two judgments stems primarily from the difference in the factual basis upon which each court made its decision. Once again, the simple truth is proven: Facts lie at the foundation of the law, and the law arises from the facts (ex facto jus oritur). The ICJ drew the factual basis for its opinion from the Secretary-General's report, his written statement, the Dugard report, and the Zeigler report. The Supreme Court drew the facts from the data brought before it by the Palestinian petitioners on the one hand, and the State on the other.


The ruling by the court will have an impact on roughly 40 different petitions which are now pending before the court asking for changes of the barrier route in several additional sections.

International Court of Justice ruling

In December 2003, the General Assembly passed a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to make an advisory (non-binding) ruling on the "legal consequences arising" from the construction of the barrier. The hearings began in February 2004. The Palestinian Authority is not a member of the court but was allowed to make a submission by virtue of being a UN observer and a co-sponsor of the General Assembly resolution. In January 2004, the court also authorized the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to make submissions.

Israel initially announced that it would cooperate with the court, while noting that advisory rulings of the ICJ are not binding. Israel later made a written submission to the court rejecting the authority of the court to rule on the case, but announced (on February 12, 2004) that it would not appear at the court to make oral submissions. Twenty countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and France, submitted written opinions to the Court stating that the problem should be solved by political rather than judicial means. By the deadline for written submissions, 44 member states of the United Nations had made submissions in addition to the Palestinian Authority and the two organizations mentioned above.

On January 30, 2004, Israel announced officially it did not recognize ICJ authority to rule over the barrier issue. Israel also dispatched a 120 page document, elaborating on the security needs to build the "terror prevention fence" and purporting to demonstrate the atrocities committed by Palestinian terrorists. The document also included a judicial part with legal accounts supporting Israel's claim that the issue of the barrier is political and not in the ICJ authority.

On 23, 24, and 25 February 2004 the hearings before the International Court of Justice took place in the Peace Palace at the Hague.

The decision

On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice issued its opinion against the barrier, calling for it to be removed and the Arab residents to be compensated for any damage done. The Court advised that the United Nations General Assembly, which had asked for the ruling, and the Security Council should act on the issue. [49] [50]

The ICJ opinions were as follows:

  1. The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated regime, are contrary to international law;
  2. Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated, and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto, in accordance with paragraph 151 of this Opinion;
  3. Israel is under an obligation to make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem;
  4. All States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction; all States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 have in addition the obligation, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention;
  5. The United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, should consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and the associated regime, taking due account of the present Advisory Opinion.

The opinion were passed 14-1 by the court judges, except for the 4th decision which was passed 13-2.

Thomas Buergenthal was the sole dissenting member of the 15 judges on this ICJ panel. In his declaration [51] he concluded that the court should have declined to hear the case since it did not have before it "relevant facts bearing directly on issues of Israel's legitimate right of self-defense".


Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said, "This is an excellent decision. This is a victory for the Palestinian people and for all the free peoples of the world."

Israel rejected the ICJ ruling and emphasized the barrier's self-defense aspect [52], and stressed that Israel will continue to build the barrier. The United States also rejected the ruling, declaring that the issue was of political rather than legal nature. Colin Powell stated that barrier was effective against terror, and noted that the ICJ ruling was not binding, but insisted that Israel not use the barrier to predetermine permanent borders. [53]

Numerous human rights organizations welcomed the ICJ ruling. Amnesty International said that Israel should immediately cease constructing the barrier. The governments of Israel's neighbors Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt also welcomed the ruling.

On July 20, 2004, the United Nations General Assembly passed a (non-binding) resolution demanding that Israel obey the ICJ ruling. Israel, the U.S., Australia, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau voted against the resolution, 10 nations abstained, and 150 nations voted in favor.

Opinions on the barrier

Israeli opinions

Israeli public opinion has been very strongly in favor of the barrier, partly in the hope that it will improve security and partly in the belief (denied by the government) that the barrier marks the eventual border of a Palestinian state. Due to the latter possibility, the settler movement opposes the barrier, although this opposition has waned since it became clear the barrier would be diverted to the east of major Israeli settlements such as Ariel. According to Haaretz, a survey conducted by of the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, Tel Aviv University, there is an overwhelming support for the barrier among the Jewish population of Israel: 84% on March 2004 and 78% on June 2004. [54], [55]

Most Israelis believe the barrier, and intensive activity by the Israeli Defence Forces, to be the main factors in the decrease in successful suicide bomb attacks from the West Bank. The proponents of the barrier insist that reversible inconveniences to Palestinians should be balanced with the threats to lives of Israeli civilians and point out that the barrier is a non-violent way to stop terrorism and save innocent lives. [56]

Some Israelis, however, believe the barrier will have unintended consequences. Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli, who was the last commander of the Gaza regional brigade of the IDF, has said that the effectiveness of the barrier will only be short-term. "The fence provides a partial security response to the terror threats and a good response to prevention of illegal immigration and prevention of criminal acts," he explains, "but on the other hand, in its current format it creates the future terror infrastructure because this terror infrastructure is precisely those people living in enclaves who will support acts of terror as the only possible tool that they perceive as being able to restore them the land, production sources and water wells taken from them." Arieli also said that the barrier is designed to induce the Arabs of the border region to leave so that Israel can expand. (Haaretz, February 18, 2004)

Haim Ramon, the Israeli Cabinet Minister for Jerusalem, has claimed that the purpose of the barrier around Jerusalem is, in addition to protecting Israelis against Palestinian suicide bombers, also to make Jerusalem "more Jewish".[57]

On August 17, 2005, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said of the barrier: "Sharon has tried in vain to describe it as 'only another counterterrorism measure.' Nevertheless, it looks like a border and behaves like one, with barbed wire, electronic devices, concrete walls, watchtowers and checkpoints. Its creation set a crucial precedent in the unilateral division of the land, which came to fit Sharon perfectly." [58]

Palestinian opinions

The Palestinian population and its leadership are essentially unanimous in opposing the barrier. A large number of Palestinians have been separated from their own farmlands or their places of work or study, and many more will be separated as the barriers near Jerusalem are completed. Furthermore, because of its planned route as published by the Israeli government, the barrier is perceived as a plan to confine the Palestinian population to specific areas, causing further humiliation [59] [60] [61]. They state that Palestinian institutions in Abu Dis will be prevented from providing services to residents in the East Jerusalem suburbs, and that a 10-minute walk has become a 3-hour drive in order to reach a gate, to go (if allowed) through a crowded military checkpoint, and drive back to the destination on the other side [62].

More broadly, Palestinian spokespersons, supported by many in the Israeli left wing and other organizations, claim that the hardships imposed by the barrier will breed further discontent amongst the affected population and add to the security problem rather than solving it. Some Palestinian organizations and the International Solidarity Movement have organized nonviolent resistance to the construction of the wall.

The Palestinian leadership, some Palestinian supporters, left-wing Israeli groups, and Israeli settler groups fear that the barrier will become the de facto border between an enlarged Israel and a future Palestinian state. Palestinians claim that the security explanation is an excuse for paving the way for an expansion of Israeli sovereignty [63].

International opinions

Most international governments agree that Israel should have the right to self-defence, but oppose the construction of the barrier outside the 1949 armistice lines as a violation of Palestinian rights.

On February 20, 2004 the World Council of Churches adopted a statement demanding that Israel halt and reverse construction on the barrier and strongly condemning what they believe to be violations of human rights and humanitarian consequences that have resulted due to construction of the barrier. While acknowledging Israel's serious security concerns and asserting that the construction of the barrier on its own territory would not have been a violation of international law, the statement rejected what it saw as the creation of a new political boundary that confiscates Palestinian land. [64]

Example of Bansky's artwork on the Palestinian side of the barrier.
Example of Bansky's artwork on the Palestinian side of the barrier.

On March 8, 2005 the United Nations held a two day International Meeting on the Question of Palestine. The participants of this meeting released a final document that, among other things, expressed serious concern at the Israeli government's continuation of barrier construction, which they believe violates international law. The participants called on the international community "to adopt measures that would persuade the Government of Israel to comply with international law and the ruling of the International Court of Justice". [65]

On April 14, 2004 U.S. President George W. Bush wrote in a letter to Ariel Sharon that the barrier "should be a security rather than political barrier, should be temporary rather than permanent and therefore not prejudice any final status issues including final borders, and its route should take into account, consistent with security needs, its impact on Palestinians not engaged in terrorist activities." [66] In his May 26, 2005 joint press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Rose Garden, President Bush confirmed this position. [67] See road map for peace.)

Names of the barrier

The name of the barrier is itself a political issue to some people. Israel most commonly refers to the barrier as the "separation fence" ( or geder ha'hafrada) in Hebrew and "security fence" or "anti-terrorist fence" in English, with "seam zone" referring to the land between the fence and the 1949 armistice lines. Palestinians (including the media) most commonly refer to the barrier in Arabic as , (racial segregation wall1), and some opponents of the barrier refer to it in English as an "apartheid wall". The United Nations and the international community use various names including separation/security and fence/wall/barrier.

Graffiti on the barrier

Graffiti on the Palestinian side of the barrier has consistently been one of many forms of protest against its existence. Large areas of the barrier feature messages relating to the conflict, demanding an end to the barrier, or criticizing its builders and its existence ('Welcome to the Ghetto-Abu Dis'). In August 2005, a graffiti artist named Banksy painted nine images on the Palestinian side of the barrier. [68] He describes the barrier as "the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers".

See also


  1. Palestinian grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign
  2. How to Build a Fence from the March/April 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs
  3. ICJ Advisory Opinion as well as separate opinions of some judges
  4. Article on the ICJ ruling from Neue Zürcher Zeitung
  5. Declaration of Judge Buergenthal
  6. EU Council Presidency Statement on ICJ Advisory Opinion
  7. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Statement on ICJ Advisory Opinion
  8. Powell says Israel proved fence reduces terror from Ha'Aretz
  9. Reaction of Israeli leaders and politicians on (Hebrew)
  10. UN vote on fence postponed from Ha'Aretz
  11. Israeli Supreme Court (BAGATZ) ruling, June 30, 2004 (on Haaretz website in Rich text format).
  12. 1.6Mb PDF of barrier route, by Betselem


  • Note 1: The root of the classical Arabic word "jidar" means "structure of height" that one can either climb or hide behind. Therefore, its translation into other languages is based on context, and can be translated as "wall", "barrier", "fence", or rarely "dam".

External links

Israeli government and courts

United Nations

Other international organizations

Other organizations

Other opinion articles


This article has been included in the category of fences and the category of walls. There is however no implication that the West Bank barrier is a fence, nor that it is a wall - these categories merely inform the reader that the West Bank barrier contains significant elements of both.

Personal tools