The Wall must come down


Five years ago, on 7 July 2004, the International Court of Justice declared Israel’s construction of the Wall in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) to be “contrary to international law” [1].


The Court went on to order Israel to “cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall” and “dismantle forthwith the structure” already built.  It also called on Israel to “make reparations” for therequisition and destruction of homes, businesses and agricultural holdings” and “to return the land, orchards, olive groves, and other immovable property seized” to construct the wall.


Israel thumbed its nose at this ruling and continued to build the Wall, despite a near unanimous demand by the international community that it should comply.  This was expressed in a resolution, passed by the UN General Assembly on 20 July 2004, by 150 votes to 6 [2] .  Ireland, and all other EU states, supported it.  Only Australia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau and the United States opposed.


Five years on, Israel still refuses to comply, and continues to build the Wall.



ISRAEL’S INITIAL JUSTIFICATION for building the Wall was that it was a security fence, designed to protect Israeli citizens from attack by Palestinians from the West Bank.  If it had followed the Green Line – the border between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank – this justification might have some credibility.  But, it doesn’t. 


Instead, 86% of its projected route is inside the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and its circuitous route was chosen so that it encircles 80 Jewish settlements, physically connecting them to Israel.  These settlements contain some 385,000 Jewish settlers, that is, nearly 80% of the total (about 500,000) in occupied Palestine.


As currently projected, the Wall will be 725 km long, when complete.  By contrast, a security fence built on the Green Line would have been less than half the length – and cost a great deal less.


Despite Israel’s initial protestations to the contrary, it has always been clear that the Wall was intended as the border fence for an expanded Israeli state, with as many Jewish settlements as possible included within the new border.  In recent years, Israeli ministers have given up pretending otherwise.  For example, former Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, stated publicly that the Wall will serve as “the future border of the state of Israel” (Ha’aretz, 1 December 2005, [3]).  And Prime Minister Olmert told Ha’aretz on 10 March 2006: “I believe that in four years’ time Israel will be disengaged from the vast majority of the Palestinian population, within new borders, with the route of the fence … adjusted to the new line of the permanent borders” [4].



THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE WALL has severely disrupted the lives of Palestinians residing in its vicinity.


For example, Israel has declared the area between the Wall and the Green Line to be ‘closed’ by military order and most Palestinians who live there are required to have ‘permanent resident’ permits to continue to live in their own homes.  This restriction is discriminatory, since it doesn’t apply to Israeli citizens or to any person of Jewish origin, who, under the Law of Return, has a right to live in Israel.  (See, for example, The Humanitarian Impact of the Barrier [5] and West Bank Barrier Route Projections [6] by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).


Because of the Wall, Palestinians living in this ‘closed zone’ have become physically separated from the rest of the West Bank, where health and education services are generally located.  As a result, children, patients and workers have to pass through checkpoints to reach schools, medical facilities and workplaces and to maintain family and social relations.  Passage through the Wall is at the discretion of individual Israeli soldiers and is often refused, regardless of the purpose of the journey.


In addition, tens of thousands of Palestinians who reside to the east of the Wall have been isolated from farms, grazing lands and water resources located on the west side.  In the northern West Bank, these Palestinians need ‘visitor’ permits to cross the Wall to reach their farms and wells located in the closed area.  According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, less than 20 percent of those who used to farm their lands in these areas before the Wall was constructed are now granted permits. Even if granted, permits are not always issued to the most appropriate person, leaving older family members unable to effectively carry out the work, while the more able-bodied remain idle at home.


For the minority granted permits, access is through a limited number of designated gates. Along the total length of the Barrier, there are 64 gates currently open on a daily, weekly and/or seasonal basis. The irregular placement of the gates and the restrictive opening times severely curtail the time available for farming with negative impact on rural livelihoods.



FROM THESE EXAMPLES, it is clear that large numbers of Palestinians, who live in the vicinity of the Wall, have suffered terribly because of its construction.  It is long past time for the international community to ensure that the ruling of the International Court of Justice be enforced, so that this suffering is brought to an end. 


The Court stated in its opinion:


“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.”


The UN General Assembly asked Israel to end this illegal situation in the resolution it passed, almost unanimously, in July 2004 with the support of Ireland and the other EU states, but Israel ignored its request.  It is now time for the EU to seek to persuade the Security Council to take action, as requested by the Court.



David Morrison

20 July 2009