The Hague: The new Israeli-Arab battleground

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI International Editor

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Palestinians and Israelis are readying for another major battle, this time taking their dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Convening in the Dutch capital next Feb. 23 at the United Nations General Assembly's request, the ICJ will be looking into the legality of the separation barrier -- 95 percent fence and 5 percent wall -- that Israel is erecting to segregate itself from the West Bank and hopefully deter future suicide attacks from Palestinian fundamentalist groups.


Israel says the barrier is meant to stop potential suicide bombers from infiltrating into Israel proper. The Israeli government cites as an example the fact that no suicide bombers have managed to cross from Gaza, which remains hermetically sealed and whose borders are tightly controlled.

Palestinians complain the barrier is cutting away at their land -- 15 percent of the West Bank -- dissecting villages and towns and separating people from their schools, farms, work places and families. Palestinians and some international organizations point out that once completed, the barrier will render impossible the mapping of a future Palestinian state.

While the Palestinians are sending a large legal delegation to The Hague, Israel says it will not send any representatives, maintaining its objections to the Palestinian's legal procedure. However, a group of 15 Israeli mothers of victims killed in suicide attacks will be there, lobbying in favor of the barrier.


Israel says the barrier, which they call a fence and the Palestinians call a wall, is temporary. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government claims the barrier will be removed once the security situation improves and the Palestinian Authority manages to put a stop to terrorism activity.

"The wall is temporary, death is permanent," Florence Bianu, whose son Mark was killed along with 20 other people in Haifa's Maxim restaurant last Oct. 4, told United Press International. The attack was carried out by a female suicide bomber from the West Bank town of Jenin acting on behalf of Islamic Jihad. Mark, a local reporter, known for his coverage of terrorist attacks, was killed along with his wife, Naomi.

More than 900 Israelis have been killed in suicide bombings in Israel in the last three years and over 6,000 have been wounded.

"Proportionally speaking," says a document issued by The Israel Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group lobbying for the erection of the barrier, "that would be the equivalent of 40,580 dead in the United States."

However, many analysts feel the barrier is a very short-sighted solution and will only serve to create further animosity between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors, already reeling under the strains of some 36 years of Israeli occupation.


The controversy over the building of the barrier has even dragged in the traditionally neutral and usually tight-lipped Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross. In a communiqué issued just five days before the ICJ convenes, the ICRC slammed the building of the West Bank barrier, saying it was "increasingly concerned" over the barrier's impact on "many Palestinians living in occupied territory."

Part of the barrier was built along the pre-June 5, 1967, war lines, however much of it is inside the West Bank on Palestinian lands, which the ICRC says "deprives thousands of Palestinian residents of access to ... water, health care, and education as well as sources of income."

"I don't think this is the fence that Israel built," said Bianu. "This is the fence that Yasser Arafat built by saying no to Oslo and no to Camp David."

Bianu is referring to the Oslo peace accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the Norwegian capital in 1993 and the failed Camp David Two talks between Arafat and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000 in the waning days of the Clinton presidency.

Sharon's government claims that many of the terrorist attacks carry Arafat's signature, saying his name was on documents allocating funds for the procurement of weapons and explosives.


Bianu and Lea Zur, the mother of a victim of a bus bombing, said that a portion of a Haifa cemetery was "almost full" of victims of suicide bombings. While the two women agreed that the "fence" was a temporary solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, they felt Israel had run out of viable options.

"We are very sorry for the Palestinians as well," said Bianu, who added she bore no grudges or hate towards the Palestinians despite the loss of her son. "We want to live in peace. Why should blood be shed randomly?"

Gearing up for the judicial battle in The Hague, the Israel Project plans to begin its own offensive by airing 30-second television advertisements in the United States featuring the mothers of victims killed in suicide bombings. The group sees the building of the wall as a non-violent means of preventing future deaths.

The Palestinians, for their part, are lining up their own public relations campaign by making a long list of legal experts and Palestinian public figures available to the press.

The outcome of the international tribunal's rulings will not hold any constraints over the government of Israel, who says it will not recognize the court's jurisprudence, nor will its outcome prevent Sharon from pursuing the separation project, or his proposed unilateral disengagment. It will, nevertheless, add a new dimension to the dispute, once again internationalizing the conflict.


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