From A World to Win News Service

World Court Rules Against Israel's Wall of Shame

Revolutionary Worker #1247, July 25, 2004, posted at

We received the following from the A World to Win News Service.

12 July 2005. A World to Win News Service. Israel's rejection of the World Court ruling that its wall is illegal was a stunning new example of what kind of world we live in now. Not only did Israel refuse to even present a case before the court and totally reject its right to judge the Zionist state, but within hours Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was blaming the court for a bombing attack in Tel Aviv.

The bombing enjoyed "the patronage of the World Court," Sharon declared. Certainly if he were able, he would have followed up his remarks by labeling the judges "terrorist masterminds" and having them arrested and tortured.

The Court rejected Israel's argument that the "barrier" (as Israel, the U.S. and UN Secretary General all call it--a term the Court explicitly rejected) represents an exercise of its "right to self-defense." The Court stated that the right to self-defense in Article 5 of the UN Charter applies to a state defending itself against another state, not to measures taken against a whole people. The judges said they were "not convinced" that there is anything protective about "the wall" (as they insisted it should be called), noting that almost all of it is being built on the Palestinian side of Israel's present (post-1967) borders. They pointed out that the route of the wall would effectively bring 975 square kilometers of the West Bank (16.6% of its total area) into Israel, including fertile agriculture land and much of the West Bank's water. This would displace 237,000 Palestinians and almost completely encircle communities that are now home to another 160,000. Since, as the Court said, the Israeli settlements on the West Bank are all illegal, how can a move allegedly taken to protect those settlements be considered anything but illegal as well?

The Court ruled that Israel's building of a wall on the Palestinian territories it has occupied since the 1967 war is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention against the "annexation" of land taken by force and "individual or forced mass transfers" of the population of territories seized in war. In addition to condemning the wall for this direct land grab, the Court also attacked its other aim, the cutting off of some 400,000 Palestinians outside the wall from their livelihoods, schools, hospitals and any hope of a normal life. This represents about 40% of the West Bank population. This method of forcing the population of an occupied territory into what amounts to exile is also specifically prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Court concluded.

What the Court did not recognize was that the Zionists used "mass forced transfers" to bring Israel into existence in the first place. As Israeli historian Benny Morris recently concluded on the basis of a study of previously secret Israeli army records leading up to May 1948, when Israel was created, Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders agreed that they could not establish a Jewish state in the area assigned by the UN "without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah [the Zionist army] were given operational orders that state explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the villages themselves." Rape and mass executions, Morris wrote, were used to make the survivors flee. This was Zionist policy: "The entire leadership understands that this is the idea. The officer corps understands this is what is required of them. Under Ben-Gurion, a consensus of transfer is created." (Quoted in New York Review of Books , 26 February 2004.)

Of course the World Court, an agency of the United Nations that helped create Israel and for decades turned a blind eye to the consequences of that act, is not concerned about justice. It is concerned only with international law-- which in every case means laws and treaties that suit the imperialist powers as a whole or that they established on the basis of their relative strength. Yet even on this basis, it ordered Israel to stop construction, tear down the parts of the wall already built, return confiscated land and pay reparations to the Palestinians for all damages. While Israel said it would not accept the Court's authority, the judges replied that those brought before a court often don't want to be tried by it, but this is not a legal argument. If everyone agreed on the law, they said, almost sarcastically, there would be no need for international courts at all.

Sharon reviled the Court's ruling as "politically motivated." The 15 judges (only six of whom are from third world countries) are elected by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. The decision was issued in the name of all but one judge, and he, an American, wrote that he agreed with the ruling in terms of international law but didn't think that it should be applied to Israel. Even Israel has never disputed either the facts or the legal issues involved.

It is revealing of the openly fascistic streak that is fashionable in much of Israel today that Sharon denounced the Court's decision as "the dictatorship of the majority." Here he is referring to the 191 countries of the UN General Assembly, which asked the World Court to rule on the wall last December when the U.S. vetoed a resolution against its construction.

The judgements of the World Court are only advisory and the UN General Assembly itself does not have the power to enforce them. Only the UN Security Council can do that. And even if a Security Council majority were to vote to impose sanctions on Israel, everyone already knows what would happen next--the U.S. (followed by Great Britain) would again veto the measure, and that would be the end of it.

The UN is good for talking and voting on resolutions, but its decision-making process represents the dictatorship of a handful of big powers--and in the end, nothing can happen without the U.S.

Some ten days before the World Court decision, the Israeli High Court also issued a ruling on the wall. It instructed the Israeli army to come up with another plan for some 40 kilometers of the almost 800 kilometer wall, saying that it would impose too great a hardship on some Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. But the main point of the Israeli court's ruling was to declare the wall a legal and legitimate project. This was an obvious attempt to carry out political damage control ahead of the expected World Court ruling.

It is noteworthy that the U.S. government did not choose to frontally attack the World Court decision, but rather to dismiss it as "inappropriate." (John Kerry, Bush's rival in the upcoming presidential elections, blasted it more explicitly.) The White House spokesman said, "We do not believe that that's the appropriate forum to resolve what is a political issue. This is an issue that should be resolved through the process that has been put in place, specifically the road map," referring to the negotiations for a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The American spokesman didn't mention that according to this road map, Israel was supposed to have recognized a Palestinian state by the end of last year. Instead, Israel refuses to negotiate with the Palestinian's elected president, Yasser Arafat, despite his recent acceptance of Israel's declaration that the Palestinians expelled from what is now Israel can never return there. This prohibition is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The U.S. response was all the more hypocritical because only a few days earlier Israel had refused to meet with representatives of the so-called "Quartet" that is brokering the roadmap--the U.S., European Union, Russia and the UN. This could not have happened if the U.S. intended for the road map to go anywhere.

Yet it is true that despite differences among the Quartet, all of them are in favor of getting the Palestinians to put their faith in the UN, the World Court or the Israeli High Court. Some Palestinian leaders responded to the World Court decision by acting as if it gave cause for such hopes. The PLO legal advisor exclaimed, "It may even be read as a call for the end of the intifada." But the real meaning of this episode is the opposite. Israel will never accept a peaceful solution. Only by relying on their own strength and that of the people of the region and the revolutionary people of the whole world can the Palestinians resolve the issue by bringing about a multinational, secular state.

Sharon and his Zionist predecessors are no different than ex-Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic, now on trial for ethnic cleansing at the International Criminal Court, the World Court's sister organization in The Hague. The World Court ruled that because "the construction and maintenance of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Terri- tory constitutes a grave breach of the [Fourth Geneva] Convention, the states parties to that Convention are under an obligation to persecute or extradite the authors of such breaches."

That, of course, will never happen. In today's world, whether someone is treated as a genocidal war criminal or a respected statesman has nothing to do with the law and everything to do with whether or not they serve U.S. imperial interests.

Sharon has deliberately positioned himself before the eyes of the world as a brute who respects nothing but armed strength. But his strength is no more and no less than that of the U.S. and the other big powers who back him, and in the end he is nothing but a finger puppet for the rulers of America and their Christian fundamentalist führers.