The ‘International Community’ and the Apartheid Wall
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The ‘International Community’ and the Apartheid Wall

The twin spectres of “politicizing” the UN and damaging the “fragility” of non-existent peace talks between General Sharon and the decrepit Palestinian Authority are again being invoked, this time to scuttle the upcoming deliberations in the International Court of Justice at the Hague on the legality of Israel’s separation barrier in the occupied West Bank. Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham announced his government’s opposition to sending the matter before the International Court at press conference last month, opining: “it’s not time for the court to take this as a legal question”, and that the matter should be left to “discussions between the parties, as mandated by the (UN) Security Council.” True, the 700 km long matrix of walls, electronic fences and trenches that threatens to bring about a humanitarian disaster in the already throttled West Bank raises some “legal questions”, according to Canada’s deputy ambassador at the UN Gilbert Laurin, who nonetheless points to “the highly charged environment” as grounds for opposing the hearings that are scheduled to start this February (1).

The US, Russia, and the EU member states have all sent in affidavits stating their opposition to the hearings, accepting Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom’s line that the matter of the barrier is ” is a political, not judicial issue.”(2) State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher explained that referring the barrier to the International Court was “inappropriate and may impede efforts to achieve progress towards a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.”(3)

Things are starting to look brighter for the Israeli government, which met the initial UNGA motion to refer the matter of the barrier to the Hague with the resolve to “persuade key states like the U.S., Russia and EU to object to the court hearings on the fence, to thereby invalidate any court ruling.”(4) Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid spoke darkly of possible sanctions that may follow the Court’s decision on the wall-“turning Israel into South Africa of today”(5)-and interim Attorney General Edna Arbel warned that parts of the route of the barrier would be indefensible before the Court (6). Although the court’s recommendations are not binding-they will be sent to the UN Security council where a US veto awaits-the public relations aspect of the ruling would place further scrutiny on Israel’s practices in the occupied territories, where it has set up, according the Israeli human rights group Btselem, a regime that “is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the Apartheid regime in South Africa.”(7)

In South Africa, it was the persistent efforts of the anti-apartheid movement to internationalize their struggle and isolate the apartheid regime that brought about the end of apartheid. As Haaretz correspondent Gideon Levy points out, “The pressure on apartheid South Africa began with a decision of the same ICJ the fence has now been brought before”(8), when the court ruled against the apartheid regime in Namibia in 1971. As with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation and apartheid in the territories has to be seen as a political struggle, which depends for its success on internationally isolating the occupation, and forcing on the Israeli government a political price for its presence in the territories that it will be unable to shoulder.

The separation barrier Israel is constructing in the West Bank symbolizes the arrogance and cruelty of a colonial regime which imagines that it can cage in it rebellious subjects, until they despair and come to accept its ultimate control over their lives. It takes immeasurable conceit to claim that a series of walls and fences are necessary for the protection of patently illegal colonies in the West Bank-to say, as Henry Siegman wrote in the New York Review of Books, that: “Israel must steal more Palestinian land to protect Israelis living on previously stolen Palestinian land.”(9) But it takes an even more disconcerting disregard for the price Palestinians pay for being undesirables on lands that consecutive Israeli governments have considered to be the exclusive national inheritance of the Jewish people-whom it has arrogated for itself the authority to represent-for governments such as Canada and the EU states to opine that the Palestinians should be left to hammer out a “negotiated agreement” with an Israeli government headed by the patron of Israel’s settler movement.

The settlements that are today dictating the route of a separation barrier deep within occupied Palestinian lands, and which are universally recognized as illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, are mostly the products of the Oslo negotiations. The post-Oslo years witnessed the doubling of the settler’s population, which has risen to over 370,000 settlers living on stolen Palestinian lands in the West Bank (10). The Oslo accords, according to Shlomo Ben Ami, Israel’s chief negotiator at the June 2000 Camp David summit, “were founded on a neo-colonialist basis…that, when there will finally be peace between us and the Palestinians, there will be a situation of dependence, of a structured lack of equality between the two entities”(11). It was within this framework that the Oslo accords were set into motion, with the understanding by the PLO’s leadership that they would play the role of the village mukhtars, something the traditional Palestinian leadership had grown accustomed to playing under the Ottomans and during the British Mandate. Arafat’s refusal of the terms at Camp David, which resulted from the belief that Israel could concede more within this framework rather than his wholesale rejection of this arrangement, was met with incredulous condemnations from the Israeli and US governments, which have continued to dictate the frameworks of the subsequent plans to ‘steer’ the “negotiations back on track” within the same parameters of a “structured lack of equality” between Israel and a vassal Palestinian ‘state’.

It is in this context that one should interpret the otherwise nonsensical remark that the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the legality of the separation barrier may “impede efforts to achieve progress towards a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.” When Mr Boucher remarks that it is “inappropriate” for the International Court to deliberate on a separation barrier that is illegal according to international law, he is saying that it is an affront to look further than the framework drawn up by the US and Israel for the “negotiated settlement” of the Palestine question, especially when it happens to contradict the numerous UN Security Council and General Assembly motions that call for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza and the dismantling of Israel’s colonies from occupied Palestinian lands.

The reluctance of Canada and the EU to contradict this framework ensures that the best the Palestinians can hope for is a humiliating settlement that leaves the bulk of Israel’s colonies on occupied lands, and sets up a vassal Palestinian Authority that will police its own. But even for this to happen the Palestinian “moderates”-those elusive natives who are willing and able to crush resistance to the occupation and the settlements– must come to fore, which is precisely what the separation barrier is intended to bring about: a defeated people, with no choice but to accept Israel’s conditions. Eighty years before Israel began construction of its separation barrier, Ze’ev Jabotinsky pushed for a strategy of an “Iron Wall” towards the Palestinians, because: “a living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left”(12). For the tide to turn, the fate of the over three million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza can no longer be left within the confines of a US and Israeli diktat.

Samer Elatrash is a major in Woman’s Studies at Concordia University and a member of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights. (SPHR’s website)


  1. Ottawa Citizen, January 31 2004.
  2. Haaretz English Edition, February 2nd.
  3. In a State Department press conference on January 30 2004.
  4. Aluf Ben, Sharon Sadeh, Haaretz English ed, January 16 2004.
  5. Gideon Alon, Haaretz English edition, January 5 2004.
  6. Aluf Ben, Haaretz English ed, January 19 2004.
  7. Summary of Btselem’s report “Landgrab”
  8. Gideon Levy, Haaretz English ed, February 11 2004.
  9. Henry Siegman, “Israel: The Threat from Within”, New York Review of Books (Volume 55/3 February 26 2004).
  10. For an excellent account of Israel’s settlement policies in the occupied territories, see B’tselem’s publication “Landgrab”
  11. Shlomo Ben-Ami, “A Place Place for All” (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1998), p. 106 of the Hebrew version, as cited Efraim Davidi’s “Globalization and Economy in the Middle East”, Palestine-Israel Journal Vol VII 2000
  12. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, “The Iron Wall: We and the Arabs”