No doubt, expectations in Palestine – and among its supporters – had been low in regards to the International Court of Justice "Advisory Opinion." The Court, as the United Nations as a whole, was expected to fall substantially short in its decision. With the continued failure of the UN in relation to Palestinian rights and self-determination, the decision or opinion was understood as predominantly public relations. With the continued malleability of the law based on Israeli, US and European interest, it was expected that the Court would take an even more conservative approach than the General Assembly, which often time seeks to reflect popular international sentiment in support of the Palestinian struggle. After all, Israel and the US had and were willing to continue to attack the Court's very legitimacy and wreak further havoc for the process, to the point of humiliation for the Court. The Court must have considered the immense backlash from the powers-that-be if the decision did not leave at least an opening for criminal escape.
The schism between rhetoric and reality is one of a number of prices that Palestinians pay in relation to the international system. Part of this is the decidedly media-run game that supports the status quo – i.e. Occupation – by seeking the exception and presenting it as the rule. There were overwhelming expectations that the ICJ decision would be either mildly or overtly ambiguous: strong but also forgiving (the UN's "tough love" towards the Apartheid state) towards Israeli measures, by ensuring countless "buts" or disclaimers. To have said that the Wall is illegal "but", would have guaranteed that the "illegal" portions of the decision would have been outweighed by a barrage of an essentially racist critique on the occupied Palestinians.
And, in the end, and most importantly, would not the decision be non-biding? Just how encouraged could people be in awaiting the decision when, whatever the declaration by the Court, the Apartheid Wall would just continue being built?
But, in fact, the decision was stronger and more unequivocal than any had expected, and the response of support and content with the decision in Palestine was noticeable. The Court was clear in not only declaring the Wall's path illegal, but most importantly, the entire Wall project. It had acknowledged the impacts of the Wall, from the regime created in the de facto annexed area to the inclusion of settlements, to its role in expulsion and in strengthening Israeli Apartheid policies. It stated clearly, as the Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign has since its inception in October 2002, that the Wall must be torn down immediately and that all lands and property returned as well as compensation for all losses. If seeking justice, a denunciation of the crime must in the least demand for the return of all that was stolen along with reparations, as much as possible considering the immense suffering that has taken place. Otherwise, what semblance of justice is there when Israel's facts on the ground are only challenged with a mild slap on the wrist? The ICJ decision, in rhetoric, was strong and clear.
One trade-off for the very sound statements in the Opinion by the Court can be found in the document itself: the Court's final words, from the Peace Palace, were to promote the Road Map and "negotiations", continuations of the Oslo Accords that has paved the way for the Bantustanization of Palestine, to be demarcated by the Wall. Talks of the Road Map or other accords have currently been replaced with talk of "disengagement", another unilateral move by the Occupation that seeks not only to give further legitimacy to the strangulation of the Gaza Strip; but, Israeli declarations have been clear that "in exchange for disengagement", the current West Bank land grab and settlement expansion, and therefore the completion of the Wall without delay in order to demarcate the lands it will annex along with the Palestinian built-up areas it will strangulate is to take place in full speed. The UN and its Secretary General continue to praise this so-called positive step. The Court's support of this process means that the Advisory Opinion holds serious contradictions. Was this the Court's way of making clear the limits of its decision and ensuring business as usual?
The other, equally feared consequence of the decision is its actual measured achievement. What is likely is that the system the Court represents – embodied in the United Nations – will come out the most victorious at a time when the very damaged reputation of the international system, amidst repeated failures and overt allegiance with the United States, is in need to gain legitimacy and to prevent its marginalization. The United Nations, and the governments that depend on it, breathed a sigh of relief when the Court took a stand against the Israeli demand for complete international legal impotence. Those governments that have been compromised by their links to UN failures and Israeli and American pursuits must also have been desperate for some sign that the international system can provide something.
It is not solely a "legal" matter that the Court spent some one half of its over 60 page opinion justifying its very jurisdiction. Though for many these pages and pages of justification were a slight embarrassment for the Court, they can also be seen as a statement by the Court that it won't accept to be pushed around. But in the end, and because of experience, we must ask, was this more about two friendly entities – Israel and the United Nations – demonstrating their prowess between each other with the Palestinians being the object of the competition? It is hard to deny the good presence that the Opinion gave to the very same international law that has failed Palestinians countless times.
But not all is lost, since the decision holds within it clearly strong declarations along with large-scale international attention. For those deeply frustrated by past betrayals the decision should be seen with the potential to be of great importance for organizing, holding within it a rare chance to push the momentum and to turn it into something tangible. In the end, it is times like these, when a clear position is taken by the international system and the UN, that it is much easier to highlight contradictions and demand an end to air-filled rhetoric, double standards, and shortcomings.
What this means is that in order to make the decision into something actual, people worldwide will have to organize and make clear their demands, along with openly articulating that a failure by the system to abide by its own promises will have consequences for its very legitimacy. Since the international system has found no real way of enforcing itself in favor of the oppressed, it has reminded people everywhere that they themselves will have to organize, sacrifice, and pay the price for a structure that favors those in power. To be effective, organizing has to be done in numerous places, and simultaneously.
The response to the Opinion by the affected farmer, or the shop owner in the Palestinian city, was more of a whisper saying "you see, and yes, we know", and in some instances, a "we are not alone". In the end Israel will ensure that Palestinians will pay for this decision, either by greater overt Israeli-style brutality, or by a more masked kind that results in the same, but called "peace agreements", where the Israeli violations are termed "painful concessions" that seek to solidify its control over Palestinian lands. And, all of this, with a smile and a hand shake. The days since the Advisory Opinion have continued to see countless martyrs, incursions, land confiscation, demolitions, uprooting of trees, and the continued, relentless building of the Apartheid Wall.
International action and outcry needs to take place immediately. If we are vigilant about the current process, and acknowledge the massive advantages that it holds, including those for a potentially ailing international system that seeks to benefit from the ICJ victory, and the fact that an international ailing system self-contradicts, we can stand prepared to offer this system to keep its promises or loose the gains it hopes to make. A tragic dichotomy exists, in that if no mobilization and international pressure ensues from this decision, then the Advisory Opinion can be marked in the books as one of the major victories of the United Nations as an institution in the past decade, at the expense of the Palestinian and Arab peoples. And even more maddening, the hype along with any continued discussion around the decision, without concrete results, will play an atrocious role in rhetorical diversion from the clearly worsening reality, best reflected in the fact that the Wall continues to be build and devastate the Palestinian people without delay well after the Court's June 9 decision. Popular slogans must be loud and clear, and as the Court stated: tear down the Wall!
Yes to the ICJ decision in fact. No to more failed promises.