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Department of Public Information (DPI)
4 June 2008
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
ROUTE OF ISRAELI BARRIER SEVERELY IMPACTS PALESTINIAN LIVES,
ISOLATES COMMUNITIES, EXPERT PANELLISTS SAY
UN International Meeting on Palestine Discusses Implications for Viable State
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
MALTA, 4 June -- Israel’s construction of a barrier in the West Bank not only severely restricted the daily life of Palestinian civilians, but it also would render the creation of an independent, unified Palestinian State impossible, members of an expert panel told participants in the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Palestine in Qawra, Malta, this morning.
“ Israel has the right, indeed the duty, to protect its citizens against attack. The objections are to the route,” according to Thierry Delbreuve of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who, along with other panellists, presented graphics and descriptive information to show how the barrier cut off areas from a contiguous West Bank and isolated Palestinian communities from one another.
“The barrier separates children and students from their kindergarten and schools. The barrier dispossesses farmers of their land and separates workers from their workplaces…The barrier separates pregnant women from delivery wards,” according to Nasrat Dakwar, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
The most pessimistic case was presented by Clare Short, Member of the British Parliament, who claimed it was clear that the construction of the wall was an attempt by Israel to create a series of “Bantustans” in the West Bank rather than allow a viable, independent State. Similarly, Jad Isaac of the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem likened the resulting enclaves to the reservations created for Native Americans.
Mr. Dakwar said that the legal remedy for the situation had been exhausted and, along with other panellists, maintained that international pressure to enforce the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice was the only remaining avenue of redress. “The time has come for all States professing to observe the rule of international law to come to action and to see to it that the wall is removed from the West Bank,” Pieter Bekker, former staff lawyer of the Court, said.
The two-day Meeting was opened yesterday morning by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, under the theme of “Advancing the peace process -– Challenges facing the parties”. It aims to foster greater support by the international community for the creation of a climate conducive to the advancement of final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. A final plenary panel this afternoon will discuss the issues involved in finding a solution to the question of Jerusalem.
Statement by United Nations System Entity
ABDALLA ABBAS, Coordinator of the Special Human Settlements Programme for the Palestinian People of UN-HABITAT, said that a number of housing initiatives had been pursued by the Palestinian Authority since the early 1990s, but currently there was no coherent housing policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, even though there was a shortage of acceptable housing. UN-Habitat was therefore submitting proposals for that purpose, working with both Israeli and Palestinian local authorities. He described some of those proposals and thanked donors for their funding.
THIERRY DELBREUVE, Officer-in-Charge of the Geographical Coordination and Monitoring Section of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), gave a graphic overview of the structure, route and problems caused by the security barrier the Israelis were constructing in the West Bank. He stressed that the objections to the barrier were not related to the structure, saying, “ Israel has the right, indeed the duty, to protect its citizens against attack. The objections are to the route.” Accordingly, it was the route of the wall, intruding into the West Bank with its associated regulatory regime, that the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice declared contrary to international law.
He said that the Green Line, representing the 1949 ceasefire demarcation, was 320 kilometres long, while the approved route of the barrier was over 720 kilometres long, more than double, with over 80 per cent of it going through the West Bank. It was particularly intrusive in two “fingers” in the northern West Bank and around East Jerusalem, where it went 14 kilometres east of the Green Line.
The route of the barrier was determined for the benefit of the settlers and to allow future expansion of settlements, and not for the Palestinian population, he said, pointing out that Palestinian communities were cut off from each other, from their agricultural land, hospitals, water and other resources. Approximately 9.5 per cent of the West Bank was cut off in that way, enclosing around 80 per cent of Israeli settlers. Some 50,000 Palestinians in the so-called “seam zone”, between the barrier and the Green Line, would require permits to continue to reside in their homes once the barrier was completed, because the area had been declared closed by a military order.
Farmers and anyone else needing to cross to the other side of the barrier were subject to a complex regime of gates, with the result that “agricultural communities were losing contact with the land on which they depended both for their present livelihood and for their future survival”, he said.
JAD ISAAC, Director-General of the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, said that, in 2002, Israel had begun implementing a unilateral segregation plan in the West Bank, but the route had changed much since then, with the area isolated from the rest of the area getting larger each time. One hundred and thirty-eight villages would be affected, with 29 of them totally isolated inside the seam zone. He called the blocks created “reservations” that would contain 309,000 Palestinians, and suggested changing the name of the region to the “ Walled Land” from the Holy Land.
He said 28 wells and 31 springs would be isolated in the western segregation zone, with 121 wells and 31 springs isolated in the eastern zone. Up to 28 per cent of West Bank agricultural areas would be isolated in both zones. Bethlehem and Jerusalem were separated for the first time in history and Nablus was a checkpoint-surrounded envelope.
He said that the barrier had nothing to do with security, but was instead a grab for land and water, and an attempt to draw the future borders between Israel and a Palestinian State. Separate roads assured the retention of Jerusalem and the persistence of an apartheid system. He quoted Israeli leaders repeatedly avowing that settlement blocks would never be returned. If a Palestinian State was created with the facts that had been created on the ground, it could only consist of isolated cantonments linked by tunnels. The international community had a moral responsibility to stop these violations of international law.
CLARE SHORT, Member of the British Parliament, said that, when the whole complex involving the barrier and the settlements was considered, it was clear that Israel had no intention of allowing the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian State. If anything, Palestinians would be confined to Bantustans as in the former South African system. In the process of creating that system, Israel was defying international law, yet the international community was doing nothing to enforce the judgement of the Court and spoke merely of implementing the Road Map.
She cited statements by the United States administration that she said spelled out acceptance of such a “ Bantustan” arrangement. The European Union, as well, had appeared to acquiesce. Years of suffering and bloodshed would be the consequence. The prospect of a realistic two-State solution was dead.
In redress of that situation, she said that, through this Committee, or through civil society, or as groups as countries, every effort should be made to reunify the Palestinians. Civil society worldwide should insist that international law be enforced, and Europeans must pressure the Union to uphold the human rights provisions of its trade law. In addition, the United Nations should withdraw from the Quartet, and a new “coalition of the willing” must come together to work for change. “Otherwise the future is very, very bleak,” she said.
NASRAT DAKWAR, Lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), said that the separation barrier rendered fait accompli illegal settlements in the West Bank and severely violated the fundamental rights of Palestinians, separating children from schools, workers from their workplaces, farmers from their land and the sick from medical treatment. “The daily lives of almost 850,000 Palestinians have been negatively impacted, disrupted and changed beyond recognition due to the barrier,” he said, adding that the International Court of Justice had recognized that its planning and construction were accomplished with “blatant disregard and absolute violation of international humanitarian law”.
He said that the legal struggle waged by his organization and others at the Israeli High Court succeeded in some cases in changing the route of the barrier and thus easing its hardships, but that court ignored the question of the illegality, in international law, of the settlements it was protecting. And despite the facts laid out by ACRI and the opinion of the International Court of Justice, a subsequent decision of the court had given de facto approval to its construction for the purpose of protecting those settlements. Through further petitions, it had become clear, in fact, that the route of the barrier was determined by the desire for settlement expansion. In December 2006, an expanded panel of High Court justices had approved the barrier around East Jerusalem, which was clearly determined by Israel’s desire to preserve the municipal boundary and make its annexation of the area permanent.
In addition, he said, Israel had trapped hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and excluded many more, through declaring a military zone between the barrier and the Green Line and imposing a permit regime that the Israeli High Court called “labyrinthine, complex and burdensome”. Labelling the resulting migration of residents out of that area a forced transfer of Palestinians, he said ACRI had submitted a petition challenging the situation, which had been left pending, despite the fact that life in the area had become unbearable. ACRI, along with other human rights organizations and private attorneys, had almost exhausted the option of redress through the Israeli legal system, as the courts would not address the key issues. That was why, he maintained, the international community must be mobilized to exert pressure on Israel to implement the Court opinion and fulfil its obligations under international conventions and international humanitarian and human rights law.
PIETER BEKKER, Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School of New York, said that his conviction that international law must be upheld had motivated him to serve on the Palestinian legal team in the case concerning the “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” before the Court. The Court rendered an advisory opinion containing a clear finding of illegality in the wall’s route. Israel replied that it need not abide by the Court’s statement because it was non-binding. That was true, formally speaking, he admitted. “But that does not mean that such rulings are without legal effect and can be ignored, because the legal reasoning embodied in them reflected the Court’s authoritative view on important issues of international law,” he said.
Such issues include the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, such as the prohibition against the deportation or transfer of civilian populations, which included settling parts of an occupied territory by force, he said. In that light, he pointed out that the United Nations General Assembly demanded that Israel comply with the legal obligations as mentioned in the Advisory Opinion.
Israel had no choice but to comply fully with the Court’s findings, he said. In addition, in the Court’s view, other States had an active duty to see impediments to Palestinians’ rights caused by the wall come to an end. Contrary to Israel’s claims, the wall was outside the Road Map and “must not be allowed to be used as a bargaining tool in that process or in connection with any other aspect of solving the question of Palestine” he stressed. He said the time had come for all States professing to observe the rule of international law to come to action and to see to it that the wall was removed from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in compliance with the legal obligations of Israel and other States as mentioned in the Court ruling.
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