Tear down Israel's illegal barrier, says World Court

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

The Independent

10 July 2004

The United Nations was urged by the International Court of Justice yesterday to enforce the Court's ruling that Israel should tear down its 450-mile separation barrier and compensate the Palestinians for the hardship it has caused.

Although its unequivocal ruling that the routing of the barrier through occupied Palestinian territory was in breach of international law is non-binding, the ICJ called for the UN Security Council to consider "further action" to halt construction.

In a ruling read out in the Hague by its president, Judge Shi Jiuyong of China, the court found that "Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated."

Israel made it clear last night it would not be bound by the ruling, which rejected her argument that the barrier was essential for security. The court declared that the fence "cannot be justified by military exigencies or by the requirements of national security or public order."

The Palestinian leadership -which welcomed the decision - made it clear it would be seeking to persuade the UN General Assembly to back further action which it hopes could even lead to sanctions against Israel.

The ruling also challenged the assertion, strongly repeated by Israel yesterday, that the route of the barrier, snaking well into occupied territory was temporary. The ruling declared "the construction of the wall and its associate regime creates a 'fait accompli' on the ground that could well become permanent, in which case, and notwithstanding the formal characterisation by Israel, it would be tantamount to de facto annexation."

An American judge, Thomas Buergenthal, who was on the 15-justice panel was alone in rejecting the main rulings about the illegality of the barrier but he was supported by the Dutch judge, Pieter Kooijmans, in his rejection of the call for all countries to act against the project. The other 13 judges ruled in favour of the ruling.

Leading a chorus of declarations by Palestinians welcoming the decision, the Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat said "This is an excellent decision. We thank the court in The Hague. This is a victory for the Palestinian people and for all the free peoples of the world."

But the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the judgement failed to "address the essence of the problem and the very reason for building the fence - Palestinian terror. If there were no terror, there would be no fence".

One of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's aides, Raanan Gissin, went further, saying: "I believe that, after the rancour dies, this resolution will find its place in the garbage can of history."

The European Commission reaffirmed its call on Israel to abandon the barrier as it is routed at present but the White House spokesman Scott Mclellan said: "We do not believe that [The ICJ] is the appropriate forum to resolve what is a political issue," saying the peace "road-map" talks were the best place to address the problem.