- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

THE HAGUE — Palestinians presented an impassioned case to the World Court yesterday against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank, while Israel appealed to world opinion to ignore the proceedings it called inherently unfair.

The opening session came a day after a Palestinian bomber killed eight Israelis and wounded dozens on a Jerusalem bus. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a group with ties to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, claimed responsibility.

Israel said the attack showed the need for the barrier that slices through Palestinian territory, designed to impede terrorism. But the Palestinians argued the structure only fuels the resentment that inspires suicide bombers.

The International Court of Justice began three days of hearings on the legality of the barrier, bringing Israel’s occupation policies before an international tribunal for the first time. But the United States and Europe joined Israel in staying away from the hearings.

Outside the baroque Peace Palace at The Hague, Israelis bearing photographs of relatives who died in suicide attacks clustered around the shell of a Jerusalem bus destroyed three weeks ago by a bomber who killed 11 persons.

Later, more than 1,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched from the Dutch parliament to the seat of the court, chanting and carrying photographs of Palestinian children killed by Israeli soldiers.

Thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip also marched to protest Israel’s separation barrier, and in some locations were pushed back by Israeli soldiers firing tear gas.

The General Assembly asked the United Nations’ highest judicial body in December to give a nonbinding advisory opinion on the legality of the network of walls, razor-wire fences and electronic monitors, now one-third completed.

Israel has begun making minor changes in the route of the barrier to reduce its impact on Palestinians and promised further changes. Israel has made it clear, however, that it would not be swayed from action it deems necessary to protect its citizens.

The Palestinians see the situation differently.

“This wall is not about security. It is about entrenching the occupation and the de facto annexation of large areas of the Palestinian land,” the chief Palestinian delegate, Nasser Al-Kidwa, told the tribunal.

The court case has made clear that many Palestinians and their supporters hoped to put Israel’s 37-year occupation — not just its security measures — on trial.

The construction of the barrier “confirms the attitude of the occupying power. They want to annex territories, to partition, divide the territory and make it difficult for the people to live there,” Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, told reporters.

In its written submission, Israel said the General Assembly referral to the court is “absolutely silent” on the issue of violence.

Like Israel, the United States argued in a written brief that the court inadvertently could undermine the U.S.-backed peace process, known as the “road map,” and urged the 15 judges to refrain from taking a stand.

“It would be extremely damaging to future negotiations if the court were to set forth, even in a nonbinding advisory basis, legal conclusions” about a final settlement, the U.S. brief said.

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