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World Court Prepares to Hear Case on West Bank Security Barrier

The International Court of Justice plans three-days of hearings this week in The Hague to determine whether a barrier being built by Israel in the West Bank violates international law. The emotionally charged case has brought people from all sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to make their voices heard in the highest U.N. judicial body.

Israeli officials say another suicide bombing in Jerusalem on the eve of the World Court case proves that they need the 700-kilometer wall to keep terrorists out of their country.

Israel is boycotting the hearings, but supporters of its position have brought the mangled remains of a bus blown up by suicide bombers in January to The Hague.

The director of the Jewish Information Center in The Hague, Ronnie Nafthaniel, is coordinating the protests of those who say the court has no business getting involved in a political issue. Mr. Nafthaniel also denies criticism that bringing the bus to The Hague is in poor taste.

"Crude and vulgar is terrorism. And this bus is just a monument of evil," he said. "And I think that people should understand it is not part of Dutch daily life, but it is part of Israeli life, so why not to have a look how it is."

But while judges may not be able to avoid seeing the bus, which some Palestinians call a propaganda ploy, it is not supposed to figure in their legal considerations.

The U.N. General Assembly asked the court last December to issue an urgent advisory opinion concerning the wall's legality. The barrier, which is under construction, includes concrete walls as high as 25 feet and a network of razor wire-tipped fences.

A number of international law experts, plus the usually neutral Red Cross, insist that the barrier violates international law. These experts argue that Palestinian property is being illegally confiscated and people are being cut off from their land, schools, hospitals, and communities.

Terry Boullata came to The Hague to protest a wall she says will not improve security, but only leads to apartheid. She runs a Palestinian private school in East Jerusalem and says that far from separating Palestinians from Israelis, all the wall does is separate Palestinians from each other.

"First, the wall is just five meters away from my house," she said. "It has separated me from the rest of my family. It has separated me from my own private school in Abu Dis. Also it has separated my own children who come to my school from, like I have around 30 children who have to go along a long bypass now, standing on line and through gates in order to enter their school."

Although the United States and several European Union member states have submitted written briefs to the court, they will not attend the hearings, which they say will hurt international efforts to negotiate a peace settlement.

The court's final decision is non-binding, but it carries a significant weight that many Palestinians here say they want on their side.