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Israelis, Palestinians at Odds Over Legality of Security Barrier

The International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday will begin hearings on the legality of Israel's security barrier. The Israeli government says the barrier is needed to protect citizens from suicide bombers. The Palestinians say the move is a land grab.

The World Court often handles issues such as border or maritime disputes among countries, but last December, the United Nations General Assembly asked the 15-judge panel to issue a non-binding, advisory opinion on the barrier Israel is building in the West Bank.

The structure consists of fences, trenches, large concrete walls and razor wire. It winds its way close to the so-called Green Line, the internationally recognized border before Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War. In places, however, it plunges deep into Palestinian territory and around Jewish settlements there.

After suffering years of suicide bombings, many Israelis support building the barrier.

Nearly a year ago, Lea Zur's 17-year-old son, Assaf, was killed when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in the Israeli coastal city of Haifa.

"I think we should build the fence, because this is the only non-violent measure that we can do," she said. "It's the only thing we can do. Now, it has been for three-and-a-half long years of almost, sometimes everyday, twice a day, of terror attacks on us. We have many dead, many young, innocent who are deliberately killed. The fence can help."

Palestinians call the barrier an "apartheid wall," being partially built on land they hope will someday be part of an independent state.

Leading Palestinians, such as Hanan Ashrawi, say the barrier is isolating tens-of-thousands of people from their families, jobs, farmland, hospitals and schools.

"The wall itself is a wall of separation, annexation. It is an apartheid wall, and it renders any kind of viable solution impossible," she said. "The wall that Israel is building is a punitive wall, it is a wall for annexing Palestinian territory, for preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state."

When the International Court of Justice opens its hearings, representatives from more than a dozen countries, as well as the Palestinian Authority, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic States are expected to speak.

Hanan Ashrawi says the Palestinians see the barrier as the latest hardship resulting from the Israeli occupation.

"We are seeing a rapid disintegration of Palestinian realities, and I am not at all embarrassed telling you this, because I am seriously alarmed," she said. "More than embarrassed, I am upset, I am angry that we are seeing the destruction, not just of the Palestinian economy, but Palestinian institutions, Palestinian life, the total fragmentation of Palestinian territory, and we are not seeing any kind of involvement, in order to prevent this deterioration and aggression."

A number of countries, including Israel, the United States and members of the European Union are arguing the court's intervention is inappropriate, and may hurt efforts to achieve progress toward a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel is boycotting the hearings, but the Jewish state is planning to make its case in the court of world opinion.

A Jerusalem bus, wrecked in a suicide bombing, is being displayed outside the World Court. An Israeli team is being sent to The Hague to talk with reporters, and pro-Israel rallies are planned.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the president of The Israel Project, a Washington-based group dedicated to increasing public support for the Jewish state.

Ms. Mizrahi says her group is running television commercials 50 times a day for a 10 day period on all-news television networks in the United States, which feature Israeli mothers of victims killed in suicide attacks.

"Israel, like any other country, has a right to defend its citizens from terrorists. If a security fence can save innocent lives, Israel has a right to build one, no matter what an international court says," she said.

While the United States and the European Union question the right of the court to rule on the barrier, both have criticized any route that takes it deep into the West Bank around Jewish settlements.

Israeli government officials say they plan to shorten the structure from 700 to 600 kilometers, in an effort to ease hardships on the Palestinians.

Whatever the court decides, it is not expected to stop Israel from completing the barrier.