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At World Court: Israeli Barrier Means de Facto Annexation, say Palestinians - 2004-02-23


Palestinians argued before the World Court Monday that the Israeli security barrier in the West Bank is an illegal excuse to annex their territory. The Israeli government skipped the proceedings, but hundreds of supporters of Israel outside the court were making a dramatic case of their own.

Inside the Peace Palace's Great Hall of Justice, Palestinian Ambassador Nasser al-Kidwa told the 15 judges hearing the case that this is not about the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict, just one part of it-the barrier.

Far from being about security, Ambassador al-Kidwa insisted that the West Bank barrier is really about entrenching the occupation and the de facto annexation of large areas of Palestinian land. It's the culmination, he said, of all of what he termed Israel's illegal acts in the West Bank since 1967 - from the occupation to the building of settlements.

"This wall, if completed, will leave the Palestinian people with only half of the West Bank within isolated, non-contiguous, walled enclaves," said Mr. al-Kidwa. "It will render the two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict practically impossible."

Palestinian lawyers argued the barrier is illegal because it cuts into their land and deprives people of their basic rights, including access to land, schools and clinics. They demanded Israel tear down all parts of the barrier in their territory.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Nasser al-Kidwa said the Palestinians presented a perfect case, one that would be hard to challenge.

In a sign of just how charged these hearings are, he was challenged at the news conference by an Israeli journalist who asked Mr. al-Kidwa why he doesn't just stop the terror. Mr. al-Kidwa shot back saying the Israelis should stop using the agony and pain of civilians on both sides to justify political aims and colonization. Both sides were told by court officials to take the conversation outside.

Indeed, outside is where much of the action was. Some 500 Israeli supporters stood in front of the charred remains of a bus blown up in Jerusalem by a suicide bomber in January, reading the names of victims.

Later on, several hundred Palestinian protesters marched to the court building, carrying photographs of children killed by Israeli soldiers.

Orly Shmuel is one of the Israeli protesters. She says the court is only dealing with half a question.

"If we're asking the question of the fence, which is only the result, we want to ask the question of terror, which is the cause," she said.

Ms. Shmuel says the barrier saved her sister's school from an attack, proving that Israelis need it for self-defense.

That's Israel's position on the West Bank barrier, but the government refused to make the argument inside the court, arguing that the proceeding is not legitimate.

The Palestinians, though, say just the opposite: that, as of now, there is no working road map for peace, and there never will be unless the barrier comes down.