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Thank You, Your Honors
Gila Svirsky, Israel
July 10, 2004
In a carefully reasoned but unequivocal decision, the International Court of Justice in the Hague did the expected: It found that Israel's construction of its security wall inside Palestinian territory is illegal according to international law.
As an Israeli deeply concerned about the security of my country, and a Jew deeply concerned about the moral implications of building this barrier, I applaud this decision.
Israel's security claims in favor of the wall are seriously flawed: As it is now being constructed, the wall does not follow the 1967 border, but rather reaches deep into Palestinian land, a route that will ultimately leave hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on the Israeli side. How will this prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from entering Israel?
On humanitarian grounds, the wall is unconscionable. It prevents Palestinian access to farmland, schools, hospitals and jobs. Picture your children having to wait at the wall twice a day for soldiers to show up and unlock the gate, allowing them to get to and from school. Picture the farmer who made a living from his olive trees, which are now inaccessible or have been felled to make way for construction. Imagine that you suddenly need to see a doctor, but have no permit to get through. Imagine that you simply want to visit your elderly mother, but the wall now comes between you. According to B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, when the wall is complete, some 38% of Palestinians will find their lives disrupted and their livelihoods discontinued.
The presence of the wall is not only cruel to Palestinians; it will ultimately harm Israeli security as well, as it intensifies the bitterness and hatred directed toward us. Is this the security that the wall will provide?
Unlike Palestinians who can hardly avoid it, most Israelis have never even seen the wall; it is built inside Palestinian territory, where only Israeli settlers (and the soldiers sent to protect them) now venture. If other Israelis saw it, I hope they would be shocked. In several places, the wall does not simply wend through Palestinian towns, it actually surrounds them entirely, penning the residents inside—their right to enter or leave left to the whim of young soldiers guarding the gate.
In these localities, civilian populations are now entirely encircled by a 30-foot-high, gray concrete battlement interrupted only by watchtowers from where soldiers train binoculars and automatic rifles on the residents below. Lights mounted on the wall shine down into the streets, making constant surveillance that much easier. As a Jew whose ancestors were confined to ghettoes during anti-Semitic periods of history, I find this horrifying. Will keeping 100,000 Palestinians penned in ghettoes and enclaves serve the security needs of Israel? Did forcing Jews into the ghettoes of Europe serve the security needs of those countries?
Last week, the Israeli Supreme Court acknowledged the grave violations of Palestinian human rights resulting from the wall, and ordered the army to reroute it in specific locations. While our government is hoping that this Israeli court ruling will make it possible for Israel to ignore the Hague tribunal—on the grounds that "the wall is an internal security matter that we are dealing
with"—most Israeli peace activists do not agree. Construction of the wall within Occupied Territory—meaning on somebody else's property—is a violation of basic rights, no matter how you look at it. And claims that the wall provides security are undercut by the large numbers of Palestinians who will remain on the "Israeli" side.
Ultimately, the best way for my country to achieve security is to negotiate peace with the Palestinians, and sufficiently improve the lives on both sides so that there is a vested interest in maintaining the peace. The wall, however, does just the opposite. As a result, it is not only bad for Palestine, but bad for Israel too.
A few days ago, I watched an old Palestinian woman surveying with dismay her family's olive trees that the army had cut down, shaving a swath on which the wall will rise. "Those stupid people," she said, careful not to name them, "If not for their stupidity, we could have lived in peace with each other."
Gila Svirsky is a peace and human rights activist in Jerusalem.