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2 Decisions Find Israel's Wall Violates Rights

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release July 18, 2004

2 Decisions Find Israel's Security Wall Violates Rights of Palestinians

Interview with John Quigley, professor of law at Ohio State University conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio:

Two recent court rulings have declared illegal at least some portions of the 425-mile security barrier Israel is building, one-quarter of which is finished. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the barrier is necessary to protect Israelis from Palestinian attacks. But Palestinians say it is a land grab, since most of the barrier is being built on the Palestinian side of the border, and in many parts well inside Palestinian territory.

On June 30, Israel's Supreme Court ruled that 20 miles of the barrier must be rerouted because that segment violates the human rights of Palestinians, even if Israeli security is compromised by the changes. The court said that while Israel has a right to build a wall, the route chosen "severely violated" freedom of movement and "severely impaired" the livelihood of locals, leaving villages in a "virtual chokehold."

On July 9, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion that construction of the wall violated international law. It ruled that Israel must stop construction and dismantle parts already built in occupied Palestinian territory, including areas in and around East Jerusalem. The advisory opinion has been sent for consideration to the United Nations General Assembly, which has historically upheld the rights of Palestinians. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with John Quigley, professor of law at Ohio State University and author of the book, "Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice." He describes the impact these court decisions may have on public opinion in the Middle East and on Washington's historic support for Israeli security policy.

John Quigley's book, "Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice," is published by Duke University Press.

John Quigley: The decision is non-binding in a technical sense, that is, it’s an advisory opinion. It’s advice requested by the General Assembly of the U.N. But at the same time it’s going to be taken very seriously by the countries of the world.

At the International Court of Justice, lawyers for Palestine argued that if the wall were built on Israel’s side of the 1949 Armistice line, they would have no basis for objection. The objection is the negative impact it has on Palestinians within the West Bank because the major portion -- much of the major portion -- of the wall is built within Palestinian territory.

Between The Lines: Israel insists that the wall promotes its security and it points to the fact that there were no deadly bombings inside the Green Line demarcating Israel’s pre-1967 borders for the past four months, until a bombing in Tel Aviv July 11 killed an Israeli and wounded 20 others. Do you think the wall would really make Israelis safer? John Quigley: I don’t think it really would. It’s hard to judge with precision. It may be that some potential suicide bombers would be stopped by a wall, that some would be intercepted, or some who would have tried, would not try. It’s also something to take into consideration, however, that this wall is going to have such a devastating effect on the Palestinians that it really increases the sense of hopelessness over there that gives rise to suicide bombing in the first place, and in the long term, it may actually spark more violence against the Israelis.

Between The Lines: In building the wall, Israel has acknowledged it has destroyed tens of thousands of Palestinian olive trees, separated Palestinian farmers from their lands and other Palestinians from their jobs outside their villages. It’s been devastating in many ways…

John Quigley: Quoting an Israeli official, “The wall doesn’t kill.” And that’s not true -- the wall does kill. In terms of emergency medical care, it’s obviously going to result in a significant number of deaths. It’s already been the case with just having checkpoints on the road that Palestinians have died because they haven’t been able to get to urgent medical care.

And the decision of the Supreme Court of Israel is, as you say, more limited than the one of the International Court of Justice, in that it focused only on the separation of farmers from fields as the harm. That was the harm that the Supreme Court of Israel focused on and said, "You can’t build it if it does that; you have to find a different route. So it disregarded all these other potential harms." At the same time, that ruling of the Supreme Court of Israel can be very problematic for the government, when they get to the next case, which is going to involve the wall segments that go around the Israeli settlements, because those will have a much more attenuated connection to protecting Israel than the wall segments near Jerusalem, which was the subject of the case that they just decided a couple of weeks ago. So I think when they get to those segments of the wall, the Israeli Supreme Court may say something that’s more like what the International Court of Justice has said in this case.

Between The Lines: John Quigley, what impact, if any, do you think these rulings will have on U.S. support for Israel?

John Quigley: Well, I think it makes it more difficult for the U.S. to persist in its position and makes it more likely that they will find some way to reach an accommodation on this issue. As I say, the U.S. has been critical of the wall. It’s only this last exchange that occurred in April, between Bush and Sharon, where Bush seems to take a position that it wouldn’t oppose construction of the wall. So it’s not a hard and fast position on the part of the U.S. And I think our European allies are likely to take this World Court ruling as a basis for stepping up their action on it a bit. They’ll be putting some pressure on the U.S.

Between The Lines: Of all the issues in the presidential campaign, the one where George Bush and John Kerry seem to be indistinguishable, is on support for Israel doing whatever it deems necessary for its security, including supporting the construction of the wall. I believe Kerry has stated his support, too.

John Quigley: He made a speech at an Arab-American grouping where he was critical of the wall. But his position is very uncertain. He’s also made speeches to Jewish organizations that were in the opposite direction on a number of issues. He is waffling on this, trying to please as many potential voters as he can.


Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending July 23, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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