Last week’s judgment by the International Court of Justice on Israel’s West
Bank separation barrier — known to Palestinians as the apartheid wall —
may emerge as the most important development in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict in years. While advisory in nature, the conclusion that the
barrier is illegal may spawn actions by the international community to
compel Israeli compliance. In 1971, just such an opinion regarding South
Africa’s illegal occupation of Namibia led to diplomatic pressure, boycotts
and other forms of nonviolent resistance against the apartheid regime,
eventually contributing to peaceful democratic transformation.
Israel began construction of the barrier in 2002. It consists of a road,
trenches, barbed-wire fencing, electronic sensors and a concrete wall as
high as 24 feet. Palestinians, together with much of the world, suspect
this is a step in an Israeli plan to permanently annex much of the West
Bank. (Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, but the United Nations has
designated the territory for Palestinian national self-determination.)
Meanwhile, the officially announced purpose of the wall was to prevent
infiltration by Palestinian attackers from the West Bank.
While some might have preferred negotiations to enforced segregation, no
legal quarrel would have erupted had Israel placed the barrier along its
roughly 200-mile West Bank border. But it chose to build the barrier
substantially within the West Bank, on Palestinian land.
The planned wall is not linear, with Israelis on one side and Palestinians
on the other. Instead, if completed, the barrier will stretch some 400
miles and completely encircle Palestinian population centers in the West
Bank. Israel will control all access of people and goods in the Palestinian
enclosures. About 43 percent of the West Bank will remain outside the
Palestinian areas under Israel’s control. In several places, the barrier
cuts deep into Palestinian territory to protect Israeli settlements, long
condemned as illegal by the international community..