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Five years of illegality: Time to dismantle the Wall and respect the rights of Palestinians

July 9, 2009

After five years of illegality, it is time to dismantle the Wall and respect the rights of Palestinians.

In an advisory opinion, rendered on 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice stated that Israel′s construction of the Wall in the occupied Palestinian Territory was illegal and called for its immediate dismantling. Five years later, the advisory opinion has been met only by inaction: Israel continues constructing the Wall and the international community remains silent. Oxfam International underscores the urgency of this situation in a compilation of testimonies that is published today.

In its publication Five years of illegality, Oxfam International presents testimonies of fifteen Palestinian men and women who recount their daily problems, arising from the construction of the Wall and its associated regime of land confiscation and permits, and settlement construction.

Tragic consequences

Farmers separated from their fields, workers without access permits, pregnant women unable to reach the hospital, villages without adequate access to water. The UN estimates that in the north of the West Bank approximately 80 per cent of Palestinians who own land on the other side of the Wall have not received permits from the Israeli authorities, and hence cannot cultivate their fields. It is a similar story in other parts of the West Bank.

"Before the construction of the Wall, my cooperative harvested over 3,000 tonnes of olives", /explains Youssef Salim, an olive grower from Beit Jala, south of Jerusalem. "Now we only have between 500 and 1,000 tonnes depending on the year. I have 1.8 hectares of olive trees isolated behind the Wall. For years now I haven′t been able to tend to them because it is forbidden to enter this zone."

The rule of law must triumph

"Daily, Oxfam International and its local partners witness the tragic consequences of the Wall, the permits and the checkpoints", explains Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International*. "Since the construction of the Wall/ /and the setting in place of its associated regime, the deepening impoverishment //and de-development of the Palestinian communities are undeniable. The construction of the Wall continues, well beyond the Green Line, depriving Palestinians of their livelihoods and of access to basic services. Israel′s concern to assure the security of its civilians is legitimate, but its measures should nonetheless remain in conformity with international humanitarian law. As an occupying power, Israel must guarantee the basic rights of the Palestinians."

Oxfam International calls on the international community to effectively challenge the construction of the Wall in occupied territory and its associated regime, together with the construction of settlements and the confiscation and control of natural resources (land and water), which all de facto contribute to the altering of the demographic composition of the occupied Palestinian Territory and are in violation of international humanitarian law.

"For five years now, different Israeli governments and the international community have turned a deaf ear to the appeals by the General Assembly of the United Nations and have refused to respect and observe the opinion of the International Court of Justice. This inaction gives the wrong signal: that international law can be violated without accountability. For the sake of Palestinians and Israelis alike, it is time for the rule of law to triumph. If not, it will be very difficult to achieve a just, negotiated, and durable peace in the Middle East", /concludes Jeremy Hobbs.

Some figures

Construction of the Wall started in 2002. At present, the Wall is fragmenting the West Bank into 3 different parts and up to 22 smaller isolated enclaves. Its construction is only half-way finished. The plans of the Government of Israel entail a Wall of between 726 km and 790 km length in total, of which the largest part (86%) is located on Palestinian territory, and not on the Green Line. As of June 2008, the Wall passed through 171 West Bank localities. It has resulted in the displacement of close to 28,000 persons, in the confiscation of 5,000 hectares of land and the isolation of more than 27,000 hectares. In total, more than 700,000 Palestinians in the West Bank have been affected by the Wall and its associated regime. Once completed, East Jerusalem will be completely cut off from the West Bank, 125,000 Palestinians will be surrounded on three sides and 35,000 others will live in closed areas (enclaves). The Government of Israel has to date created 70 `agricultural gates′ in the Wall for famers who are separated from their land. In practice these gates do not guarantee access to the fields: 28 are closed and 20 are only seasonally or weekly open. Only 22 gates are open daily. More than 10% of the Palestinian land planted with olive trees is located behind the Wall.

Main findings and recommendations reflected in the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, 9 July 2004

The Court found unanimously that it has jurisdiction to give an advisory opinion according to its own regulations. The Court found that `[Israel] has the right, and indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the life of its citizens. The measures taken are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law′. The Court considered that the construction of the Wall and its associated regime created facts on the ground that could well become permanent, in which case it would be the same as de facto annexation, forbidden under international law. The Court mentioned the risk of alterations to the demographic composition of the OPT by reinforcing the illegal Israeli settlements which also violate IHL. The Court repeated that legislative and administrative measures taken by Israel as the occupying power which have changed or declared the change of status of Jerusalem are not valid, since they violate international law. The Court ruled that the Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as human rights law, are applicable to the OPT. The Court stated that Israel is under an obligation to immediately terminate its breaches of international law; to cease the works of construction of the Wall being built in the OPT, including in and around East Jerusalem; to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated; to cancel all legislative and regulatory acts relating to the Wall; and to make reparation for all damages caused by the Wall. The Court added that all states are under an obligation not to recognise the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the Wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction. In addition, states party to the Fourth Geneva Convention are under the obligation to ensure Israel's compliance with IHL as embodied in that convention. The Court noted that the UN, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, should consider what further action is required to bring an end to the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the Wall and the associated regime, taking due account of the present advisory opinion.

Read full paper in English (PDF 1.93MB)
French version (PDF 1.91MB)

For more information contact:
Michael Bailey
Advocacy and Media Manager
Jerusalem Office
Phone: + 972(0)572 23 30 14
Tel + 972 (0)2 656 6234 ext 234
mob + 972 0572233014

Catherine Weibel
Phone: + 972 (0)546 39 50

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