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World court finds Israel’s security wall illegal

Israel's security wall is eight metres high at some points


The International Court of Justice says Israel’s controversial West Bank security barrier is illegal and should be torn down.

The Swiss foreign ministry told swissinfo that it was satisfied with the decision, reiterating that the wall contravened humanitarian law.

While Israel dismissed the court’s ruling, the Palestinians welcomed it as a “historic” step.

The court, which is the highest judicial arm of the United Nations, ruled that the wall had imposed hardship on thousands of Palestinians. It also called for confiscated land to be returned.

Only one of the court's 15 judges voted against the ruling: United States judge Thomas Buerghenthal.

Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Alessandro Delprete commented that the court’s decision had been received with “great interest”.

“We note with satisfaction that an essential point for Switzerland has been clarified: the application of the fourth Geneva Convention relating to the Israeli-occupied territories,” he said.

Swiss satisfaction

The convention obliges Israel to ensure the humane treatment and wellbeing of the civilian population living under its occupation.

Switzerland is the depository state of the Geneva Conventions, which form the backbone of international humanitarian law.

“We are convinced that only a negotiated solution can lead to a just peace in the Middle East,” added Delprete.

The Switzerland-Palestine Society also welcomed the decision. “This is a good day,” spokesman Peter Leuenberger told swissinfo.

“The court decision was to be expected, as was the Israeli government’s position to disregard it,” he added.

Leuenberger said he now hoped for a UN resolution against Israel but he questioned whether the United States, which is a permanent member of the Security Council, would use its veto.

swissinfo could not reach the Israeli embassy in Bern for its reaction. But an Israel foreign ministry spokesman said that the advisory opinion failed to address the essence of the problem and the reason for building the fence – Palestinian terror.

“If there were no terror, there would be no fence,” said spokesman Jonathan Peled.

In another comment, the United States said it felt that the ICJ was not the appropriate forum to resolve what was a political issue.

Palestinian rights

In the judgment from its headquarters in The Hague in the Netherlands, the court said that the wall “gravely” infringed on the rights of Palestinians, could not be justified by military needs or national security, and violated international law.

The widely anticipated advisory decision is non-binding but is considered to bear moral weight and could serve for later action by the UN General Assembly or Security Council.

It is also seen as adding international pressure to stop construction of the approximately 700km-long complex of concrete walls, razor-wire fences, trenches and watch towers.

The court rejected Israel's argument that it had no jurisdiction in the matter. It also brushed aside arguments from the United States and several European countries that its intervention could disrupt the US-initiated Middle East peace effort known as the “road map.”

The Israeli government has repeatedly stated that the barrier is designed to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out of Israel.

Within the law

The ICJ acknowledged Israel’s duty to protect its citizens but said it must do so within the law.

Switzerland called on the ICJ to judge the legality of the security barrier back in February, with the foreign ministry wanting clarification on whether the wall contravened international humanitarian law and breached the rights of civilians in the Palestinian territories.

The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross has also called on Israel to halt the planning and construction of the wall.

The neutral Swiss-run organisation took a formal position on the issue in order to draw public attention to the worsening humanitarian situation in the area.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The UN General Assembly requested a ruling from the International Court of Justice in December.
The court in The Hague held hearings in February.
Friday's ruling was made by 14 to one, with the dissenting vote from the United States.

end of infobox

In brief

The International Court of Justice has found that Israel’s West Bank security barrier is illegal and should be dismantled.

Israel says it will disregard the non-binding ruling, while Palestinians have welcomed the ICJ decision as “historic”.

Switzerland welcomed clarification regarding an essential point of international humanitarian law.

end of infobox


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