Imagine a domestic terrorist cell loose in the city. They have already murdered a few people. The intelligence agency claims that members of the black community are harboring them, and their victims are almost always white. Since the city is more or less segregated, the police commissioner decides to erect a 25 foot concrete wall around the different black neighborhoods. All access to and from each neighborhood is blocked, except for a single gate which is open from 7 am to 9 am and then again from 5 pm to 7 pm. Special permits to pass through the gate are distributed to a select few.
The black population is outraged. Their leaders protest the siege and decide to sue the police. In their petition to the court they underscore that the commissioner’s reaction constitutes a form of collective punishment informed by racism. Thousands of innocent men and women cannot reach work, their children cannot attend schools or universities, hospitals are out of bounds, and patients are dying because they do not receive medical care. “Our life has become unbearable,” they say.
A date is set for the trial, but a few days before the hearing, the police commissioner notifies the public that he is unwilling to show up in court. He summons a press conference and tells the reporters that this is a security issue, not a legal one.
This disturbing story is but an analogy of the Israeli and Palestinian positions now being argued at the Hague.
On the one hand, Israel is unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of the International Court of Justice and has concentrated all of its efforts on a public relations campaign. Its major argument is that while the wall is uncomfortable and may lead to inconveniences, one cannot compare a bit of discomfort with the deaths of innocent lives. The security of its citizens, the Israeli government argues, is more important.
To make its point clear, Israel has brought a shattered bus — the remains of a bloody suicide attack — to the Hague. Parents whose children have been murdered have been flown in, as has an entourage of university students. Their goal is to convincingly present Israel’s position, which can be summed up in four words: We are the victims.
The Palestinian delegation, on the other hand, has filed a well-documented petition against the wall, claiming that Israel is using the terrorist attacks as pretence to strangle a whole population. Israel’s true goal, they argue, is to undermine the Palestinian infrastructure of existence and to undercut the possibility of creating a viable Palestinian State. The wall for them is a catastrophe, a weapon of dispossession, expropriation and expulsion whose major target is the civilian population. Not unlike the terrorists, it also makes no distinction between civilians and combatants.
Israel’s campaign is informed by two major fallacies. First, it conveniently ignores the fact that the wall is not being built on the 1967 border (which is the internationally recognized one), but rather deep inside Palestinian territory. Why cut through towns and villages, destroy and confiscate fields and olive groves, separate between farmers and their lands, between the sick and hospitals if the objective is security? If security were indeed the goal, wouldn’t it be more logical to erect the wall between Israel and the West Bank, and not inside the West Bank?
Second, Israel like every other country has both the right and obligation to defend the lives of its citizens. The major reason the Israeli government is failing to protect its citizenry is not because it isn’t building the wall fast enough, as Israel’s Chief of Staff claimed after the last suicide bombing. Nor can the blame be put on its military, which is by far the most powerful one in the Middle East.
The major reason Israeli citizens are not safe is because the government has decided to continue the 37 year-old occupation and oppression of another people. The only way Israelis and Palestinians will ever be safe is if Israel ends the very occupation that this separation wall intends to perpetuate by confiscating more and more land.
Like the imaginary wall built in the midst of a city to protect it from terrorists, the real wall that is now being built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is both immoral and impractical. It is, accordingly, inimical to Israel’s own interests. Paradoxically, then, if the International Court of Justice rules in favor of the Palestinians, it will also be ruling in Israel’s interests, for it is in Israel’s long-term and therefore true interests that the Court find it guilty.
NEVE GORDON teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org