As World Court Deliberates, Israel Seethes
By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2004; 9:30 AM
On the eve of a widely anticipated World Court decision on Israel's 450-mile-long security barrier designed to exclude Palestinians, online commentators expect the court to issue some kind of rebuke to a bitterly divided Israel.
Palestinians call the barrier an "apartheid wall" and hope the court's decision will provide a boost in their struggle against Israeli military occupation. Israelis call the barrier a "security fence" and find themselves embroiled in an angry, some say dangerous, confrontation over its implications for the future of the Jewish state.
"Israel steels itself for barrier defeat," declared the Jordan Times on Monday. The Agence France Press story said that "Israel fears that a negative ruling could provide unstoppable momentum towards a UN Security Council resolution on the barrier."
"Israel says the barrier is vital to prevent attacks on its soil, but the wall often snakes around Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory, prompting Palestinian claims that its real purpose is a landgrab," the story reported.
In February, Palestinian representatives told the World Court that the barrier violates international law. Israel chose not to appear before the court but submitted a 135-page brief in opposition.
For the majority of Israelis, the barrier is necessary to prevent Palestinian suicide attacks. Maariv reports Palestinian attacks have dropped dramatically in areas where the fence has already been built.
"From an average of 26 attacks per year prior to the construction of the barrier, the figure has decreased to just three the year following the completion of the barrier," the paper reports.
But the country's powerful settlement movement is alarmed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to combine the building of the barrier with withdrawal (or "disengagement") from 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four near the West Bank Palestinian city of Jenin.
For the settlers, the protections of the wall are less important than the principle that Jews should be allowed to settle wherever they want. Many settlers feel betrayed by Sharon.
According to Haaretz, the director of Israel's internal security service warned Sharon's cabinet on Monday of "a rising tide of potentially violent extremism among Israelis opposed to Sharon's plan."
With memories still fresh from the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by a right-wing law student, Sharon himself sounded worried.
"It pains me that, as someone who all his life defended Jews in the wars of Israel," Ariel Sharon told legislators Tuesday, "I now need defense against Jews, for fear that someone might try to harm me."
The reaction to a June 30 decision by Israel's highest court on the fence contributed to the country's divisive mood. The court ruled that one part of the proposed route of the wall would cause too much hardship for Palestinians and had to be changed. Sharon said the government would obey the ruling.
While Israeli leftists and centrists expressed approval, the Israeli right was enraged. One senior officer involved in the planning of the fence called the ruling "a black day" for Israel. Steven Plaut, an Israeli academic, denounced the court's "judicial tyrants" in a piece for Arutz Sheva, the news site of the Israeli settler movement.
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