Palestinians praise World Court decision on West Bank barrier |

Palestinians praise World Court decision on West Bank barrier

Associated Press Writer
A Palestinian boy rides his bicycle next to cement blocks to be used in the construction of a section of Israel's separation barrier in the town of A-Ram, in the outskirts of Jerusalem, Friday July 9, 2004. The U.N.'s highest judicial authority decided Israel's planned 425-mile-long barrier in the West Bank violates international law and must be dismantled. Palestinians called the decision ``historic,'' while Israel rejected the world court's authority in judging the matter.(AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

JERUSALEM (AP) – Palestinians called Friday’s decision by the International Court of Justice on the massive West Bank wall “historic,” while Israel rejected the world court’s authority in judging the matter.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia hailed the ruling as the court in The Netherlands was still reading its decision. The court’s decision, however, had leaked out ahead of time.

“The international high court decided clearly today that this racist wall is illegal to the root and Israel should stop building it and take down what has already been built of this wall. We welcome this decision,” Qureia said.

“This is an historic day and a historic decision,” he said.

Demonstrators turned out Friday near Jerusalem for and against the barrier.

Palestinians consider the barrier nothing less than a land grab. Israel says it is needed to protect Israeli cities from Palestinian suicide bombers who have killed hundreds.

“The International Court in The Hague has no authority to deal with disputes between Israel and the Palestinians,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said.

The court ruled that Israel’s planned 425-mile-long barrier in the West Bank violates international law and urged the United Nations to take action to stop its construction.

It dismissed Israel’s arguments that the barrier was essential for its security and said the system of walls and fences went too far in infringing on the freedom of the Palestinians.

The court also ordered Israel to pay reparations to Palestinians harmed by the barrier and return land seized to construct the wall.

“The court accordingly finds that the construction of the wall, and its associated regime, are contrary to international laws,” said court president Shi Jiuyong of China said, who was reading the lengthy and complex ruling at The Hague, Netherlands.

The court rebuffed Israel’s argument – supported by the United States and several European countries – the court should refrain from interfering because the issue was political, not legal, and could disrupt Mideast peace efforts.

The 15-member court’s opinion is only advisory, and Israel has made clear it will not be bound by it. However, it adds international pressure to stop construction of the 425-mile complex of towering concrete walls, razor-wire fences, trenches and watch towers. About a fourth has been completed so far, roughly along the pre-1967 border but with many dips into the West Bank.

Armed with the ruling, the Palestinians want the U.N. General Assembly to demand Israel dismantle the barrier. If Israel refuses, the Palestinians want the Security Council to enforce its dismantling, which could draw a U.S. veto.

“We hope the United States today will see to it that they will work to have Israel comply with the (court’s) resolution,” Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said.

A banner where hundreds were gathering in the West Bank town of al-Ram, near Ramallah, read: “The Israeli wall, longer and higher than Berlin, but just as disgusting.”

“It’s a great decision. We are thrilled. It very clearly delegitimizes the wall and demands that it be pulled down,” said Jamal Juma, coordinator of a Palestinian group called The Anti-apartheid Wall Campaign.

Less than 10 miles away, a few dozen Israelis gathered by a concrete section of the fence on the outskirts of Jerusalem, held pictures and banners of terror victims, waved Israeli flags, and displayed a large banner reading: “Fence out terrorism.”

The Israeli-Arab Hadash party, meanwhile, filed a no-confidence motion Friday against the government over the security fence. Such motions are common, and this one was not expected to receive much support.

Israel’s Army radio reported that the Defense Ministry was expecting Palestinian violence in the wake of any decision handed down. Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat dismissed any suggestion Palestinian areas would erupt.

“I think this going to the high court is a way of seeking a diplomatic solution, not a way to violence,” Erekat said.

Tayseer Tamimi, a Muslim cleric who addressed the al-Ram rally from beneath a canopy adorned with a picture of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a Palestinian flag, urged people to protest the wall, but did not advocate violence. He also criticized the Arab world for staying silent when Israel began construction.