Israel’s separation wall endures, 15 years after ICJ ruling

The separation wall, deemed illegal by ICJ, cuts into occupied West Bank territory, and will be 712km upon completion.

Israeli separation wall
The ICJ ruling said the wall violated international law and called for its dismantlement [File: Ammar Awad/Reuters]

In the occupied West Bank, the long, concrete separation wall winds through the landscape, slicing through Palestinian communities, agricultural fields and farmlands in a steady manner.

The wall, which Israel began constructing in 2002 at the height of the second intifada, has been described by Israeli officials as a necessary security precaution against terrorism.

Palestinians however, have decried the wall as an Israeli mechanism to annex Palestinian territory, as it is built deep within the West Bank and not along the 1967 Green Line.

Tuesday marks the 15th anniversary since the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN judiciary organ, issued an advisory opinion that deemed Israel’s separation wall illegal.

While the decision is non-binding, it found the wall violates international law and called for its dismantlement. It also ruled that Israel should pay reparations for any damage caused.

A month after the ICJ decision, the UN General Assembly later voted overwhelmingly to demand Israel to comply with the UN’s highest legal body.

The vote called on UN member states to “not to recognise the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall in the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around East Jerusalem” and “not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction”.

However, Isam Abdeen, an advocacy lawyer for Palestinian rights group Al Haq, said little action has materialised on the ground since then.

“There is still a lack of willingness to implement international resolutions,” he told Al Jazeera from the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

“The issue is not with the ICJ ruling or international law or General Assembly resolutions, but with the continuing culture of impunity that exempts Israel, an occupying power, from punishment,” he said. 

Fifteen years on, the wall has continued to cut through Palestinian communities, taken over natural resources in the occupied West Bank, and has annexed Palestinian land, including areas where Israeli settlements are built on.

“Israel has continued to build and expand the separation wall and has acted as though the ICJ decision did not happen,” Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settlement activities in the northern West Bank, told Al Jazeera.

“This has resulted in the strangulation of the West Bank, and has affected the course of life for Palestinians,” he said.

Daghlas said Israel’s complete disregard for the ICJ ruling shows that “it considers itself above international law” and has no qualms in showing its true “racist, apartheid” face to the international community.

‘Matrix of control’

Omar Shakir, the Human Rights Watch director for Israel and Palestine, told Al Jazeera that the separation wall has had a direct effect on Palestinian daily life by separating thousands of Palestinians from each other, the agricultural lands they own, and from critical infrastructure and services.

“The wall itself is part of the matrix of control and rights abuses that are part of the daily Palestinian experience,” Shakir said.

At least 85 percent of the wall’s planned 712km-long route – which is twice as long as the Green Line – is built within Palestinian territory, which Shakir says impacts the Palestinians’ “everyday ability to access services, schools, hospitals, their land, and the rest of the Palestinian population who are also partially cut off from these territories and communities”.

Stop the Wall, a Palestinian grassroots advocacy campaign, said that upon the wall’s completion, Israel will have annexed 46 percent of the West Bank, “isolating communities into Bantustans, ghettos and military zones”.

The group said that the wall will isolate more than 78 Palestinian villages and communities, a total of 266,442 Palestinians.

The vast majority of Palestinians – 257,260 – have their villages and homes surrounded by the wall, settlements and settler-only roads, according to Stop the Wall.

According to Israeli rights group Btselem, at least 11,000 Palestinians live in land designated “seam zones” which lie between the Green Line and the wall, cut off from the rest of the population.

Life for these residents is contingent upon obtaining residency permits from the Israeli civil administration – just to live in their own homes

“Permits must be constantly renewed before they expire so the permit-holders can keep living in their own homes,” the group said, adding that the validity differs from a single day to a couple of years.

The wall, along with hundreds of other Israeli obstacles and checkpoints scattered throughout the occupied West Bank, has not only hindered Palestinian movement but also the Palestinian economy.

“There’s undoubtedly a significant effect on the Palestinian economy,” he said. “The World Bank has estimated in 2013 that restrictions of movement have cost the Palestinian economy $3.4bn a year.”

“Ultimately, more concrete action is needed by the international community in response to the serious violations of international humanitarian human rights laws that are part of the daily reality for Palestinians under occupation,” Shakir said.

Popular protests against the wall

The estimated cost of the wall upon completion is $2.1bn. Topped above the eight-metre high wall – which is twice the height of the Berlin Wall – are barbed wires and electronic motion sensors. Buffer zones can stretch between 30 to 100 metres wide.

The construction of the separation barrier stirred a number of villages into action in the early 2000s, as they used unarmed popular demonstrations to protest against the Israeli annexation of their land.

Budrus, Bilin, and Nilin were among the villages that gained international recognition and notoriety for their protests, as a result of the Israeli response of firing tear gas canisters, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition directly at demonstrators.

Yet in recent years, the protests have dwindled, and lost much of their momentum.

“The level of repression by both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority restricts the ability of Palestinians in general to engage in activism and protests, including around the separation barrier,” Shakir said.

In the nature of any protracted situation, he added, focus shifts elsewhere, such as the spontaneous protests that broke out following US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the US embassy there.

“Every day we witness and live under crimes of colonisation, not just with the separation wall but also with the incessant building of Israeli settlements,” Daghlas said.

“We are defending our dignity, our homeland and the international law which we hope will be implemented soon.”

Source: Al Jazeera