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Debate: Dismantling the Israeli security wall

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Should the Israeli security wall/barrier be taken down?

Background and context

In June 2002 the Israeli government started erecting a 620 kilometres long barrier in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank in order to protect Israelis from suicide attacks. Very broadly, the barrier creates a physical divide along the pre-1967 “Green Line” between Israel and what is now the Palestinian Authority. However, although the northern part of the barrier follows the “Green Line” pretty closely, much of the rest of its route involves great loops eastward into Palestinian territory in order to protect Israeli settlements there. Most of the barrier is fence, within a 60-100 metre zone of military tracks and ditches, but some of the most notorious parts are made up of 8 metre high concrete walls. The barrier has become extremely controversial and many countries and non-governmental organisations have spoken against it. Even the naming of the barrier/wall has become very controversial; proponents of it usually name it a security barrier or security fence, while the opponents tend to call it a wall. The affirmative side below argues for dismantling Israel’s security wall on the grounds that it violates international law and means a breach of human rights, the negative side argues for the barrier mainly for security reasons.

Contents

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International law: Is the Israeli security wall inconsistent with international law?

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Yes

Israel’s security wall was found by the ICJ to be a breach of international law in 2004: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague was asked by the United Nations General Assembly to consider the legality of the barrier and in July 2004 it ruled that the security wall was a breach of international laws. Specifically, it found that the Fourth Geneva Convention and international human rights conventions did apply in the Occupied Territories. The security wall breached the Geneva Convention because it assisted illegal settlements and its building injured private property owners. Human rights conventions are breached by the wall because it restricts freedom of movement and the right to an adequate standard of living, health and education. Finally, the Court ruled that the barrier’s route could allow Israel to annex territory, harming the Palestinians right to self-determination.[1]

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No

There are numerous reasons why the ICJ opinion is not binding for Israel: The opinion of the ICJ is advisory, largely symbolic, and not legally binding. Israel does not acknowledge the automatic jurisdiction of the ICJ and is therefore not bound to implement its rulings. The Occupied Territories were never part of a recognized state, and so the various international conventions do not apply there.[2]

The Oslo Accord between Israel and the Palestinians says that disputes must be settled by negotiation, not by unilateral appeal to external bodies: So the PLO has broken its own commitments in going to the ICJ. For these reasons Israel boycotted the ICJ hearings. So did the United States and the European Union, both major players in the peace process; they too believe that the case could undermine the political peace talks.[3]

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Security: Does the wall do nothing to improve Israel's security?

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Yes

Any short term security gain will be offset by growing Palestinian resentment against Israel, which could result in a greater number of suicide attacks in Israel. Israelis and Palestinians will need to learn to live side by side but building an 8 metre high wall sends a clear message to Palestinians that Israel is hostile and unwilling to find a permanent solution that would suit both nations. East Jerusalem in particular has been relatively peaceful during the second intifida, but the wall there will split communities, disrupt everyday life and declare that a shared sovereignty solution is no longer possible for the city both sides claim as their capital. It would be hard to find a better way to radicalise the inhabitants of East Jerusalem.[4]

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No

The barrier is an effective way to prevent suicide bombers from crossing into Israel and killing Israelis: The barrier is intended to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from crossing into Israel. Before the barrier was in place 900 Israelis died in such attacks. If there was no terror threat there would be no need for a barrier. Facts show that the fence has made it much harder for Palestinian terrorist groups to mount suicide attacks in Israel. For more than three years no Palestinian terrorists have been able to get through the barrier to attack civilians. A measure which has saved the lives of countless innocent people demands our support and should be completed as soon as possible.[5]

  • Israel’s High Court agreed that a barrier was a legitimate means of providing security and that it served a real military need.[6]
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Rights vs. security: Is Israel prioritizing security interests over interest such as rights, and is this wrong?

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Yes

Even the Israeli High Court has called upon Israel’s government, that it should not provide security to Israeli settlers at the expense of Palestinian rights: In 2004 the Court forced the wall to be rerouted because of the “severe and acute” injury it brought to tens of thousands of Palestinians along the proposed route.[7]

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No

Israel has a legitimate right to self-defense and to prioritize the protection of its citizens right to life: The main priority of Israeli government is the security of its people, as well as the security of Palestinians. Despite some of the problems the barrier creates for Palestinians as well as Israelis, its security purpose is legitimate, and overrides these other, lesser concerns. The day-to-day inconveniences and disruptions are less important because life and safety are the most important liberties of all, as all other liberties and conveniences depend upon them.[8]

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Peace process: Does the security wall make it harder for the peace process to proceed successfully?

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Yes

The Security wall could weaken the Palestinian position at any peace negotiations as it creates new facts on the ground favorable to Israel that will be hard to reverse: It would be harder to object to the wall if it followed the “Green Line” of the 1967 border between Israel and what are now the Occupied Territories. But although it follows the Green Line for some of its length (although always built on the Palestinian side), in many places the wall cuts deep into the Territories, looping around otherwise isolated Israeli settlements to connect them to Israel proper. The Israeli government may say that the wall is only a temporary measure, but in the Occupied Territories earlier “temporary measures”, such as Israeli settlements and military seizure of Palestinian land, have usually proved to be permanent. And who spends $1 billion on a “temporary measure”?[9]

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No

The security barrier is only temporary and can therefore not affect any peace negotiations: Israel has made clear that it expects any border settlement to be negotiated with the Palestinians. The barrier can be moved or dismantled should there be a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. On the other hand, without security for Israelis, talks will never take place. By ensuring security, the barrier will actually bring a full peace settlement closer.[10]

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The route: Is the route of the security barrier unfair to the Palestinians?

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Yes

The security wall effectively means the annexation of Palestinian territory by Israel: Palestinian leaders assert the route chosen could lead to almost half of the cultivatable land in the West Bank being annexed. Most western governments have criticised the barrier because part of its route departs from the so-called Green Line, Israel's pre-1967 boundary and the internationally recognised border.[11]

The route of the security wall is not based on security considerations, but politics: It is primarily concerned with tying the land around Israeli settlements to Israel. It also violates property rights, as thousands of acres of land have been taken away from Palestinian owners in order to build the wall and the wide strip of access tracks beside it.[12]

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No

The security barrier merely connects Israeli settlements in the West Bank: Civilians in the West Bank settlements deserve as much protection against terrorist attacks as anyone else. While the estimates that half of the West Bank could be annexed are blown out of proportion, Israel acknowledges that the barrier does sometimes depart from the Green Line and therefore includes parts of the so-called Palestinian territory. Yet “the barrier is not intended as a political border between two entities, but merely as a hurdle between terrorists and their victims” as former Israeli defence minister Benjamin ben Eliezer has put it. Its exact route has been dictated only by security considerations, for example the need to prevent snipers having a clear line of sight on roads used by Israeli settlers.[13]

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Palestinian life: Does the wall significantly inhibit the day-to-day lives of Palestinians?

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Yes

The security wall hinders the everyday activities of Palestinians: A great number of Palestinians have land or jobs, hospitals and schools on one side of the wall and houses on other side. To go to school or work they must use designated gates which are often far away from their regular route. That takes time as well as money. Moreover special passes that are hard to obtain are needed to enter the Israeli side of the wall. People that don’t own land on the Israeli side but were merely working on it in the past have huge problems in obtaining passes and many seasonal workers are unemployed because of the wall. Poverty is widespread and sick people have died because problems getting through gates delayed their journey to hospital.[14]

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No

The security barrier reduces violence and tensions and subsequently reduces the need for heavy handed and often violent Israeli responses: Without a wall, the need for patrols, arrests, and sometimes draconian actions by the Israel's is greatly heightened, simply on the basis of the needed security. By having the wall in place, these invasive measures can be reduced, and to the day-to-day benefit of the Palestinians.[15]

In time, entry systems will become more routine across the Israeli-Palestinian security border: Life will be better for Palestinians and they won’t have to go through so severe treatment. A system of tunnels and viaducts will connect all Palestinian territories and they won’t have to encounter tensions from Israeli settlers. The barrier will allow Israel to remove its heavy military presence from the West Bank, along with the checkpoints, road blocks and searches which made Palestinian life so difficult even before the barrier was started.[16]

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Palestinian state: Is the security wall jeopardizing the integrity of a Palestinian state?

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Yes

By carving up the West Bank, Israel is stopping the development of a workable Palestinian state: The barrier and the settlements it protects will ensure that the Palestinian people will remain desperate, and that their government will be unable to control its own territory effectively. Yet it is in Israel’s long-term interest to promote the development of a stable, viable neighbouring state for Palestinians. Only a strong Palestinian government, able to give its people an economic future and to enforce its decisions internally, will ever to able to negotiate a lasting peace with Israel.[17]

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No

The Palestinian Authority has to show that it can be trusted to run a viable state before Israel relaxes its security measures: The corruption and ineptitude of Fatah have led to ten years of misrule and increased the people’s poverty. The government has also been unwilling to restrain terrorists affiliated to Fatah, and unable to crack down on Hamas and other militant groups. It has continued to pump out anti-Jewish propaganda through schools and the media. All this has contributed to the disaster of a Hamas victory in the parliamentary election. At present, Israel has no partner for peace, and must be free to protect its citizens in the best way it can.[18]

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Israel's image: Does the barrier undermine Israel's image internationally? Is it a bad symbol?

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Yes

The barrier harms Israel’s international image and weakens its support in the USA, a crucial ally: The US has acted to ensure its loan guarantees cannot be used to pay for the wall’s construction. The wall stirs memories of the Berlin Wall of the Cold War, and global media coverage has mostly been negative. Stories of pregnant women dying on their way to hospital because of the war do Israel’s cause much damage in the international community.[19]

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No

The barrier does not harm Israel’s international position: The USA has accepted Israel’s right to build a security barrier and President Bush has also agreed that some Israeli settlements are facts on the ground which need to be respected in any future settlement. Some other countries are strongly anti-Israel and will use any excuse to criticise the Jewish state; they have not become more hostile since the barrier stopped suicide bombers killing hundreds of Israelis. In any case, there are plenty of precedents internationally for such a security barrier, for example the Peace Walls in Belfast, Northern Ireland, or the security fences erected by South Korea and India against potentially hostile neighbours.[20]

See also

External links and resources

Books:

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