Even though three years have passed since 9/11, most political leaders have failed to seriously probe the implications of the horrific attacks.
One of the key questions that could have been asked following 9/11 is how the absence of certain international institutions helps engender conditions whereby groups and states resort to horrendous violence. Questions like this do not intend in any way to condone terrorism but rather to stimulate an investigation of how the creation and strengthening of international institutions might help prevent terrorism by providing non-violent alternatives through which people can channel their grievances. A few institutions of this kind already exist whereas others still need to be established.
One such institution is the International Court of Justice (ICJ) whose unequivocal ruling regarding Israel’s separation barrier was published on July 9th. The Palestinians presented their grievances to the Court and after extended deliberations the judges declared that Israel’s construction of the barrier in the Occupied Territories, including in and around East Jerusalem, is in violation of international law. The judges further stated that:
1) Israel is obligated to terminate its breaches of international law and therefore must cease the construction of the barrier;
2) Israel must dismantle the barrier that has already been built and repeal all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto;
3) Israel must make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the wall in the Territories;
4) The United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, should consider what further action is required in order to bring the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall to an end.
Last week, exactly two months after the unambiguous verdict was published, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that Prime Minister Sharon decided to continue building the separation barrier deep inside Palestinian territory, thus defying the International Court. Sharon announced that the barrier will be built around Jewish settlement blocs located in the Palestinian West Bank — settlements like Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumin and Gush Etzion — regardless of the fact that the barrier’s construction will violate the basic rights of over 875,000 Palestinians, 38 percent of the West Bank population.
As if to make matters clear, the Israeli military began assembling the concrete slates in A-Ram, which sprawls across the northern border of Jerusalem. Ultimately, A-Ram’s 60,000 Palestinian residents, the majority of whom have Israeli identity cards, will be surrounded by a wall and live in a ghetto of sorts. They will be cut-off from their jobs, medical care will not be accessible, and children will be unable to reach schools.
While sovereign states tend to resist the enforcement of international law in territories under their control, Sharon is, nonetheless, making a critical mistake by refusing to comply with the ICJ’s ruling. The U.S. and several other countries, in turn, are making just as serious a mistake by supporting his actions.
The crux of the matter is that by disregarding the ruling, the international community is undermining the legitimacy of the ICJ, the very Court which was established in the wake of the world’s revulsion at the crimes perpetrated against Jews and other minorities. It was, after all, the Holocaust which led the international community to realize the urgency of creating a judicial body that could judge unlawful actions carried out by sovereign states against people living within their territory and under their jurisdiction.
By undermining the ICJ, Sharon is not merely ignoring the lessons learned from the tragic history of the Jews, but is also undercutting the Court’s vital role as an impartial mediator in the international realm. The world’s leaders are silently watching him do so, even though in a post 9/11 world it is precisely these kinds of institutions that need to be strengthened; military-might, as the past few years have so clearly proven, will not curb the escalating employment of violence.
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Human Rights Center and Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His book From the Margins of Globalization: Critical Perspectives on Human Rights is scheduled to appear next month (Rowman and Littlefield). He can be reached at [email protected]