On February 1st, 2022, Amnesty International released a report contending that Israel is “committing the crime against humanity of apartheid against Palestinians and must be held accountable.” Among the crimes that Amnesty examined in its 280-page report is the construction of the separation wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the areas that Israel has occupied since 1967. Although the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in 2004 that the wall is illegal and called on Israel to dismantle it, Israel has continued to expand it. In doing so, Israel has violated the rights of Palestinian people and caused irreversible damage to the Palestinian economy. It also has demonstrated how international organizations lack the power to compel states to abide by international law.
The Separation Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
In June 2002, Israel began building a separation wall on Palestinian land. The wall, which upon completion will be 712km long, consists of ditches, barbed wire and electronic fences, and a massive concrete wall. Israel argues that the wall is a necessity for its security from Palestinians. In contrast, Palestinians condemn the wall and view it as an attempt to further annex their land. This can be attributed to the fact that the wall is not located along the 1967 Green Line, the recognized boundary between the West Bank and Israel. Instead, 85% of the wall is built within the West Bank. In October 2003, the United Nations Security Council drafted a resolution aimed at prohibiting Israel from extending the wall, however, the United States vetoed the decision.
The Issue Taken to the ICJ
The ICJ found that “[t]he wall, along the route chosen, and its associated regime gravely infringe a number of rights of Palestinians,” including the right to healthcare, education, and employment. Constructing the wall, accordingly, is a breach by Israel of its obligations under international law. Thus, the ICJ asked Israel to dismantle the wall and make reparations for the damage the wall’s construction caused. This decision came after the United Nations General Assembly requested that the ICJ deliver its advisory opinion on “the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
Rather than follow the ICJ’s request and end the illegal expansion of the wall, the Israeli government ordered the construction to continue. “We will abide by the ruling of our own high court,” asserted Yosef Lapid, Israel’s Justice Minister at the time. Israel was able to ignore the ICJ’s opinion without fear of any consequences because such a ruling is considered non-binding, meaning that there would be no measures taken, like imposing sanctions, to ensure its compliance. As Dan Gillerman, Israel’s then-ambassador to the UN, put it, “[t]his is a nonbinding advisory opinion and therefore whether a country complies with it or not is not something that can or should carry sanctions with it.”
In having no binding force, the ICJ’s advisory opinion did not bring about an end to Israel’s illegal construction. On the contrary, “Israel has continued to build and expand the separation wall and has acted as though the ICJ decision did not happen,” stated Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian Authority official.
The Ongoing Impacts of Non-Compliance
Today, 18 years after the ICJ’s decision, Israel still illegally expands the wall, isolating Palestinian communities that have historically and traditionally been neighbors. Building the wall deep within the West Bank has created enclaves, called seam zones, between the wall and the Green Line, in which about 11,000 Palestinians are trapped. These people, to continue living in their own homes, must obtain residency permits from the Israeli civil administration and constantly renew them.
Palestinians have also been facing economic hardships because of the wall. The economy of Bir Nabala, northeast of Jerusalem, was “booming” in the 1990s. But with the wall construction, Bir Nabala has become nothing but a “ghost town,” with blocked roads, empty houses, and shuttered businesses.
In seam zones, 80% of Palestinian farmers have lost access to their lands. These lands have been passed down for generations, and they constitute the main source of income for many families. To many Palestinians, “land means life.” Notwithstanding this cultural and economic significance, Palestinians now have to acquire military permits, which are not easily granted, to access their lands for a limited time period. This has obstructed many farmers from tending their lands and forced them to rely on less profitable crops that require less care. Consequently, what these farmers earn from their lands is no longer enough to meet all of their needs.
A Just But Ineffective Decision
Despite the social and economic impacts, Israel still expands the wall and inflicts more harm on Palestinians. The wall has so far isolated 38 Palestinian localities in the West Bank and, as of July 2021, separated areas that 150,000 people live in from the rest of East Jerusalem, according to the Amnesty report.
Indeed, Israel’s non-compliance with the ICJ’s advisory opinion reveals how international organizations, despite their efforts, cannot always force states to comply with their obligations to international law. The ICJ, although referred to as the World Court, clearly failed to bar Israel from constructing the wall and violating Palestinians’ human rights because its advisory opinion had no binding force.
Last year, the International Criminal Court decided that its territorial jurisdiction in Palestine extends to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This means that the Court can investigate crimes that Israel conducted in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. While this may provide a glimmer of hope, without enforcement measures, Palestinians, as with the ICJ’s case, will continue to be victims of Israel’s persistent inhumane actions.
Edited by Majeed Malhas