Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Sorry for the hiatus; there may be more of those to come, as my non-virtual life stays busy. But this caught my eye this morning, and seemed worth a comment or two:
Palestinians win battle to reroute West Bank barrier
By Donald Macintyre in Gaza
Published: 05 September 2007Israel's Supreme Court delivered a significant blow to the country's military establishment yesterday by ordering the West Bank separation barrier to be rerouted near a Palestinian village which has been the focus of two-and-a-half years of protests.
Already my eyebrows go up. The Israeli "military establishment"? What's that, exactly?
Actually, the separation barrier -- kudos to the Independent, by the way, for not calling it an "apartheid wall" -- was begun and is being built on the orders of the Israeli government. This is as it should be; Israel's military is strictly subordinate to the civilian government, and always has been. (Please note, in the text that follows, that the case was not argued by "the military establishment", but by the state.) Thinking of the Israeli "military establishment" as an autonomous body, with its own policies separate from those of the Israeli government, is misleading at best.
A three-judge panel led by Israel's Chief Justice, Dorit Beinish, unanimously rejected the state's defence of the route and ordered the government to come up with an alternative for a mile-long section of the barrier in a "reasonable period of time" to limit the harm to the Palestinian residents of Bili'in.Let me state, for the record, that I haven't studied the geography of this area; as such, I have no opinion on whether Israel deserved to win this case or not.
I am pleased and proud, however, that Palestinians seeking justice have gone to the Israeli Supreme Court -- and have been vindicated. It's yet another example of what a free democracy can do.
At the same time, my hat's off to the residents of Bili'in, who chose to fight this battle with lawyers and staying orders, not with snipers and suicide bombers. Let's hope we see much more of this. (I'm hopeful that we will, given that this strategy was successful for Bili'in. As the saying goes, you continue to do what has worked for you in the past.)
The residents of Bili'in believe the success of their petition to the court will mean the recovery of around 250 acres of mainly olive orchards which were to have been cut off from the village by the barrier to make way for what they had foreseen as a further planned expansion of the Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit on their land.Ditto. This is the way such conflicts should be resolved. The government orders the Army to build a barrier to protect Israeli civilians from terror attacks and sniper fire; the Army proposes a route for the barrier, gets approval, and starts construction. The Army's plan, of course, makes security its top priority, because that's the Army's job; others have different opinions, though, and challenge the plan in court. The challengers win, requiring the Army to go back to the drawing board and plan a different route for that portion of the barrier, so as to protect Israelis and nonetheless honor the Court's ruling; the Army announces that it will do precisely that, as expected.
But the Supreme Court ruling – the fourth in three years to challenge the routeing of individual sectors of the not-yet-completed 490-mile barrier at points where it cuts into the West Bank – also has a symbolic significance because Bil'iin has long been the scene of weekly protests by residents as well as Israeli and international activists. The court refused to accept the argument that the current route was needed to protect the existing settlement.
The Chief Justice declared that the court had not been "convinced that it is necessary for security-military reasons to retain the current route that passes on Bili'in's lands". The Defence Ministry said it would study and respect the judgment, which was specific that the existing barrier would have to be destroyed in certain places and rebuilt elsewhere.
In Bili'in jubilant villagers poured out of their homes and schools and headed for the barrier – in this section a fence – and military jeeps gathered as some men brandishing Palestinian flags began to dance chanting: "They demolished the Berlin Wall, we want to demolish the 'Bilin' wall."A mild congratulations to the Independent, again, for noting the use of rhetoric here. It's not the "Bili'in wall"; it's a fence. (In fact. the vast majority of the barrier is a fence, not a wall.) And no, the barrier will not be demolished, as indicated; it'll be moved. (So long as Israel cannot trust West Bank Palestinians to prevent terrorist attacks, that barrier is vital.)
Abdullah Abu Rahma, one of the leading opponents of the barrier in the village who has been arrested three times during the weekly protests, said: "It is good. We are very happy and looking forward to implementation of the decision." He added: "We went to court, hired the best lawyers in Israel and we won."Now we're descending into fever-swamp territory, as stories of this sort often do. Please note that three people are quoted on this ruling -- a "leading opponent of the barrier", a Palestinian negotiator who claims the ruling doesn't go nearly far enough, and a spokesman for Anarchists Against the Wall, for Gossake.
Mr Abu Rahma said the ruling still meant that Bili'in had lost land to the settlement and vowed that the fight against the barrier would continue. "But it is still an achievement," he added. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, praised the "heroic struggle" of campaigners at Bili'in but said that despite "the symbolic victory" the route of the barrier still deviated from Israel's 1967 borders in conflict with international law and a July 2004 decision by the International Court of Justice.
Some anti-barrier campaigners have in the past criticised Israel's Supreme Court for not following the ICJ by challenging the principle of the route cutting at points into the West Bank. But Jonathan Pollak of the Israeli group Anarchists against the Wall claimed Chief Justice Beinish had made a "very rare comment" questioning how security-driven the routing of the barrier was.
Is it not necessary to speak to someone representing the losing side of the court case? Or are "Anarchists Against the Wall" supposed to fulfill that role somehow, just because it's an Israeli organization?
(The existence of such organizations is no surprise. Israel is a free democracy, as I said. The existence of a counterpart -- a Palestinian group called "Lawyers For the Wall", or "Palestinians Against Terror" -- now that would be a surprise.)
We also see no opposing viewpoint to counter the ICJ opinion -- as though it represents some sort of universal truth. Actually, the ICJ has no means whatever of enforcing its judgements, and Israel never committed itself to following ICJ rulings in the first place. This makes the ICJ even more of a toothless debating society than the UN is.
And, in fact, a decision to draw the security barrier exactly along the pre-1967 border would be immoral in the extreme. Israel has had to deal with terror from the West Bank for decades, starting before 1967. Why should this terror be rewarded by a return to square one? Why should Israel want to return to the borders that were reason enough to start the 1967 war against Israel in the first place?
As Tony Blair, the new international Middle East envoy, met the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, in Jerusalem last night, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, denounced militant rocket attacks on southern Israel from Gaza, where Hamas has been in de facto control since June. "We condemn the launching of rockets from Gaza and other places because these actions harm peace and the peace process," he said.For contrast, now we see the more traditional Palestinian method of handling conflict. Israel evacuated the Gaza strip unilaterally, more than two years ago, and has been subject to unending attacks from Gaza ever since.
(Unending rocket attacks, I mean. Other sorts of terror attacks from Gaza -- infiltrations, suicide bombers, and such -- have been virtually nonexistent. Why? Because the Gaza Strip already has a security fence, and has had one for years. The few traditional attacks we've seen from Gaza -- such as last year's kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit -- came from tunneling under the fence.)
Please note that there is no dispute about the border in question; Israel did retreat to the pre-1967 border in this case. Gaza Palestinians obligingly demonstrated what Israel can expect from similar withdrawals elsewhere. (Are you listening, Mr. Erekat?)
By the way, the daily Gaza rocket attacks against Israeli towns does not date from the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. The rockets were launched on Abbas's watch as well... making his protestations now more than a little disengenuous.
His remarks came as Mr Olmert's cabinet ally Haim Ramon proposed imposing utility cuts on Gaza in retaliation for the rocket attacks. A rocket landed on a courtyard next to a crowded day-care nursery in the southern Israeli border town of Sderot on Monday. Mr Ramon, told Army Radio: "We won't continue to supply oxygen [to Gaza] in the form of electricity, fuel and water when they are trying to kill our children."That's just about what I'd expect from Haim Ramon, a man who takes Palestinian grievances far more seriously than those of the Israelis he was elected to represent; when Ramon can be persuaded to fight at all, he's the sort who goes to a gunfight armed with a feather-duster. In response to daily attempts to murder Israeli men, women, and children, Ramon proposes to cut off their electricity? Why not call for a boycott of Gaza by comic-book publishers?
Perhaps I shouldn't be so critical; for all I know, cutting off electricity to Gaza might produce results. But if it follows the trends of the past -- trends Ramon consistently ignores, even the ones he authored himself -- then we'll see nothing of the sort. Gaza Palestinians will scream that cutting off their power is inhuman and cruel, the European Union will demand that Israel turn the power back on, and the American State Department will advise pressuring Israel to give Gaza concessions on top of that.
In the meantime, though, we have here a genuine Israeli-Palestinian success story. They fought it out in the courts, not the streets -- and the Israeli Supreme Court demonstrated, once again, that it will give legitimate grievances a fair hearing.
Will we see more such court cases? I certainly hope so.